When first diagnosed as being ‘mentally ill’ I genuinely believed that my life was over. I could no longer see myself moving out, gaining a degree, having a career and starting my own family. To me, ‘mental’ was a term used to describe the deranged psychopathic killers you see in those cheesy American movies, not an average twenty year old female who experiences nightmares after watching Crimewatch.
However, despite the given ‘title’, what I can now say is that mental illness has made me strive for more. Before falling ill I had lost all direction. My assignment grades were not reflecting my true ability, and I was skipping lectures due to hangovers and wanting to spend time with my friends. That has all changed now though as I graduated with honours in July 2014 and am now in the second and final year of my Psychology Research Masters Degree. I have never been more focused and determined, as my dream now is to pursue my PhD and become a published author and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist – something I never would have considered before experiencing and living through the disorders.
Mental illness has also made me a healthier person, as I have given up alcohol – something which, at one point, was becoming a problem. Nights out were chosen over shifts at work, as I regularly called in sick and let my colleagues down. I no longer cared, there, I said it. I was more interested in impressing my friends with how many shots I could neck, or how much alcohol I could consume without passing out. I was invincible, or so I thought. I would go to house parties without considering the dangers, and was even mugged and had my drink spiked while inebriated. I was headed down the wrong path, and it was a scary time for all involved.
Without becoming ill I would also have missed out on the opportunity to meet a number of amazing people, and form closer bonds with those already in my life. I transferred courses due to my dwindling grades, and it was then that I made a few genuine life – long friends, and built up a new support system. They say that people come into our lives for a reason, and I am now a firm believer of that. It is because of their support I can now take great pride in the fact that I am a much stronger person – an essential quality when dealing with the effects of mental illness. Before, I was, well, a ‘doormat’. I lacked the ability to voice my opinions and stand my ground, allowing my then friends and strangers to speak over me and sometimes treat me very poorly. This has all changed though as, while I remain a caring and compassionate person, I live by the motto that I am in enough emotional and psychological pain, why should I empower others to add to that?
Mental illness has also improved my relationship with my brother, Matthew, which, to me, is the biggest thing of all. While we have always been close due to him having taken over legal guardianship of me after our mum passed away when I was ten, there were times in which our bond was slipping and we could feel ourselves drifting apart. This has all changed though, as now we are closer than ever. He is not just my brother, he is my best friend. I would not be standing without that man, and, for that, I am eternally grateful.
So, yes, mental illness has turned my world upside down. It has left me isolated, constantly detached, scared of people, and scared of leaving my home. However, it has also made me strive for more, it has changed parts of my life for the better, and it has made me a better person. While I would give anything for this to go away and for me to be better, I would like to take some of the power back by saying thank you to my anxiety. I do like to believe that a higher force, my guardian angel maybe, has set me this ‘challenge’ as a means of steering me in the right direction, ensuring that I am destined for bigger and better things as opposed to where I was headed. It helps.