Written by Lizzie Elsberg, Blogger and Advocate
I don’t remember when I was first diagnosed with a mental illness; I know I saw a psychiatrist for the first time when I was six, so my behavior must have started to seem “off” prior to that. Regardless, in my almost-thirty years of life, I don’t remember I time when I wasn’t battling a mental illness.
For a long time, I tormented myself with thoughts that “I wasn’t where I should be in life.” I wasn’t getting a stable job and becoming financially independent like my father demanded. I wasn’t getting married and having babies like my friends. I was in graduate school, but I couldn’t seem to quite make it through without having to withdraw for mental health reasons. “What a waste of life,” I thought. When I was younger, I was the girl who everyone expected to “have it all.” “You’ll be able to do whatever you want,” they said. Success was the expectation, and I was perfectly capable of fulfilling that expectation, but I had failed; my chances were wasted on my mental illnesses. This mentality plagued me for years.
Some people still ask, in so many words, “what kind of life is this, spending your time in and out of treatment centers, dropping out of school, dwelling on the past?” Not long ago, these comments would have led me into a shame spiral. They are right; there is no life in living under the control of my mental illnesses, letting them dictate everything I do. There is no life in finding my identity in an illness. However, if someone were to ask me now, “what kind of life is this?”, I would tell them it is MY life, and it is NOT a waste.
I cannot deny that my life has been different from the norm, and it has unfolded in a way that I did not expect. However, to call it a waste could not be farther from the truth. In fact, my life with mental illness, and subsequent treatment, has provided me with invaluable experiences that only few have the fortune of receiving. Let me tell you about them:
- I have gained more insight about my thoughts, my behaviors, and myself than I think most people ever will. I have a self-awareness that allows me to identify what I’m feeling or why I’m reacting in a certain way.
- Therapy has helped me understand how my past experiences have influenced my current beliefs. It has allowed me to make sense of situations that were once senseless. I have also learned so many tools to manage my mental illnesses, and stress in general. Honestly, I think everybody could benefit from a dose of therapy.
- I have learned that my worth does not lie on academic achievement, career, beauty, body, or perfection. Worth is intrinsic to all human beings; we simply have to be.
- I don’t have to be what I think others want me to be; it’s time to take the mask off! By being my authentic self, true relationships can form. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s okay; I know the people who stick around genuinely care about ME.
- I have met such diverse groups of people that I would have never met otherwise; some of these people remain good friends today. These friendships cross the bounds of gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, diagnosis, addiction, and education. So many stereotypes that once influenced my beliefs (even subconsciously) have been challenged and torn down, and beautiful relationships have formed.
- I have experienced the imperfections of life, and learned how to manage them. Things don’t happen in a nice, neat linear fashion. It would be great if everyone could graduate, go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, and live happily every after. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for some (read: MOST) people. Life has thrown me a few curve balls; a few have smacked me in the face. The biggest lesson is in getting back up and continuing to walk along the bent, bumpy, twisted path of your life.
- As an almost-therapist, I have learned more from my life experiences than I ever have in a classroom. This provides me with a unique understanding that, I believe, will help me be a better mental health practitioner.
I would not wish mental illness on anyone, nor would I endorse spending one’s life identifying as his or her disease. It is a lack of willingness to pursue self-awareness, insight, and support that leads to a waste of TIME; however, I would never label it as a waste of life. Living with a mental illness has caused numerous setbacks in my life, but it has also made me who I am, and I am a better person because of it. To anyone who has chosen to focus on the times my mental illnesses have caused me to fall, I challenge you to change your perspective; watch me fly.
My name is Lizzie and this is Where I Stand.