Anyone who lives with mental health challenges knows you walk a different path than many of your peers. Compared to other people in your age group, you may think of yourself, as I often have, as a late bloomer. While others are accomplishing great things, building careers and raising beautiful families, you are struggling to find yourself and the meaning of life throughout all the many ups and downs that mental health challenges bring. But that does not mean that you aren’t on the right path or that you are behind as I have often thought. It merely means that your life is different. You have to approach your life differently.
Flawed Genetics, Not Flawed Character
Mental illness is a flaw in genetics, not a flaw in character. At times this is difficult to understand because the symptoms of mental illness can be so damaging to all aspects of your life. Only recently did I began to grasp this concept. I’ve come to understand that I am not my illness. I am not my symptoms. I am someone with flawed genetics who has, can and will accomplish great things in my own time. As I have mentioned in other posts, I’ve dropped out of college multiple times, and to me, this was a personal failure. At one point, things were so bad for me academically that my academic advisor suggested that I move back home and get a job at Walmart. This comment made me feel as though he saw me as incapable of doing my coursework and to me, that was a character flaw. Just the thought of giving up on school sickened me. I excelled in high school, and my heart was set on a college degree. This was not the time for me to pursue it. So, eventually, I moved back home and worked in retail for a few months before getting a job working with youth. Little did I know this was just the beginning.
The Grey Area
Mental health challenges can take years to work through. I was in college when I sought therapy to deal with not only my mental health but abandonment issues. I’d work through some of my problems, start on a medication regimen, feel better, put forth lots of effort in my studies, and stop taking my meds because things were going well. I repeated this cycle over and over until I ended up on academic suspension. While it was great that I worked on my issues with a professional, I had to learn balance. I needed to keep taking my medication even though I felt better. Working on my challenges in therapy was necessary also, but sticking to my medication regimen was a crucial part of me doing well in school. This irrational cycle was all because I didn’t have a grey area. Even now, I can often be very black and white; all or nothing. This is by far my most significant complexity. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned to use this to my advantage. I’ve channeled all my past pain and issues into passion, and I am working both professionally and privately, helping others do the same.
Trust the Process
Mental health challenges are not personal failures because the hard work it takes to recover, as some like to put it, gives you the strength to approach your life from a place of experience. I refer to it as becoming a more sharpened version of yourself. It’s a process and an extensive one at that. During this process, I have zeroed in on the life I want— a life I would have never dreamed of without my mental health experiences. At times, I resented the process and felt like my life was a result of a series of personal failures; however, I’ve come to not only trust my process of development but embrace it. As I’ve adopted this process, I’ve evolved into a more kind and compassionate person. Before the onset of bipolar disorder, I had tunnel vision, and life was all about me. Now I am more connected to my community and the people around me. I believe the disconnection to those around me was due to insecurities I had when I dropped out of school and moved back home. I was busy comparing my life to everyone’s public personas never once considering that people only show you what they want you to see. As I have grown and matured, I’ve come to realize that everyone is fighting a battle, and it is essential that I not compare myself to anyone other than the person I was yesterday.
We all have our own personal journeys full of opportunities that are often disguised as personal failures. Owning who you are— the good and the bad gives you the space to transcend the person you were yesterday and live a life you never knew was possible. Know that God made you perfectly imperfect and that you are valuable. Let your pain fuel your passion, never compare your self to anyone’s highlight reel, and trust that you are right where you need to be, headed to where you are destined to go!