Do you struggle to accept that you have a mental health diagnosis? Do you feel like having a mental health disorder means your life is over? Do you think that it makes you less of a person?
We all feel that way sometimes. It can feel like a mental health diagnosis is more of a death sentence at times. Like you are never going to be able to live a normal life again.
There is a grieving process when you find out that you have a mental health diagnosis, because it is the end of a way of life that you felt certain about. You thought that your life was just one thing.
The way you envisioned your life is suddenly coming to an end.
In a way, it is like someone has died. And that person is you. Or, the person that you thought you were.
It can take time to mourn the life you thought you were going to have, the person you thought you were going to be, when you find out that you have a mental health diagnosis.
According to University of Washington,
Persistent, traumatic grief can cause us to cycle (sometimes quickly) through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These stages are our attempts to process change and protect ourselves while we adapt to a new reality.
When you have gotten a mental health diagnosis, you are likely to go through these same stages of grief. Something very real about how you thought your life would be has been lost. It is natural to grieve for the life you thought you were going go have.
It can feel like a very daunting task, but it can be done with time.
You just want to 'get better'
The problem with a mental health disorder, is that in a lot of cases they are never going to go away completely. You may have times that you have no symptoms. This may even go on for years, and you feel like you have been cured.
Then all of a sudden, the symptoms show back up.
It can be so hard coping with the symptoms coming back, it makes you feel let down. After all, you thought you had gotten better! This is how I felt a few years ago when my PTSD symptoms came back after being gone for years.
I started having panic attacks again, worse than before even. It was debilitating, and PTSD was taking over my life again. I was angry at myself for being so weak, and for allowing circumstances to get the best of me. Again.
When I started therapy again, I asked my therapist how soon he thought I would 'get better.' I just wanted to go back to having a normal life.
Hearing that maybe I would always have symptoms to some degree was crushing. I wanted to heal. I wanted to be normal.
Have you felt this way?
I was angry, and in other ways I just felt defeated. I started looking into going on disability because of the PTSD. I had quit two really good jobs in quick succession because of the stress and the panic attacks. I felt like I was a failure.
Then, I was told that I didn't qualify for disability because I had a job. Never mind that it paid minimum wage. If you can function at all you aren't considered disabled.
So, I had to rethink my situation, and come to terms with a different level of functioning than what I had before.
There are a lot of feelings to process around a mental health diagnosis, and it can take some time getting used to.
Accepting your diagnosis
When I finally started to accept my diagnosis, that is ironically when I did start to 'get better.'
One morning, I was having a panic attack about something, and I was sitting on my patio waiting for my medication to kick in. I was angry and upset with myself for reacting the way that I did. I felt like I was weak.
Then I thought to myself, "maybe I just need to accept that I am always going to have panic attacks."
I took a deep breath, looked out over my nice yard, and started to relax. I had been fighting so hard against the way things were, it was taking up a huge amount of energy.
Strangely enough, once I decided to accept that I am always going to have panic attacks, that is when I started to feel better. I started making more progress in therapy. My coping skills started to work better.
The thing about acceptance is that, although it isn't going to change the fact that you have a mental health diagnosis, it allows you to see that you can still live with your diagnosis. You are more than just your mental health issues. There is so much about life that is still good.
Often, when we become fixated on healing from our mental health issues, it can feel like we are drowning in them.
That's how it was for me at least. The more I focused on my mental health, on 'getting well' the less I was focused on what was actually going on in my life.
When I decided to have acceptance about my mental health issues, it was like I allowed them to fade into the background of my life. My mental health was no longer my top focus.
I realized, I had been waiting to do anything with my life until I 'got better.' I was putting my life on hold, and just focusing on healing. Not that focusing on healing was a bad thing, it just became an all-consuming obsession for me. It was all I thought about. All I did was monitor symptoms. I didn't pay attention to anything else.
By accepting that I would always have symptoms, I stopped focusing on them all the time. I stopped obsessing. This allowed me to focus more on other aspects of my life. It allowed me to have a wider perspective, and to pay attention to what was going on around me.
For those of us with mental health issues, they are going to be present to a greater or lesser extent for the rest of our lives.
When we allow ourselves to see past the mental health struggle, and see the other things around us, it allows our lives to open up.
Having acceptance of the diagnosis itself, and of your symptoms, allows your life to be about more than just monitoring mental health symptoms, and waiting for the next breakdown.
This is not to say that you shouldn't be cognizant of your symptoms, just that you should be aware of other things going on in your life too. Your symptoms shouldn't be your whole focus in life.
When you accept your diagnosis, accept your symptoms, it allows you to open up the mental space that you have been spending fighting against them. It gives you mental energy to focus on something else. Hopefully on something more positive.
Once you have accepted yourself and your diagnosis, you can finally move forward in life again.
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