Chronic mental illness defined: A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a diagnosis by a mental health professional of a behavioral or mental pattern that may cause suffering or poor ability to function in life. Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_disorder]
It is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around mental illness as a chronic condition. There is this idea that if you are a good patient, taking their medicine as prescribed by your doctor that you will be cured and return to normal. As a person who struggles with chronic mental illness, I can tell you that this is not the case. As the term chronic implies, this is long-term, which means the rest of your life. Medication can help with symptoms and truly be life changing, but there is no escape. You may even be perfectly well-managed for 30 years, however, whatever form your chronic mental illness takes, it will be with you forever and that means for some, every day is a constant battle with symptoms. What I like about this definition is that it points out this can be relapsing and remitting or occur as a single episode. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental illness. Each person experiences it in their own, in a very intimate way. Here are some things to know if you have Chronic Mental Illness.
- You will grieve after diagnosis: I find that mental illness takes up this grey space, that chronic illness also shares, where you don’t have a cure, but you are not going to die and you may even look good enough to pass for healed, but you aren’t. All it takes it that one trigger to breathe life into something that might have been dormant for years, or not even a trigger, but just a shift in moods that is enough to pull you under. You are going to grieve life as you knew it, being gone. You are going to grieve a life of simplicity, where you didn’t have to take meds and your moods made sense. But you will make adjustments and you will find a way to live with your mental illness.
- Your mental health is not just about you: This is something not everyone agrees with and I am by no means speaking as an expert, but only personally. As always you must follow the instruction of the doctor whose care you are under. However, for me, my mental health wellness was important to many lives around me who I touched. My husband, my children, and my parents, as well as my near family which would include my brother and sister in-law and mother and father in-law. This meant that finding a place where I could take care of myself, and my children and be in a good place and not wanting to hurt myself was immensely important. It meant that for a while, I took my medicine religiously and sacrificed much of my own freedom of thought towards how these meds made me feel until I could make needed changes with the guidance and support of my family. I found a new doctor who was able to stabilize my behavior with less medicine and I won my creativity back. We have to be there for those who love us and depend on us. We also have to advocate for our best mental health and if that means seeking a new doctor you must.
- Medicine is not a fix-all: It took a few years of living in a fog of medicine, where days and weeks passed in a blur in which I was not participating in life that two things happened: I found a new doctor and I researched other ways in which I could help to regulate my mood. I discovered meditation and I re-discovered writing. These have both been integral to my healing as well as something that I can do when I feel my mood slipping. Since then, I’ve also learned how to practice Mindfulness. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take that long. But for me, it is the anchor that I need when my seas begin to churn. Mental illness never leaves us. It is this constant and sometimes sinister under-current through-out our lives, but we can manage it in combination with medicine and many other ways that can help us live in peace.
- Educate yourself and educate those closest to you about your mental illness: Everyone has their own perception about mental illness. Even you may have had your own ideas of mental illness until it touched your life. Sadly, there is still not enough candid conversations about mental illness and while there is better understandings, we need to open up about this so that children and teens and young adults can come to us and talk to us about what they are feeling, without feeling like there is something broken about them. You need to educate yourself and your friends and family so that they can begin to comprehend what you are going through and be there to support you. It is vitally important to your continued and long-term well-being, that you have people around you who will be able to see when you might be slipping, when you can’t see it yourself.
- Don’t stop your medication without doctor supervision: I feel that this inclination to want to stop medication is partly to do with our societal taboo in regards to mental illness and partly because we don’t want to feel like we are dependent upon this medication. It makes us feel like we are not being our authentic self if we have to rely on medication to be “normal.” But the medication is actually helping us to be our authentic self, where-as our mental illness, is the deception. More importantly, suddenly stopping your medication could send your entire body into tilt. Anti-psychotics can often leave you with nausea and feelings like you are in withdrawal. You might catapult yourself into insomnia on top of shifting your mood. When I told my psychiatrist, I wanted to go off medications for a while, with his supervision and continuing my monthly visits, he supported me. His support also hinged on my finding other ways to manage my moods, as I mentioned above.
- Don’t fight this battle alone: You need a support network. You need people you can trust, who will be there for you when you need them and who will advocate for your health, when you cannot. If you do not have someone who can advocate on your behalf, I would suggest making your doctor fully aware of what it is you want, in terms of medication should your current ones fail. I would also keep a medical directive, an advance healthcare directive, also known as living will, personal directive, advance directive, medical directive or advance decision, which is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advance_healthcare_directive]
This isn’t just about a DNR, but making sure that your doctor is aware of what you want should you be incapable of telling him. Even if you have family and support, it’s always a good idea to keep this and make them aware of it so that emotion doesn’t cloud what it is you want. It may seem extreme, but when I spent time in a mental health facility, there was a patient whose family was extremely distraught with her decision to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and who attempted to stop the facility from doing it, citing that she was ‘not in her right mind’ but her advance medical directive made it impossible for them to stop it.
As always, thank you for reading and supporting my blog. Please share if you know someone with chronic mental illness who might benefit from it. Or share it with their friends and family.