How Do I Accept My Mental Illness?
Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
January 10, 2024
David, a 33-year-old artist, finds himself in the quiet confines of his therapist’s office, grappling with a reality that feels both jarring and surreal. He has just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a term that seems to clash with everything he knows about himself. For David, this moment marks the beginning of a complex journey through a range of emotions that are all too common for those coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis.
This diagnosis presents David with a daunting challenge: to accept a part of himself that he never knew existed. Initially, there’s a strong sense of denial, a natural reaction to something that disrupts one’s sense of normalcy. “This can’t be me,” he thinks, struggling to align this new information with his self-image and life experiences.
Alongside denial, David confronts a deep-seated sense of shame. In a society where mental health is often misunderstood and stigmatized, he worries about how this diagnosis will affect his personal and professional relationships. Will people view him differently? Will his art now be seen through the lens of his mental health condition?
The importance of accepting his diagnosis cannot be overstated. It is essential for David’s wellbeing and his ability to manage his life effectively moving forward. Acceptance means recognizing that, while bipolar disorder is a part of his reality, it doesn’t define his entire being. It’s about understanding that his talent and passion for art remain intact, and that talent and passion might even gain new dimensions through this personal understanding.
David’s story is a testament to the emotional complexity involved in accepting a mental illness. It is a journey about breaking down the barriers of denial, moving beyond shame, and stepping away from societal stigma. Acceptance is a transformative process that leads to greater self-awareness and the possibility of living a fuller, more authentic life.
Understanding and Acknowledging the Illness
“Healing from mental illness requires a long journey of acceptance. Those with mental illness must accept who we have become. We must learn to accept disability and learn to live with stigma. We must learn to not hate ourselves for what we might perceive as weakness.“
–Emily Metcalf, My Path to Accepting Mental Illness, NAMI.org
When it comes to mental illness, understanding and acknowledging the condition is a critical first step in moving toward acceptance. This can be a challenge when misconceptions and denial are common.
The process begins with developing a clear awareness of the mental illness. This means learning about the specific condition, its symptoms, and how it typically affects people. For instance, someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder, like David, needs to understand the highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes) that characterize this condition. Gaining insight into these patterns can help in recognizing how the illness manifests in day-to-day life.
There are a lot of misconceptions that can make it hard for a person to accept their diagnosis. For example, some might believe that having a mental illness means they can’t lead a normal, productive life. This simply isn’t true. Many people with mental health conditions live fulfilling lives, pursue successful careers, and maintain healthy relationships.
Denial is the most common initial reaction to a mental health diagnosis. It’s a defense mechanism to avoid the pain or stigma associated with the illness. Acknowledging that denial
is a part of the process can be a significant step in moving forward. It’s about coming to terms with the fact that the illness is a part of life, but it doesn’t define who you are.
Acceptance is a Journey
Patience and compassion for ourselves are vital on the journey of acceptance. It’s a gradual process that involves days of understanding and acceptance mixed with moments of doubt and denial.
Building a Positive Sense of Self
When facing a mental illness, one of the most important aspects of acceptance is building and maintaining a positive sense of self. This involves integrating the illness into your sense of who you are without letting it define you.
Self-identity is how we see ourselves, and it’s a complex mix of our experiences, beliefs, values, and roles. When diagnosed with a mental illness, there’s a risk of this single aspect overshadowing all others in our view of ourselves. The key is to acknowledge the illness as just one part of who we really are.
Integrating, Not Defining
Integrating mental illness into your self-concept means recognizing it as a part of your life experience, but not the entirety of your existence. For David, this means seeing himself as an artist, a friend, an avid reader, and also someone who lives with bipolar disorder. Each of these is equally a part of his identity. He is not just his illness. He is a person with a unique story, of which the illness is just one chapter.
Cultivating a Positive Self-View
To cultivate a positive view of ourselves, it’s important to engage in activities that reinforce this perspective. For David, this means pursuing his art, connecting with supportive friends and family, and setting and achieving personal goals. He will also need to learn to challenge negative thoughts and stereotypes related to mental illness and replace them with affirmations of his abilities and worth.
Dreaming Again and Finding Purpose
After his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, David found himself at a crossroads. The future he had envisioned for himself seemed to blur, and his dreams felt out of reach. But as he began to accept his mental illness, an unexpected journey of rediscovery and reinvention unfolded.
Initially, David struggled with his artistic identity. He wondered if his creativity was inextricably linked to his mental health condition. However, through therapy and self- reflection, he began to see things differently. He realized that his artistry wasn’t diminished by his diagnosis. Instead, it gained a new depth.
David started experimenting with new art forms and techniques, exploring themes that resonated with his experiences. His art became more meaningful and therapeutic for him, serving as an outlet for expressing the highs and lows of his journey.
Finding New Purpose
Accepting his mental illness also led David to new purposes. He found solace in sharing his experiences with others, joining support groups where he could connect with people who understood his challenges. Gradually, he became an advocate for mental health awareness in his community, using his art to break down barriers and challenge misconceptions about bipolar disorder. He found comfort in sharing his struggles with others and connecting with people who understood his challenges.
David learned that acceptance is a process and that he could use the changes that come with the illness stepping stones to grow. He learned that, along with the challenges of mental illness, there are opportunities for profound personal growth and discovery.
David’s story shows how accepting a mental illness can open doors to new dreams and purposes. His journey wasn’t about getting back to his old self, it was about evolving into someone more authentic and in tune with his experiences and emotions.
Recovery is Possible
Ultimately, David learned that acceptance is a journey, not a destination. It’s a path marked by growth, learning, and self-discovery, rather than a single point of arrival.
Recovery in mental illness is absolutely possible. It’s important to acknowledge that recovery doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of symptoms, but rather learning to live a fulfilling, hopeful life despite them. Acceptance is a crucial step on this path. It allows you to work with your condition, not against it, and to find ways to manage it effectively.
In this journey, there will be ups and downs, challenges and triumphs. Like David, each person’s path to acceptance and recovery is unique, filled with personal realizations and newfound strengths. Hold onto the belief that in the process of accepting your mental illness, you can uncover resilience you never knew you had, and find a sense of hope that lights the way forward.
You are not alone on this journey. There are countless stories of individuals who have navigated these waters and emerged with a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Your story, too, can be one of empowerment, growth, and profound personal achievement.
- My Path to Accepting Mental Illness | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.). www.nami.org