I’m Not My Illness

By Kathleen 

If you overcame hopelessness that you could get better from a mental health or emotional problem, was there a turning point for you?

My turning point was working with my current therapist who believes in me and held the belief I could and would do more than I thought I was capable of doing. I know that it is something many people hear, and it took me a long time to hear it, but my therapist asked me “are you a person who is mentally ill or are you a person who happens to have a mental illness?” That was an “A-Ha” moment for me.

I then realized I was a person who happened to have a mental illness. After that my goals changed, and I went from “poor me” to “What can I do and how do I it?” I took the time to figure out what I wanted to do and I now am an activist for mental health. My life has changed so much.

Medication is still part of my life but I finally have a full life. I’m not sitting around my apartment watching TV all day. I don’t even have cable! A first in since I can remember…I haven’t had it for over a year and don’t miss it. I read about recovery and first hand accounts of those who have recovered. My life has completely turned around.

In what ways have you found psychiatric medication(s) helpful, if any?

I find it controls the symptoms that I’m unable to. I have only been off them once and did so under a doctor’s care. I did well for a while, but I ended up becoming so bad that I asked to go to the hospital and then I was put back on psychiatric medications. It isn’t that I enjoy being on them, nor do I like relying on them. They manage the symptoms and I can’t manage them on my own…If I could I would be doing so.

During your mental health care, have you often felt hopeful about your chance of getting better?

I was told I would not get better and that with medication my symptoms could be managed…that I would not have much in life, and to accept that too. That was a hard pill to swallow at 19 years old. I have had various mental health care providers over the last 30 years tell me that [I could do anything, but] I didn’t believe them, so it didn’t help. The first thing is to believe in yourself, and then you can do anything. I started believing in myself in 2009. I can’t change the past but I can change my future. I’m 49 now, and I’m in recovery. I no longer feel hopeful about getting better, because I’m better and I have gotten better. I know my choices and I’m now involved in my recovery. I don’t allow my provider to up my medication if I’m down when I see her, because it can be I’m having an off day. I don’t allow medications, unless the issue has been an issue for a long time…for me that can be up to a year. My provider knows that I don’t believe a medication can fix my problems and that I try to work on what it is that is bothering me. I’m not my illness.