How To Cope With Mental Illness, From Someone Who Lives And Survives With It

by Jordan Arentz

I was just a pre-teen when my battle with mental illness began. Nothing major triggered it — I acquired it through genetics. I displayed the typical symptoms: mood swings, pushing people away, feeling hopeless, etc. At age 15, I made one of the most important choices of my life: I told my parents. I told them how I felt, and how even if this feeling was just a phase, it was taking a dangerous turn as my thoughts were increasingly suicidal.

We went to the doctor to seek help. My psychiatrist was careful not to haphazardly prescribe medication and a premature diagnosis. I endured screenings and tests, and was eventually diagnosed with cyclothymia and borderline personality disorder. It sounds severe because it is. If you took a peek inside my mind back then, you'd have no trouble believing it. To summarize, major depression does not mean that you're just sad. It means your brain doesn't produce enough serotonin (the "happy" hormone).

Cyclothymia is the mildest form of bipolar disorder. Borderline personality disorder is considered to be the emotional equivalent of being a burn victim. Your emotional skin is so raw that even the slightest problem can feel like the end of the world. Borderlines experience the same emotions as you do, but way more amplified to an unhealthy point. Some borderlines have trouble finding their identities.

The Stigma

Despite the stigma you have probably embraced from the media, mental illness does not mean that a person is crazy. Crazy is a label that lazy, non-empathetic people use to avoid understanding the complex depths of another person. It is possible to have a mental illness without being evil. The most common obstacle mental illness patients encounter is losing patience in their diagnosed treatments.

They start on a medication and expect to see immediate changes and progress, but things don’t work that way. Just as depression slowly takes over, recovery and happiness are slow developments as well. It’s important to stick with a medication for a several months before determining whether or not it is effective. It may take a bit of time to find the best plan for you, but trying is always better than bitter complacence.

Hang Tight

It pains me to know that there are people currently going through what I previously suffered: truly believing that death is the best option. Not enough people ask for help or speak out because not enough people know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. People overcome mental illnesses every day, but stories of recovery are unfortunately few and far between. Ultimately, the tale of someone rediscovering happiness after overcoming mental illness isn’t sexy to mainstream media. There’s no drama.

But, given my experience with this, I know that anyone who suffers from depression will have a difficult time embracing my optimism. When you're depressed, it feels like you’re chained underwater. If someone tells you to keep swimming because you'll eventually escape, you likely won’t believe it. There was a time when I felt exactly as you do now.

But now, I have an insatiable zest and appreciation for life and all it has to offer. I survived the pain and so can you. All the struggling was worth it — every pill, every doctor's visit, all worth it. Every day, I feel as though I've won a war and I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world. Hang tight, you'll find that feeling, too.

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