30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness – Days 4 to 7

Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
I used to think there were no pros, and only cons to having an illness, but when I was in the hospital I was asked to make a list of 10 reasons why I am lucky to be depressed. I laughed and tossed the pad of paper on the table, claiming it was a ridiculous exercise – there’s nothing positive about having an illness that makes you want to die. BUT, as I thought about it, I realized that there are a lot of pros to having my illnesses, which I’ve touched on countless times in previous posts. I’m able to connect with people in ways I never was able to before, I am much stronger than I ever imagined myself capable of being, and I’ve been given numerous opportunities I wouldn’t have had without my struggles and experiences. Because of my mental illness, I have been taught that anything can be thrown at me, and I have the strength within to move through it. I’ve learned about people in my life who are worth keeping, and what the meaning of a true, unconditional friend is, especially when things get really tough. I’ve become an active member of the mental health advocate community and am now the President of Mental Health Awareness at the University of British Columbia. It’s clear to see that there are a lot of pros, and at times it feels like they may outweigh the cons, but having a mental illness is so incredibly difficult at times that I pray every day that a cure comes about so people don’t have to go through the hell that I still face from time to time. The cons of my depression and conversion disorder are numerous, but a main one is that it has made me stumble and fall quite a lot, academically speaking. My grades are nowhere near as high as I’d like them, and this is a result of a combination of things, including being hospitalized, being too depressed to move from bed, or being simply exhausted from having an intense seizure. The second biggest con is that my illness has interfered with a lot of relationships in a negative way. It goes without saying that I have a lot of baggage, and my baggage is a lot to put on my friends, some of whom simply can’t handle it because it is too much and my illness has been a huge strain on a number of friendships that I thought could never be weakened. I wish I could say that the cons don’t last, and eventually don’t matter, but they do, and sometimes dealing with the cons is just as hard as the illness itself.
Day 5: Do you believe nature (biology/physiology), nurture(environment), a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?
I really believe it depends on the person. For many people who have depression or anxiety, it can be based on a trigger situation – a traumatic event or something emotionally scarring. Illnesses like PTSD have to be triggered by something, whereas some others can be born with bipolar, depression, panic disorders, or schizophrenia. Personally, I believe my illness is largely a part of natural factors, being biology and physiology. From what I understand, the levels of particular neurotransmitters in my brain are not naturally maintained at healthy levels in my brain, and that is why I need pharmacological support to function properly. I also think part of it is just luck of the draw – anyone can get a mental illness for any reason and it has nothing to do with how good or bad of a person they are, and to be quite honest, it hits the people you’d least expect the most.
Day 6: Do you have a family history of mental illness or mental health issues?
Yes, I do know that some relatives of mine have experienced mental illness at some point in their lives, but don’t know the full extent of it or exactly how profoundly they were impacted.
Day 7: Do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) effects you?
Absolutely, as far as “episodes” or my seizures go, the two biggest triggers are lack of sleep and stress. They go hand in hand because if I’m really stressed out, I’ll be unable to sleep, and will just end up having seizures back to back, which tires me out even more and it becomes a vicious cycle. Throw depression into the mix, and it can become really bad really fast. When I’m having bad days where my depression isn’t under control, either for no reason or because I’m (surprise, surprise) stressed out or tired, I’ll get really frustrated about being so depressed and will try to shove it aside, which can cause more intense seizures. Essentially, the only way to keep both illnesses under control, especially since they thrive off of one another to make my life more difficult, is to do my best to control my stress and know when too much is simply too much. I sometimes get it in my head that I’m invincible and can do absolutely anything, but there are moments when I need to recognize I deserve to cut myself some slack and accept I can’t always do everything, and that becomes really important when it comes to self-care.

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