It can be extremely world-shifting to receive a diagnosis of mental illness. It can throw your life entirely off course and cause you to reevaluate everything you do and everything you’ve ever done. It’s such a life altering event that many people with mental illness describe their lives in before and after terms. Essentially your life is split in two, one life before the diagnosis, the entirely different one afterwards.
And while all of this can happen when faced with such a huge label, it’s important to remember that your life isn’t over; essentially your diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re dead. Of course, I’m not talking about physical death because you are still alive whether you like it or not. What I mean is more precisely the will to live: once that’s gone it can be very hard to even wake up in the morning, and it’s perfectly understandable that you may not feel like it.
You need to know, though, that while it might not appear to be so at the outset, there is life beyond your diagnosis; there is still a world outside waiting for you to join it and make your mark.
I can remember when I was diagnosed feeling like my entire world was over. I had many days and nights where If I wasn’t still thinking about my psychosis I was thinking about death. It seemed like there was no hope in the world for a schizophrenic person, and that was me and I was still coming to terms with what that meant. I was lost, though. I won’t dispute that fact; I was desperately grasping at straws while I drowned in what it meant to have a mental illness.
Just like anything else important in life, it takes time to recover. I wish I had known that then. I had lost my social function, my self-esteem, and my will to go on, and essentially what happened was automatic life in the greatest sense of the word. I went through the motions for years, looking for somewhere or something to build my life around.
Then one day, through the encouragement of my family, I started writing about what it was like to live that way. I started writing about my experience with mental illness because writing was the only thing I could really hold onto.
The thing to remember is that you have to have that one thing to keep you alive; you have to have your reason for waking up in the morning, and if that reason is merely talking to your family or taking care of your dog, that’s something. You have to go back to your base self, though, and figure out what it is that keeps you going.
For me that was writing and finishing my book. I woke up in the morning purely so I could smoke a cigarette and write, and that saved me. It’s been 11 years since I was diagnosed, and writing is still my saving grace. I’ve also expanded out into photography. Those things give me something to look forward to every day.
A diagnosis can seem like a death sentence, and it is in the sense that you’re starting completely over, but having the thing that makes you, you, and focusing on that, can get you through the numerous hard days and nights that are required for recovery.