Let’s pull out the good old thesaurus to attempt to define a feeling that is so prominent when you are diagnosed with mental illness:
Now, I usually pepper these definitions with a large amount of sarcasm because, usually, they are bloody ridiculous. Having said this, the above definitions make sense on my end. Mental Illness has alienated me, isolated me, and made me feel singular–not the same as others. That’s what I want to explore in this blog: mental illness can make us feel terribly lonely and in order to recover we need to work to understand that while mental illness can make us feel isolated, we can move past it.
Mental Illness is a Lonely Disease
That is the reality. If I told you it were easy to banish the feelings that come with the illness, I would be disingenuous–I would be lying. You would probably call me on it and you would be correct: mental illness is terribly lonely. There is no way we can deny this. We can try but if we can’t recognize the reality, the feelings that mental illness spurs, it can made recovery difficult.
Why Does Mental Illness Make Us Feel Lonely?
When we are first diagnosed our natural reaction is that we are suddenly unlike others. Pre-diagnosis, we may have felt, perhaps for our entire lives, that we were different. Our behaviour was viewed as strange, eccentric, perhaps we have even been called ‘crazy’. People can be pretty nasty, we can all vouch for this.
Once we have been sat down and told that, yes, we have a mental illness, our world flips upside down. Suddenly we have a reason for our feelings, for our behaviour, our fear. But this does not always mean that life is suddenly lovely, no, we enter a new world: a world first defined by medication and therapy—confusion.
It’s great to have a reason, to understand that we are sick and it’s not our fault, and we can get better, but we still feel suddenly alien to the world. We might feel that our illness, the drugs we now take to become well, defines us. We are suddenly working to become well. We may not even know what well is, what it feels like, because we probably have not ever had it.
Accepting Loneliness and Moving On
Yes, you might be scowling at your computer screen. I understand why. Loneliness can be a part of life when you suffer with a mental illness. It might always linger. In my life, I struggle with it every single day. Sometimes, I do not even want to face the world because I feel like the world does not understand me.
But just as it’s important to accept the diagnosis its equally important to work toward an understanding: People all suffer at some point in their lives and this pain is what creates a common bond. I try very hard to step outside of my comfort zone: I have come to view the medication I take, the appointments with my psychiatrist, as part of my recovery. But it does not define me, no, it allows me to tackle loneliness. To work to understand that isolating ourselves only serves to isolate ourselves further: it’s a nasty cycle.
Give Yourself a Break
You deserve it. Recovering from mental illness is probably the most difficult thing you will ever do. But you can do it–We can do it. Allow yourself to feel the loneliness, it’s normal, natural, we all feel lonely from time to time. We would not be human if we did not.
Work to let people in and understand that a diagnosis does not define you as a person. Letting yourself break free from the illness, recovering from it, allows us to step outside of our comfort zone and understand that we all need people in our lives. Our recovery process involves tackling loneliness. It involves allowing ourselves to take a minute to breathe; to understand that we do not need to feel isolated. Just as we work to become well, so too do we need to work on letting people in.