Accepting the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

October 27, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Accepting a diagnosis of mental illness may shatter your sense of self. Accepting you have a mental illness can be terrifying. It's okay. You can do this.

Accepting the diagnosis of mental illness can seem impossible. It hurts. It can shatter the sense of self you have acquired throughout your life. Pre-diagnosis, you might have felt that your personality was acquired, hard fought. You don't want to be anyone but you. Accepting you have a mental illness is initially terrifying.

Accepting Mental Illness Diagnosis Changes Your Sense of Self

I would like to share my experience. Flashback to fourteen years ago: I am twelve years old. I am sitting around an oval table. It's a large table. Much too large for a meeting that involves only my parents, myself, and my psychiatrist.

I have spent the better part of the year in the children's psychiatric hospital. Something is wrong with me. I am angry, and manic, depressed and frightened. I am so frightened. My psychiatrist, a lovely woman, starts talking. My legs are moving quickly under the table. My feet don't reach the ground.

Accepting a diagnosis of mental illness may shatter your sense of self. Accepting you have a mental illness can be terrifying. It's OK. You can do this."Natalie, you have bipolar disorder." She tells me this in a soft voice. I wonder why she is not telling me I can go back to school and that the medication might work soon. All I knew, at that moment, is that I had the same illness my grandfather and uncles have. They were pretty sick."Natalie?" She is looking at me and I am staring across the room at an ugly painting. My mother and father tell me to listen to our doctor, that she has something very important to tell me, and I look up at her.

I looked toward my mother, "Mom, will I take lithium like grandpa?" and she just rubs my head. She is crying.

I struggled for the next ten years with those words, "Natalie, you have bipolar disorder." It felt like I no longer had a name. I felt defined by the pills and highs and the lows and the loss of childhood. This is largely why I struggled with addiction and alcoholism. But now, twenty-six years behind my belt, I have come to terms with it. And you can too.

Tackling Feelings Around the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

At some point in our journey to wellness, most of us hear similar words---We Have a Mental Illness. The first reaction might be one of denial and then relief. Nobody wants to have a mental illness that is stigmatized and requires medication and consistent self-care, but if you have been struggling with the pain of untreated mental illness, having a reason for this is a relief. Knowing that treatment is available is scary but opens doors: life can be stable and productive. But it isn't easy to accept, not yet. The diagnosis is just the first step many of us take in order to find recovery.

Accepting the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

Accepting a diagnosis of mental illness may shatter your sense of self. Accepting you have a mental illness can be terrifying. It's OK. You can do this.Let's assume you were recently diagnosed with a mental illness. The natural reaction is one of confusion and fear. You might wonder: what comes next? Will I get better? What does better mean? Am I really sick? You might convince yourself that your psychiatrist is wrong, your friends and family are just ignorant, there's nothing wrong with you. That thought process, though normal at first, can make recovery difficult. Not one of us wants to carry the burden of mental illness. It is easy, in the beginning, to stigmatize ourselves, to wonder if we will ever get better or if we are even sick.

Accepting you have a mental illness is terrifying, but you cannot recover unless you come to terms with the illness. At first, acceptance might feel like you are not the same person you were before the diagnosis, you are bothered by the medications you now take and the abrupt change in your life. It's important to think of recovery as the process of acceptance. Explore the idea that you are the same person, you are just a person who is finally becoming well, recovering. Remind yourself that you still like the same music and the same food, love the same people, and have the same dreams. But now you can reach for them.

Once you have accepted the diagnosis you can move on from your past, find the positive experiences in it, and explore the world with new eyes--stable and curious.


APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, October 27). Accepting the Diagnosis of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

November, 4 2013 at 2:16 am

I habe spent most of my life denying my illness. Itnis still hard to accept but it is easierbthan expexting to be ok when I am not. I have gotten two degrees and am angry tjat I hace been unable to fulfill my career goals. Thos is thw hardwst partnfor me because people often judge youbfornaccomplisents and career success. My faith helps. I try to find value in eveey day things such as keeping house. My family. The people who matter value you for who you are.

December, 5 2012 at 5:16 pm

Dear Natalie,
I am so grateful for this site. I have so much admiration for your bravery, I have so much respect for your honesty, and I have so much appreciation for your ability to help others through your courage.
You are a true warrior~
Bless your heart,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 6 2012 at 10:24 am

Hi, Sue:
Thank you so much for the positive feedback. All of the bloggers at HealthyPlace work hard to express ourselves and share our experience. I really appreciate the feedback!

October, 27 2011 at 7:14 am

I had the same experience Natalie; accepting the effects from my experience with mental illness allowing me to recover. For 3 years I tried to "fix" myself, find the "cure", tried so hard to get back to that person I was before mental illness. I became more and more depressed. I hated myself more and more each day. I felt my self-worth slip away with every new thing I tried. Then I met a therapist who told me I was just right the way I was. What?????? How could that be? I pondered. I was nothing like the woman I was before... the woman I am today is weak and vulnerable and highly sensitive and hyper-sensory and experiences all sorts of stuff in her mind that is just not "normal" and is so terrified all the time. I am a FREAK. But I consider my therapist's declaration. And after many hours of mediating on it and considering it, I started to find my faith that everything was as it should be. I may have effects from my experience with mental illness that limit me, however I can still love and live and be healthy and have fun and contribute and be myself and be present. I have stepped into recovery and feel like I am living the life I want to live now, though on a whole, the effects have changed very little.
Thanks for inspiring me to share. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
October, 27 2011 at 9:28 am

Hi, Trish!
Thank you for such an excellent comment. I am sure many people, myself included, can relate. It's hard to accept the illness, harder still to feel comfortable treating it, but once we can break down that barrier life can become something it wonderful--albeit having to monitor our mood:)

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