Mental Illness: Accepting Fear and Embracing Freedom

November 10, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

When you are diagnosed with a mental illness, your first reaction is probably fear. Those who love you also might feel fear. After all, mental illness is stigmatized, and certainly not something anyone wants to live with. But we can, and we do. Successfully.

Defining Fear

24785wiziznj4raThe definition of fear connected when connected to mental illness is different than, say, the fear felt when experiencing a life change: moving, the end of a relationship, a new job. These things all instill fear and anxiety. Defining fear in connection to mental illness is different. It could not be more different. It is like black and white: oil and water. In short, it does not compare. Not even close.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, although I was young, I understood that it was a scary thing. It would never go away. It would follow me throughout life, despite my kicking and screaming, wanting to escape. Fear defined the diagnosis for years. Fear made it difficult, impossible at that time, to recover.

When connected to the diagnosis of mental illness, fear has a different form: it can leave you wondering if your life will ever be yours again, if you are even sick and, if so, will you ever become well? You fear the medications will not work, and fear that if they do you will have to take them for the rest of your life. The words: For the Rest of Your Life, summarize those feelings. So, how can we move beyond the fear and claim our lives?

Accepting Fear and Moving On

safe_imageFirst, it's a healthy reaction to be afraid of the diagnosis, and to wonder how it might change your life. Let's get that straight. If we did not feel fear we would not be human (or we would be experiencing some pretty deep denial). Recognize that fear is an emotion, and does not have to be a consistent state of mind. Focus on the positives: properly diagnosed, you can strive for and maintain stability, your relationships can flourish and you can focus your energy on recovery and wellness. Fear can become the pursuit to find health, and working to find it can diminish fear itself.

When I think about having to live with bipolar disorder for the rest of my life, addiction and anxiety, I consider myself lucky. Yes, lucky. And you should too. Many people are never diagnosed and treated: lives have been lost and potential stolen by mental illness. I have lost two friends to suicide and I cannot explain the level of grief I felt. The utter confusion: I wondered why I had survived and they did not. It hurt. It still hurts. That is the unfortunate reality.

Living with an untreated mental illness is frightening; being diagnosed is scary, but finding the positives can help eliminate fear. Viewing the diagnosis as something positive, something that can allow you to live your life free of untreated illness, is something to smile about. At the very least, a half-smile, if you can muster it. And sometimes we cannot. I get that. On a personal level. When life starts to spin faster than you like, or grinds to a screeching halt, be thankful for the little (big) things like the roof over your head, and those who surround and support you.

Try to remember, when life is hard, that it will not always be hard. When life begins to sparkle again, do not focus on falling, just work to remain on both feet. In other words, and all metaphors aside, hang on for the ride and make the best of it. You are in good company.


"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
Eleanor Roosevelt

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, November 10). Mental Illness: Accepting Fear and Embracing Freedom, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Always Sick Chick
November, 11 2011 at 2:09 pm

Let your past make you better, not bitter. -- I LOVE that. Amazing quote. I need to put that on my fridge.

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