Mental Illness is a Lonely Disease
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.
Jeanne, N. (2012, January 30). Mental Illness is a Lonely Disease, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, May 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2012/01/mental-illness-is-a-lonely-disease
Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne
Thk u so much for sharing. Yes, Loneliness can be terrifying at first.. but, it's a first step of healing.. the most important thing is to keep walking and do something worthwhile in our life :)
Thank you for reading! I agree, feeling lonely is a time for self-reflection, though it can be painful.
Gigi, I certainly feel for you in your position with your daughters. It is kind of like walking on egg shells talking to one or two of them.
I have a sister that is bi-polar. She has called me for years....everyday and talks anywhere from 40 minutes to over an hour. She doesn't ask if it is a bad time for her calling. By the way, I also have a mental illness: schizoaffective disorder. She talks everyday about the same problems she has.....children getting into trouble with the law, husband problems, work problems etc. It is the same conversation almost everyday.
I suddenly had an allergic reaction to my medication and almost ended up in the hospital. When I told her in those very words her reply was:" We are both going to end up in a padded cell"
I can not begin to tell you how hurt I was that she considered me crazy ..... or out of control to end up in a place like that. She wasn't interested in what happened to me, or what the outcome was, all she wanted to do is unload more stuff that has happened to her and her life. THAT is the moment I knew I had to remove her from my life.....that she was bringing me down with all her problems and drama and it was making my anxiety disorder worse. In order to obtain mental wellness.....I had to remove her from my life. My husband told me that if she continued to call, he would tell her not to call....if I didn't tell her not to. So, for my well-being....I asked her to write me letters, and I would answer her. That is how we used to keep in touch many years before. So...now it has been a year and I have yet to recieve one letter. So...that tells me or lets me know that she really didn't want to HEAR from me, she just wanted to unload ON me.....and there are many more people out there that are that way, like boyfriends, husbands, parents ect.....they just don't want to put in the effort it takes to understand our illness, or maybe they just don't really care. Sad but true. This is just my take on things.....sorry if I upset anyone, it wasn't intentional. I hope you have a good day.
Hi, Carol and Gigi:
It's great when readers can connect with our shared experience. Gigi and yourself make excellent points: it can be very difficult to support a child with mental illness. Because I was diagnosed so young my family experiences much of what you both describe--the pain in trying to help your child when they are mentally ill. My parents had to pull away at some point as well. Until I was ready to become well they learned they had to take care of themselves. Mental illness can really destroy relationships and affect the family dynamic negatively. But with work, and willingness, these relationships can be repaired.
I thank both of you for your comments.
I am the mother of a daughter with a mental illness. She is my youngest, and I have two older daughters who are married, each with two young daughters of their own. They are busy, preoccupied with their own lives; plus, we all live hundreds of miles apart (physically and emotionally). What hurts me, as a mother, is to know that the youngest daughter only has support from me, a little from her father, and very minimal from her second sister. But... her oldest sister has completely cut her out of her life. She does not take calls from her, she does not respond to letters.... nothing! She doesn't ask about her anymore. I take each relationship individually, so I don't talk about the youngest with the oldest, nothing. I know I can't do anything about it, so I don't try... but it still hurts. I can't understand how she can be so angry at her sister because of her mental illness. We're talking about "girls" who are now 35 (youngest) and 44 (oldest). I always thought "family" would stick together. So often, in life, things don't work out the way we thought or wished they would. Should I be forcing the issue? Should I tell my older daughter how disappointed I am (she has also estranged herself from me a majority of the time. If it weren't for the fact that I have two granddaughers by her, she would not communicate with me at all). What good would it do?
I have found that a support group really helps me and keeps me from feeling isolated because I have a mental illness.
I can easily talk to my immediate family about it, but my extended family is not really comfortable thinking of me as someone with a mental illness.
Most of my friends know that I have a mental illness, but most of them are not comfortable discussing it. I don't think they like to think of me as being different.
My boyfriend loves me, but also doesn't want to discuss it much. It seems like most people would like to pretend that I'm normal.
I've had a lot of trouble in romantic relationships with various partners refusing to accept my mental illness (which is considered severe) and trying to convince me that I didn't need medication, which I have enough experience to know that I do.
Some people think that if you are not being treated, then there is nothing wrong with you. Many men are not interested in having a partner with any type of health issue and are hoping to find someone who will have their babies, so they are not interested in someone who is taking various medications. I have accepted this.
Support groups have helped me in the past and are such a great resource for people---it helps us feel less alone. My partner loves me as well but has said 'I don't know how to deal with your illness' that hurt and is something I never really forgot.
I like to think of the glass half full (on the good days) having a mental illness does not make us unloveable--it makes us human!
Thanks for the fantastic comment Andrea