Fear of the Future While Living With a Chronic Mental Illness

October 18, 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Fear of the future is normal, but fear of the future when you live with a mental illness is intense. Here are keys to work with mental illness and lessen fear.

I remember being a little girl--my hair was curly and my mother put pink ribbons in it. Apparently, I was pretty cute, but I'm certain it's a mothers blessing to honestly believe they have the best looking little ones. That aside, I remember a life in which I was not afraid of the future. I was excited! I had lots and lots of plans, some of them secret and some of them I told everyone I could.

When I grew up I wanted to be a doctor and an actress and as pretty as the babysitter who occasionally took care of my siblings and I. I was not afraid of the future; I was still young and pure as only children are. I had not yet been diagnosed with a chronic mental illness.

Doesn't Everyone Fear the Future?

Yes, we do. It's part of being human. But fear of the future is different when you have a mental illness. Fear of the future often includes stuff that is pretty scary. It is not the things we thought about growing up. I don't recall being afraid that I would not recover from mental illness when I was young. At least, not until doctors diagnosed me with bipolar disorder.

I am certain many people living with a chronic mental illness can relate to anxious thoughts about future success and failure that differ from the normal Joe's fears of the future.

How Fear of the Future Differs When You Live With a Mental Illness

Now that we have clarified that yes, of course, everyone fears the future at some point in our lives, let's examine why fear of the future is more common when you live with a mental illness:

  • When you live with a mental illness there is no guarantee you will stay stable--if that does not impact our feelings on our future I am not sure what does.
  • We wonder how our illness may or may not impact or goals and aspirations. For example, if we desire a different career, one that is more demanding though interesting and lucrative, it is only natural to question how it may impact our stability.
  • It's hard to plan for the future, to believe it is possible and positive when our brains are at war with our will to live.

Sometimes, the reality of the future, the word and the goal itself, can feel so far removed from our lives that obtaining it feels impossible. But we need to embrace our future, particularly and perhaps ironically, when we feel our lives are out of control.

Work with Your Mental Illness to Control Fear of the Future

Let's use an example here: A person who is struggling in a depressive episode. The idea of the future might not exist. Getting through each day? Well, that can feel like reaching a goal in and of itself. And it is. Sometimes, it's the little things that make life feel okay even when we struggle.

As hard as it is, and I know how impossible it can feel to embrace the idea of the future, it allows us to remain a little more positive. A chronic mental illness, unfortunately, never guarantees complete and sustained stability, but we can work to think more positively despite our illness.

For example, when your world becomes a little black take a minute and think:

  • This state of mind is not permanent.
  • I have goals and aspirations like anyone else and I can reach them.
  • How can I try to find something positive to focus on?

The list can go on. Pull out a notebook and write down some positive aspirations. Everyone wonders what they can and cannot achieve, what barriers might stand in our way as we work through life, and those of us living with a chronic mental illness share this fear.

The future is "what we make of it," but it requires people with mental illness to accept that we have limitations on our time that other people don't. We can't control when an episode will come, but we can work toward goals between the episodes. So our future is less "what we make of it" and more determined by our willingness to work with our illness and dig down deep to find the positives.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, October 18). Fear of the Future While Living With a Chronic Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

January, 3 2013 at 10:04 am

At times my life seems ruled by fears. Will I ever get better? Will my illness progress into something worse (e.g. psychosis)? How can I possibly manage my money? When will I feel ok? What happens if I follow through on my thoughts of suicide? Will anyone ever love me?
I watch "normal" people go through life, I serve them every day at work and I feel like I'm interacting with an alien species. I feel so far removed from normal life that it scares me. I don't feel a part of the human race, I feel like I am totally isolated and I'll never be able to integrate myself into normal society. Sometimes I just want to run far away to a cabin in the woods and live alone where I won't have to see anyone or spend my days feeling inferior to others.

October, 22 2012 at 12:07 pm

One of my fears is the long term effects of some of the medications that I take. And even just the increased risk of dementia in people with mood disorders. The first fear perhaps I could change if I eventually get off of some of my meds, but the second I cannot. It is just a matter of radical acceptance.

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October, 19 2012 at 4:09 am

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