Life After Mental Illness
I think it is important to remember that mental illness doesn’t need to be a life sentence. If Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor can essentially re-train her brain to repair itself after a major stroke, we should all be able to re-train our brains in a way as to allow us to battle, and overcome, mental illness.
I understand that many mental illnesses are considered ‘life-long.’ And that sufferers may never again get to experience joy in the same way they once did. But I also see that thinking that way can become a very dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy; if you see yourself living the rest of your life suffering from mental illness, the odds are forever stacked against you.
I Can't Believe You're Still Alive
I was the perfect example of what many people would consider a hopeless case. Still, when I return to my hometown and see someone I haven’t seen in ten years, I often hear ‘Crazy Chris Curry! I can’t believe you’re still alive!’
I typically reply with ‘neither can I.’
I attempted suicide the first time at age 15. I was a rampant drug abuser by age sixteen. I was a full blown drug addict by age 18 and was locked away in a psychiatric hospital for three months at age 19.
For years after that hospitalization, I had so much nerve damage from the massive amounts of medication that they had me on that my eyes twitched and darted on their own; my arms would spasm out of control; my legs would twitch and shift. Technically, it’s called Tardive Dyskinesia, caused by anti-psychotic medication.
Sure, they eventually stifled my psychotic delusions, but caused me to physically look like a ‘crazy person’ for years afterward.
An Absolute Mental Horror Show
My personal life was in shambles for years. I was trapped in a dysfunctional relationship. I had dropped out of college, twice. I worked menial jobs and would always either get fired or quit after a few months. My main pastime between the ages of 14 and 24 was contemplating different ways of killing myself. I was a mess, an absolute mental horror show.
But six years later, I am a fully-functioning member of society. I work as a therapist, author, mental health advocate and musician. I am also in a long-term, highly functional relationship with someone as equally inspired by mental health matters as I. But if you told anyone that knew me ten years ago about who I am today, they would never be able to believe that I ended up, well, happy.
Choosing the Power of Choice
I could have been a hopeless case. I could have been mentally ill for the rest of my life. But I chose not to. I chose to not be a victim of my own mind anymore. Through the power of cognitive behavioural therapy, rational emotive behavioural therapy, choice theory and educating myself about my issues and empowering myself with education, I would today never dream of describing myself as mentally ill.
And everyone can get to that point. If Dr. Taylor can rebuild her brain after a major stroke, you can re-build yours after a major mental illness.
Curry, C. (2012, October 8). Life After Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2012/10/443
Author: Chris Curry
Sure that correct. There is a power in choosing
I wish that I thought getting off of my meds were an option. I think, if that were even possible, it would entail dropping out of my life (or at least my job) for a couple of years. But I don't really think I have to see recovery as all or nothing. Black or white thinking is what gets me into trouble! I want to have a good life. If it entails the occasional trip to the psychiatrist, pills, and (for the moment), weekly therapy, that will have to be okay.
Thanks for your answer.
Sorry to be a pain but can you elaborate a bit more on what you mean by "choice" and "how much power we give the mental illness"? (I presume this is supposed to be interpreted metaphorically as mental illness is hardly a conscious agent-like entity capable of purposive behaviour.)
Not a pain at all! As far as what I mean by 'choice' I think the pioneer of Choice Theory, Dr. William Glasser can explain it much better than I. I would recommend the book 'Counselling with Choice Theory' as a good place to start. As far as the power, I simply mean how much you let your mental illness define you. If you insist on viewing yourself as mentally ill, it fails to take into account the other things that make you a wonderful person. Of course, mental illness is a part of the personal puzzle, but letting it define you can be a big mistake.
If I can be of further help, please visit my personal website http://completelyinblue.wix.com/chriscurry and contact me directly!
Carol, thank you so much for the kind words! I definitely agree with your position of 'writing your own prognosis.'
Thanks for reading, and for writing!
Sarah, thank you for the question. I certainly do not believe that mental illness is a choice by any means. I believe there are biological, social and psychological factors associated with all mental illness. But what I do believe is a choice, is how much power we give the mental illness.
And my recovery wasn't simply a matter of choosing not to be mentally ill any more. It took a lot of therapy, medication and a desire to be better. I hope that answers your questions on my views on the issue!
Kudos to you Chris!
I, too, am a firm believe in writing your own prognosis. The self-fulfilling prophecy does impact the ability to reach recovery.
Physicians need to provide a diagnosis and allow patients decide on their prognosis. Choice therapy is a powerful tool to reach your potential and become a productive member of society.
Hats off to you!
Sorry, I failed to pose the question clearly enough in the previous comment.
What I meant to ask was the following: do you believe that mental illness is completely or to a sufficiently high degree a matter of personal/lifestyle choice?
I'm somewhat confused having read your article about what your actually thoughts are regarding mental illness and recovery.
Since you managed to recover by choosing not be mentally ill any more, do you maintain that everyone can recover from their mental illness by choosing to do so, or just that you did?