Someone recently asked on Twitter, would you get rid of your mental illness if you could? You can read the original thread and the replies here.
Fairly obviously, my instant reaction and answer was yes and I’d question the motives of anyone who’d say otherwise. However, I started thinking on it a bit further and realised that the answer isn’t quite so simple. I don’t think I’d ever say no to getting rid of my mental illnesses but I’m not sure it’s a 100% yes, especially not if it meant that I’d never had them. While I would never sign up for being ill, would never wish it on anyone else and have spent countless hours, days and probably weeks of my life wishing it away, the experience of it has changed me and not all of those ways have been for the worst. I’ll point out here that I’m not grateful for these experiences, this isn’t some evangelical post where I change your point of view about suffering and “teach” you that really it’s an “opportunity for growth and learning”. It’s not. Suffering is exactly that, suffering. It involves being uncomfortable and worse and it’s sure as hell not something I want to have to continue to experience (albeit I don’t have a choice about that one), or something I’d sign up for again. However, without the experiences that I’ve had because of mental illness, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m a firm believer that we are a product of our experiences and so without them we wouldn’t be the same.
I would never have done a psychology degree without becoming mentally ill. Mental illness and the way the brain worked weren’t even on my radar until I developed depression right before my 16th birthday. I was going to pursue geology and hoped to work on oil rigs getting very rich whilst discovering oil around the world. If not that then I was going to become a scientist or teacher. I wasn’t going to work with sick people. Not ever!
If I hadn’t become mentally ill then I wouldn’t have been forced to take a gap year. I wouldn’t have gone to the same university. I wouldn’t have met the friends I did on my degree course. I wouldn’t have met my partner, Joe, the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with. I wouldn’t have saved lives at work.
Without becoming mentally ill, I wouldn’t now be a carer for my Grandad. I wouldn’t have the understanding I do about his condition (Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a rare form of Alzheimer’s) and I wouldn’t be able to support my Nana in her role as his primary carer. I wouldn’t be able to explain his behaviour to her or be as understanding and sympathetic to him when he tells me the same story or asks me the same question for the umpteenth time. (For the record, I don’t mean that one needs to be or have been mentally ill in order to do these things, simply that they wouldn’t have occurred for me had I not been). I would be working a normal job and have very little spare time to even visit them, let alone spend time in a caring role two or more days a week.
If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have created my blog or my social media channels, I wouldn’t be helping others and I wouldn’t be as nice as I am. I was a very opinionated child who thought they knew it all and would have quite happily voiced my almost certainly stigmatised views about anyone else who was mentally ill. I would have thought they just needed to pull themselves together and snap out of it, to be stronger willed and to just get on with it and suck it up. I wouldn’t have been half as empathetic and sympathetic as I am now. I would have remained far more ignorant and arrogant. I also wouldn’t have learnt about others as much as I have because through being mentally ill I’ve learnt to ask questions, to not assume, and to find out directly from others about their experiences and motivations.
If not for mental illness, I don’t actually know who or where I’d be, I don’t know what I would have become or what I would be doing but I know it would be different and I know I wouldn’t be as caring. I’ve always tried to remain separate from my conditions, to have them but for them not to have me and more importantly, for them not to become me. But, when you’ve lived with something for such a long time, there’s no way that it won’t affect you. You can’t stop it from seeping in and from making changes. There are the obvious changes like the constant worry, the dark thoughts and the incessant need for control but you don’t notice the more subtle changes or the positive ones and you’re never quite sure whether they’d have happened regardless or are purely a result of the conditions. If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have self-harm scars, I’d have eyebrows and eyelashes because I wouldn’t be incessantly pulling them out due to Trichotillomania, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder. But I also wouldn’t have the friends that I met when I was an inpatient, I wouldn’t have got into most of the hobbies I have now including photography, colouring and crochet, and I wouldn’t have the problem-solving abilities that only someone who’s imagined every single possible and impossible scenario can develop.
There are many ways in which my life would be better if I weren’t and never had been mentally ill, I’d be in full-time work, I’d be well on my way to owning a property, I probably wouldn’t have completely written off the idea of having biological children and I’d be able to do anything and everything I wanted to without the restrictions of my conditions. But I don’t think I’d notice all of the little things I do, I don’t think I’d be as observant, as grateful, or as driven and determined as I am. There’s little else that will focus you quite as much as having to fight through adversity.
As I started off by saying, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody and I’d wish it away in a heartbeat but I’m not sure that I could wish away all of the ways in which it’s changed my life because without mental illness, I’m not sure I’d be the same person, I’m not sure I’d be who I am, and I’m not sure I’d even like who that was and so when answering whether I’d get rid of my mental illness if I could then the answer is yes…..but….. The things that I’ve gone through are in the past, even the things that happened yesterday or even a minute ago and so I’d allow those, I’d wish away the conditions right now but I’d want the changes that have occurred to stay. I couldn’t have studied a better degree, I couldn’t have met better friends, I couldn’t have wished for a better partner and I couldn’t have picked a better field to get a career within and without mental illness I’d have none of those. So I’m really ready to no longer be mentally ill, to have mental illness as part of my past rather than my present or future, but I wouldn’t change much at all about the past because if I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today and much as that includes being a huge heap of worry, anxiety, and nervous energy, I couldn’t be prouder of how kind and caring I am and the fact that I’m turning the negatives of my own conditions into positives to help others who are suffering too.