When my therapist asked me how I was doing today, he opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on mental illness. I told him that I still felt like I wasn’t in control of myself, unsure of what is me and what is my illness. What he said really made an impression on me.
“Well it is all you. Your illness did not change who you are. What changed in you is the chemicals in your brain, not you. Your mood is not you.”
I fell silent for a few moments thinking about this… He went on to explain this to me with an analogy. A mental illness is in your brain, and your brain is a part of your body. A torn ACL is in your knee, and your knee is a part of your body. They are both physical limitations. When a football player blows out their knee, they can’t play in the game, they have to let it heal, go through physical therapy and work through their limitations to get back in the game. Mental illness is the same. You have to know what you are fighting against, not yourself, your brain. Don’t surrender to it. It is a physical limitation just like a blown out knee, it is repairable with the right care. Just like a football player has to heal and go through physical therapy to get back in the game, you have to engage in positive thinking and positive behavior in order to balance the negative moods created by these chemicals in your brain. He asked me what I thought and I fell silent again… I had never seen it this way. When I got sick, it was my brain which is a physical limitation, not my mind which is the essence of me. He left me to think about this until I saw him again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since this morning. I have never had mental illness explained to me in this way before.
“Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.”
I have a much deeper understanding of this quote now. It isn’t just about not letting society put a label on you because of your illness. It is about realizing that your illness is not you, it is not a weakness or character flaw. It’s your brain. It’s not your fault or your choice, just like other physical illnesses or limitations. It takes strength and courage to endure and recover.
I wanted to share this because I know that sometimes in the midst of a mental illness you feel like you lost yourself. You wonder what is wrong with you and what you are supposed to do to make things better. Well, there is nothing wrong with you, or me, or anyone else with a mental illness. It is a physical limitation no different than a blown out knee or a broken arm. You are repairable, do not surrender. The essence of you hasn’t changed, you just have to work really hard to balance the negative moods created by the chemicals in your brain.