Living with a mental illness changes ones outlook on life. Especially when you are confronted with the consequences of your illness.
For some it starts early in life, messing up childhood and/or adolescence. For some it happens later in life, like the early twenties. For others the diagnosis comes way later after having lived through a lot of heartache and ignorance of what is going on with them.
Whatever the moment the diagnosis is delivered, it is sure to turn your life upside down. On the one hand it is a relief to know what is actually going on. On the other hand it is often a harsh confrontation with a chronic and life long illness that will require life long treatment.
What makes or breaks us, however, is our approach of who we are in the midst of all this.
Let me explain.
A victim, according to the dictionary, is an unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance or a person who is tricked or swindled.
At first we feel tricked and swindled. How could this ever happen to me? Why? How am I supposed to live my life? What consequences does it have on my career choice, spouse, friends, family etc.?
Calling a mental illness an adverse circumstance is quite an understatement, though! And yes, we definitely suffer from it, as often do those around us.
We can become survivors. The definition of a survivor, according to the same dictionary is someone who survives in spite of adversity or someone who lives through affliction.
With the proper care and support network in place, those of us suffering from a mental illness can survive whatever their illness throws at them. The hard part is that it is not a one-time-only event, we go through adversity and affliction on a regularly basis. Regular being different for each individual.
So, who do you want to be: a victim or a survivor?
Do you want to blame your illness for your behavior? Or do you want to take responsibility?
While we can never be held responsible for having a mental illness, I believe we can be held responsible for our response to having the illness.
It requires us to make choices when we are well enough to do so. We need to build a support network to help us deal with any fall out our illness might bring. We also need to allow people to confront us with our behavior, before we get into a big mess, getting hurt or hurting others.
It is not easy, let me be very clear on this. However, it does not mean it can’t be done. I believe by taking responsibility, we are carving out a much better live for ourselves. It will enable us to reach goals that otherwise we might not be able to.
But let me introduce you to a third concept concerning our approach of having a mental illness.
Becoming a master.
While not all definitions of the word master or the verb to master apply, it is interesting to look at the following from the dictionary.
A master/to master is:
a battler, fighter;
a learner (as in being a student)
to control (as in having a firm understanding and knowledge of);
to get the hang of it (as in being/becoming completely proficient or skilled in);
a victor, superior (as in dealing with successfully);
a professional (as in having authority);
an original (as in the master copy, there is only one).
The goal is to be able to rule over our illness instead of being ruled by it. Therefore we battle and fight. We have to learn and become a student of our illness, our symptoms & triggers. A firm understanding and knowledge of our illness and our symptoms gives us more control. When we become completely proficient and skilled in all of this, we get the hang of it. So we can deal with it successfully and become a victor. And as a professional we gain authority in the area of our illness.
This is important because we are an original, we are unique as there is only one of us!
While aspiring to be a survivor is commendable and not an easy thing to do, I personally like to take it a step further and become a master of my illness. It is a long process of which I am a student for five years now. And I possibly will be a student for life. It’s a good thing that I like to study :)!
What do you want to be(come): a victim, a survivor or a master?