I love this question because of the ignorance it proclaims: “Why dwell on yourself so much?? That isn’t healthy.” For years, I received nothing but negative feedback from people who mattered regarding my personal journey. I am done apologizing for who I am & the path I walk, but I have no problem explaining myself when asked.
Mental illness is complicated & difficult to comprehend. How do you treat an illness that is so complex that the majority of mankind is baffled by it? How do you take control of a force so strong it often controls you & overtakes all sense of reality? How do you begin to battle an invisible enemy when you have no idea how or when he will attack?
I spend a great deal of time researching mental illness, rereading old journals, interviewing others who have witnessed my episodes, etc., because the key to recovery is to know myself better & know what can help reduce my symptoms. I seek answers about my past because it’s all a blur to me, but it’s a blur that’s the key to understanding the episodes I’ve had & will continue to have. I am working on a map to better understand myself & my mental illnesses, &, in turn, to have the tools to manage it all better than I have in the past.
I first began the quest of understanding myself in the spring of 2012 when I started writing a book of my memoirs called Known. Two years & 350 pages later, I discovered that mental illness existed. My entire world changed. What my parents had explained as spiritual deficiencies over the years was actually symptoms of a very serious mental illness. I was first diagnosed with major depression, then ADHD, then bipolar II & PTSD. Now it’s all changing yet again as my latest diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder, a form of schizophrenia. (The PTSD diagnosis did not change, but everything else has.)
I set my book project aside & began a new task: learning everything I could about mental illness & how it related to my life. In the autumn of 2014, I began a blog called Exploring Existence with a Certifiable Vagabond. I dove into detailing my experiences with episodes of mental illness along with general information on the subject.
In the words of David Morris, “It feels like you have this secret you can’t communicate. You don’t know how to. & this is what takes you the rest of your life to figure out—what is this secret, & how do I translate it to the world.”
My hope is to be understood through my writings. Mental illness is a challenge to understand & communicate with others, but I have accepted & embraced that challenge. At this point, it’s my life mission. Through my increased knowledge on the subject, I seek remission from my horrendous episodes. In the process, I enjoy the journey as I get to know other souls who have struggled or known someone struggling. It’s very refreshing to hear encouragement & other stories of despair & triumph.
When speaking of recovery in terms of mental illness, the best word to use is “remission,” which means the diminution of the seriousness or intensity of an illness. The only hope in mental illness is a temporary recovery, which is what remission means. Recovery implies that the illness can be gone entirely, which doesn’t happen with mental illness. It is a chronic illness, meaning the episodes & symptoms will always return. (That is, if it’s truly a mental illness; misdiagnosis is extremely common. It’s important to keep in mind that no diagnosis is final; it’s all a learning curve & still a fairly new & untested field of medicine.) Personally, I use “recovery” & “remission” interchangeably because, to me, they mean the same thing when it comes to mental illness: you can recover from an episode, but not from the illness.
Every case of mental illness is different. Not everyone has the same experiences or struggle with the same symptoms. A major key to understanding my mental illnesses involves deep introspection. It’s important to identify triggers, symptoms, & coping skills. Symptoms are moderately easy to identify, but learning what triggers them & what can help reduce them is a huge task. It’s impossible to manage a serious mental illness without getting a handle on these things for one’s own specific case of mental illness. This may only be done through deep & consistent self-awareness. I must uncover the truths of my subconscious & brain chemistry & automated responses, etc., to learn to properly manage my episodes.
That is why I spend so much time learning about who I am: I don’t know, & it’s important that I find out. My life depends on it.