There was a time, early on when I was in the beginnings of my illness, that people told me that I may have to lower my expectations for myself. Mental healthcare workers, even family members, thought that I would be limited by my illness and would not be able to achieve what I would have been able to had I not gotten ill. I remember my counselor treating me as if I was not as capable as other people, as if she did not really believe that I would recover from schizoaffective disorder.
This lack of faith and lack of belief in recovery that some people in the mental health world share is unfortunate in my eyes. Our beliefs affect our reality, and if we believe we will fail then we are more likely to. Likewise, if we believe that we will heal, then I believe we are more likely to as well. Belief is only the beginning, however, as we must take action. The tricky part is that many of our limiting beliefs inhibit us from taking action. I know that I have fallen into the trap of using my illness as a crutch many times. I would start feeling sorry for myself or thinking that I would never get better. Or I would start thinking that I would have to settle in my life. This is a dangerous trap to let yourself fall into. I think it was Henry David Thoreau who said “most men live lives of quiet desperation.” I did not and do not want this to be me.
The thing is, mental illness is not a crutch. It is not an excuse to be less than you are meant to be. Yes, my life looks very different now than it would have had I not gotten sick, but that doesn’t mean it is better or worse. I think I’m a much better person now as a result of my experiences with mental illness. I was a pretty narrow-minded kid, and I am much more humble and compassionate now as a result of what I have been through. It has done so much to mold my character. Yes, from a linear point of view, I was on disability for eight years, and I may be “behind” in my finances, but from a spiritual point of view, we all take our own windy roads to learn the lessons that we need to learn in this life. And to me, the spiritual lessons are more important than the material possessions anyway.
So, mental illness or not, we are no different than anybody else in the sense that we are responsible for our own lives. We must hold ourselves accountable for our reactions to our experiences. We may not choose all of our circumstances, but we can choose to make the best of them, to learn from them, and to move forward in a positive way. And we can choose not to limit ourselves or put ourselves in a box based on a diagnosis. We are all meant for great things, even in small ways, and if we do just a little to bring out the goodness inside of us, then the world is a better place because of it.