After having battled mental illness for a decade, and having overcome it, I am able to say with confidence from my own experience what mental illness is, and what it is not. There is an old saying that I heard once to the effect of “the person with experience is never at the mercy of the person with knowledge.” In the case of mental illness, your experiences in suffering, battling, and eventually overcoming the illness are invaluable. The lessons you learn along the way are worth more than any material possession, and no one can ever take that away from you!
Here are five lessons that I learned during my illness about what mental illness is NOT:
1. Mental Illness is Not You!!!
One of the first profound realizations that I had during my mental illness was that I still felt like myself inside. It was odd to me to feel the same as I always had, the same as when I was a child, the same as when I was thriving in high school, and the same as when I was graduating from Cornell University, and yet my life was in shambles and I could barely function. Also, I felt the same as I do today when I am happy and healthy, and fully functioning. Inside I still felt like the same person throughout the illness. This realization was profound for me because it seemed odd. It seemed as if the world had changed, rather than me.
What is important about this realization, is that it showed me that the illness was not me. I was the same person with the same values operating the same way as I had when I was excelling academically, and yet I couldn’t maintain a job, support myself, have normal relationships with others, or function in society. Professionals loved me when I was getting A’s in their classes, and now other professionals were telling me I would have to adjust and lower my expectations for my life. It didn’t add up.
While this felt like an incredible injustice, especially since people have a tendency to blame those with a mental illness for their lack of functioning, or to attribute it to personal flaws rather than something outside their control, I took solace in knowing that I was not my mental illness. Inside, it still felt like me. I knew who I was, because I could feel it inside. Thankfully, that was enough for me to hold onto to help get me through.
2. Mental Illness is Not Your Symptoms.
The second profound realization that I had during the illness was that the illness was not my symptoms. I had read or heard about people who were leading successful lives and had similar beliefs as my “delusions”. For example, one of my delusions was believing that aliens are living among us. There are countless people who attend UFO conferences and have written books, and devote their entire careers to this belief, and yet they do not have a mental illness and are functioning fine in their lives.
I realized that the illness was not my symptoms, but my lack of functioning. The “symptoms” were ill-adapted and not serving me in my life, and not contributing to my healthy functioning, but they were not the illness. They were a symptom of the illness. This was important for me in my healing journey because it didn’t matter to me whether or not the symptoms were real. This freed me up to focus on regaining my functioning and working on strategies that helped me to adapt to my life, rather than giving attention to the symptoms. I didn’t have to defend or justify, or even explain my abnormal experiences because in that way they were irrelevant. Therefore, I was able to put my attention on what worked in my life, rather than on what wasn’t working.
3. Mental Illness is Not Your Fault!
A third realization that I had, which I discuss in my recent podcast episode, “Spiritual Survival Tip: Know It’s Not Your Fault“, was that the illness was not my fault. I did question why I was going through such a difficult experience. I wondered if it was karma and I had done something really bad in a past life, or maybe I was flawed in some way and something was wrong with me personally. Despite these fears and personal doubts, I knew that I was a good person. My intentions were good, and I wanted to be doing good.
Eventually, I had to accept that the illness wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know what caused it, or why, and I stopped assuming that it was me. My spirituality and faith in God helped me with this because I re-framed my experience to one with meaning. I told myself that everything happens for a reason, and that God must have some purpose for what I was going through. I had faith in God even though I didn’t know why I was suffering and couldn’t see a way out. Every time I lost faith I told myself “even when you lose faith, have faith”.
The truth is, something is causing the illness, even though medical science hasn’t discovered it yet, and it’s not you. It’s not you, it’s not your genes, and you’re not faulty. The human body, like everything else in nature, is designed to be abundantly healthy and to thrive. Through my own healing journey I have discovered, and I now believe, that mental illness is largely caused by heavy metals accumulating in the brain and disrupting electrical signals. You can read about how I heal this in my blog post “Got Heavy Metals on the Brain?“.
4. Mental Illness is Not Well Understood by Science.
My experience in dealing with mental illness, as well as mental healthcare workers and medications, has shown me that mental illness is not well understood by science. The medical information about schizoaffective disorder that I read always said something to the effect of “we’re not really sure what causes it, but we think it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors”. The text that came with my anti-psychotic medication said “we’re not really sure how this works, but we think it affects certain neurotransmitters in the brain”. When I was working with my prescribing nurse-practitioner, I went from medication to medication, trying different ones until something worked. It felt like a guessing game. Even the diagnosis is based on subjective patient reports and doctor observations, as opposed to something that is measurable. It is far from an exact science.
Because mental illness is really a mystery illness, it is important for us, as well as the mental healthcare community, to keep an open-mind about it. In my book, “Healing Schizoaffective“, I explain how I healed with the help of homeopathy, which helped keep me balanced enough to function without medication and to rebuild my life. If we think that science has it “in the bag”, then we will be less open to exploring other explanations and healing modalities. As I say in my book, true science is objective and neutral, and is about uncovering the truth, rather than defending the status quo of beliefs.
5. Mental Illness is Not a Life Sentence.
One of the most important lessons that I learned from my experience with mental illness, is that it is not a life sentence. Medical science currently says that schizoaffective disorder is incurable. However, I have been medication-free and leading a normal life for over three and a half years now. I know that mental illness is not impossible to heal from, because I did it.
This knowledge, that healing is possible, is invaluable. I can’t tell you how much pain I endured from the fear that I would never get better, and from not knowing if it was possible to get better. It can be demoralizing. That is the main reason why I wrote my book and am maintaining this website. I want to help save others from some of the suffering that I went through. I am sharing my experiences and the lessons that I have learned along the way to help increase the hope that you feel for yourself or your loved one.
I know how difficult mental illness is. I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of it, and I can honestly say that I am a much better person because of what I’ve been through. Just know that you’re not alone, and that the struggles you are facing do matter in this world. Every day that you persevere and work on getting better has a positive impact on the whole world and on all of humanity. May God bless you!