Mental illness is not just something we cope with or fight against. It is something we must accept as a part of us.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my default thinking was that everything in my life was ruined because I was “suffering.” I thought (and was even told) that I could not safely travel long distance, I could not enjoy a cup of coffee without becoming manic, I could not have a job because now I had a disability that would make every day into a problem.
The language and perception around mental illness is so negative, which is why there’s still so much stigma. But we do not have to listen to it or agree with it. The people who told me every day would be a problem were wrong.
Through my journey, I have come to know that mental illness is not automatically a negative, sinister thing lurking in the shadows, ready to ruin our entire existence. There truly is beauty, humor, creativity and joy that emerges from mental illness. And we can have fulfilling, meaningful lives with our conditions.
Here are some tips to help you live well with your mental illness in 2020.
Know That All is Not Dark
Many people with brilliant and creative minds have experienced a range of mental illnesses. Vincent Van Gogh had bipolar disorder, and he created the mesmerizing painting, “The Starry Night.” Franz Wright had suicidal ideation, and his poem, “To Myself,” brings comfort to any person who reads it David Berman was clinically depressed, and he made the beautiful album, “Purple Mountains.”
Every time you feel you cannot do something because of your mental illness, think of what Leonard Cohen said: “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.” If possible, try viewing your mental illness not as something to survive, but as a catalyst to something beautiful: a poem, a journal entry, a drawing, a supportive conversation with a friend. We can all create beautiful things in 2020.
Know That You Deserve Wellness
Be kind to yourself always. That might mean taking your medication, getting acupuncture, drinking your matcha latte every morning, repeating mantras, reading inspiring poems or quotes, talking to a friend or going on a long walk. I have my own self-care ritual that brings me happiness. I enjoy bubble baths, making my condo smell like a campfire and traveling to restorative places and spas.
In 2020, start cultivating your own self-care practices. Start analyzing what brings you happiness and what is sabotaging your path to fulfillment. For me, the thing keeping me from happiness is my own self, my own pattern of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. I always think I cannot — I cannot succeed in any way. In 2020, I’m practicing self-care: I’m burning sage around every mental space that blocks me, and I’m telling myself I can, and I’m believing I deserve all the happiness in the world.
Know That You Are Resilient
This one is a hard one for me, as I am prone to hyper-focus on all the painful experiences of my life and forget that I am resilient. I see a therapist because I need help negating the voices in my head that tell me I’m a failure.
My therapist helps me reframe my thoughts and see that I got to this point in my life becauseI’m resilient. After a good therapy session, my therapist makes me feel like listening to Lizzo’s “Good as Hell,” giving a good hair toss and accepting that I am indeed a strong and resilient human being.
Know That There Will Be Bad Days
While we should go into 2020 with a positive perspective, there is no way to completely control your environment. Sometimes, things in your environment are just painful, causing a variety of symptoms to flare.
I thought in 2019 I could somehow cure myself of my bipolar disorder by being healthy and mindful. Eventually, I experienced so much stress that I felt the onset of psychosis and needed additional treatment. I felt despondent because I thought all the progress I had been making was ruined. But I now know that these things happen.
There will be many roadblocks that impede your mental wellbeing, but you have to keep fighting for yourself. That might mean changing your medication, seeing a therapist, changing your job or surrounding yourself with different people. Whatever the fight entails, you must continue on your path to living well — even when it is not linear.
I hope these tips provide some sense of comfort and strength. It is not easy to navigate the road of mental health or to admit you are struggling. Whether you are experiencing anxiety, depersonalization, paranoia, mood changes, never-ending depression, or any other mental health issue — you’ve got this.
Know there is beauty in the midst of the pain, and there will be beauty this year and the coming years. Remember every new year is a blank slate: a chance to start again, reframe the past and strategize for the future. There is hope and there is always the chance for happiness.
Anna Sharma finds joy through journaling, taking long walks, eating pho and traveling. She has been fortunate enough to travel to many cities around the world. Some of her favorite destinations include Rome, Seoul, Tokyo, Munich, Mexico City and Santiago.
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