It’s easy to begin to focus so much on ourselves and how “hard” we have it that self-pity can start to creep in and take up residence in our beliefs. And while we get stuck in the pain and brokenness of a mental disorder, life keeps going on. Life doesn’t stop. And for me, life is way, WAY too short to get so stuck in self-pity or stuck in believing that now life is “over” because of having a mental illness. Yes, a mental health challenge can suck. Yes, a mental health challenge can hinder ones’ life and alter the course of what we had hoped life to be. Yes, a mental illness is a “cross to bear” in life. But, lest you and I forget, there are many other crosses in life that are just as difficult and some even more tragic and painful to bear. For me, it has been imperative that I remember that there are much worse crosses to bear in life than bipolar disorder. Remembering this helps keeps my self-pity at bay.
I spent seven very long years stuck in my pain and brokenness following the manic episode that brought about the collapse of my life. Self-pity was part of those seven years. I was stuck in it. I felt as though my life had been robbed from me. But, really was being stuck and feeling sorry for myself that was robbing me of life, not the bipolar disorder! And I didn’t get unstuck until I got sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself and believing that my life was over.
So, I decided I was going to live well in spite of having bipolar disorder. Those three little words, “in spite of” are the mantra of my recovery. In order to get unstuck I did three things:
- Changed how I was thinking by taking control of what I was thinking about. I did not allow myself to continually rehearse the pain and brokenness. Instead I began to think about how the pain and brokenness could propel me into living well. (This was the hardest thing I had to do in recovery!)
- Set reasonable and reachable goals that continually moved me towards living life well. I stuck to the goals and when reached, I set new ones. Failure was not an option. Yes, there were failures and set backs. But, I chose to see the set backs and failures and learning opportunities for living well.
- Started helping others with mental health challenges and got my focus off of myself. (This probably was the major game changer for me.) When I started focusing on helping others I found my passion again; there was purpose for all of the pain I had experienced.
Here’s what I know about life and how people live it based not only on my life but also after pastoring for the past 30 some years: everybody has “stuff.”
Everybody has pain. Everybody has tragedies and losses in their lives. Pain is pain. Whether it is the loss of a child, cancer, financial collapse, divorce or a mental illness: you either work through it, or you get stuck in it. (By the way, if this blog post is “ticking you off”, then you are most likely stuck in your pain.) As they say, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
So, how are you responding to the things that life is throwing you? How are you reacting to having a mental health challenge? Are you living well in spite of having a mental health diagnosis? If not, why not?
You can check out Brad’s podcast at: FreshHope4MentalHealth.com
Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.
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