How our limitations can create new opportunities — #MHAW17

This post was written for my 7 day mental health blog takeover, in support of #MHAW17.

People often talk about how terrible it must be to have a mental illness. We are all aware of the negative impact it can have on people’s lives — discrimination, a decline in relationships, difficulty in the workplace, a decreased life expectancy to name but a few possibilities.

But it’s not all ‘doom and gloom’ as they say. Trust me on this one.

At one point in my life, I thought I was at a disadvantage. I didn’t feel it was fair that I had my future taken away from me, yet my friends and other people my age got to do whatever they wanted. I couldn’t go to school like they did. I couldn’t take as many GCSEs as they did. I couldn’t hold down a job with as many hours as they could. I felt as though at every turn, I got held back from achieving my goals.

Now, I think differently. Sometimes it’s only with the benefit of hindsight and reflection that we can take the positives from a difficult situation or set of circumstances.

I’ve heard many people who’ve experienced breakdowns or a sharp decline in their mental health describe these occasions as a blessing. Or even more surprising perhaps — one of the best things that ever happened to them.

For someone to make such a grand statement may be shocking for some, but it is only now that I am able to understand and agree with this perspective.

Ask anyone with a mental illness if they would re-live their life with a completely healthy brain and a surprising number would decline the opportunity. Why? Because to ‘lose your mind’ is not just traumatic, but also a life-changing experience that allows you to re-define who you are as a human being and forge a new, more exciting path.

I’m quite a spiritual person, and subsequently believe that many things happen for a reason and there is a lesson and opportunity for progression from everything you experience in life.

In my darkest days, I’d often sit and desperately try and convince myself that “there has to be a reason i’m going through this.” I came to believe in time that there isn’t always a reason — sometimes you have to create your own.

I spent way too much time crying, I decided, to get nothing from it. Becoming acutely aware that there were people who were living through the same thing as me, I realised that the greatest positive to come from my illness could be the opportunity to try and help others.

It wasn’t the only opportunity that illness gave me, however. The time I lost from regular teenage life got ploughed into studying music. Learning the guitar (and believe me, I needed all the time I could get to become acceptable at that), writing songs and creating art.

I have no doubt that had I stayed in mainstream school, I would have followed a generic path and been fairly successful at it. I would have attended university. I would probably be living on my own by now. I’d be driving, perhaps working in a graduate job and I might even be in a relationship with a perfectly decent bloke.

The thing is, I knew pretty early on in my life that I was ‘different’. Normal was, and always will be too boring for me. It’s even possible that embarking on that alternate path might have reduced my music to a fading hobby, and that’s something that my young self would have been horrified at. It’s always important to me that I stay true to her, and the dreams she had before becoming ill.

I remarked in a song I wrote a few weeks ago that “I haven’t done a thing the way that I planned to”, but that’s what makes my life interesting. Mental illness forced me to think outside the box. To consider and accept my limitations, but also find creative ways to build on my strengths. It made me resilient and able to challenge myself — going crazy is more scary than most everyday things we fear.

I suppose what i’m trying to say in my typical motivational speech style, is that we’re special, those of us with malfunctioning heads. So if you’re feeling downhearted about your situation, remember what a unique chance you’ve been given to thrive.