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Reclaiming Life After a Mental Health Diagnosis: Real Talk from Patients

“I almost feel lucky.”

When you’re dealing with mental illness, it can be hard to tease out what’s “normal” and when your emotions and behaviors are something to be more concerned about. Everyone feels a little sad, anxious, antisocial, or obsessive sometimes. But for anyone dealing with a mental illness, these emotions have been amplified to an extent that they having a notable negative impact on your ability to succeed in relationships, work, and school, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Here are signs of a mental health disorder you might be ignoring.)

By definition, a mental health condition negatively impacts a person’s life, but with proper diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing management, living a healthier life is possible. HealthiNation interviewed a group of people living with mental illnesses about how they reclaimed their lives after a mental health diagnosis—and even learned to embrace the condition itself.

Take advantage of the positives

“I definitely feel that my anxiety has given me a lot of positives, and that wasn’t easy for me to say a few years ago. I’m basically taking my dysfunction and I’ve made it my function, so I actually embrace the fact that I have anxiety and that it makes me really good at what I do.”

—Trish Barillas, living with anxiety

Different is just different—not bad

“You grow up thinking that you’re not like everyone else, [or] you’re different, and maybe that’s not a good thing. But in reality, it’s not a bad different. It’s just a different different, and you just have to learn how to cope with things in a different way than ‘normal’ people do.”

—Lauren Klinger, living with ADHD  

Keep working toward a better life

“I think the difference between me and others is that I have never stopped ‘working it’ and getting the help that I need to just keep going so I didn’t have to feel so horrible. To know there are other possibilities, and I didn’t have to live like that.”

—Nancy Snell, living with depression

Look for opportunities to use your condition for good

“Some amazing things have come out of my journey. I talk to family groups, and one of the things they always talk about is how sad they are that their child won’t have the opportunities that they wanted them to have because they’re bipolar. … It’s opened up a world of opportunities for me. [By] teaching other people about it, I help them accept it. It’s huge. I feel so lucky to be involved. I almost feel lucky that I have bipolar disorder because it’s brought me to where I am today.”

—Mitzi Bockmann, living with bipolar disorder

Find creative outlets

“I’m just really glad that I found creative outlets, and photography helped me to get out my door.”

—Danielle Gitkin Hark, living with depression

Seek acceptance

“I just have to kind of tell myself that this is who I am, and there is nothing wrong with me … and this is okay.”

—Matt Berman, living with OCD

There are strengths in having quirks

“As his mom, I had to stop seeing it as something bad—as something negative. I had to start seeing it as something positive. I began to look for his strengths. It’s okay to be cool, it’s okay to be different, it’s okay to be quirky.”

—Alisha Griffith, mother of a son with autism

For more tips, here is advice from patients for living with a mental illness, types of therapy that can help treat mental illnesses, and experts’ recommendations for treating depression.

Duration: 2:02. Last Updated On: March 19, 2018, 5:30 p.m.
Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD, . Review date: March 14, 2018
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