Getting a mental health diagnosis can be frightening. You may feel like there is something wrong with you or that you are damaged in some way. The truth is that getting a mental health diagnosis is the first step in getting better. Each diagnosis has its own set of rules, as well as its own treatment. By figuring out your diagnosis, you’ll be able to get on the road to recovery.
You might feel nervous and worried that you will never be the same again, but there is so much hope for recovery and help available. Here are eleven things I wish someone told me before my diagnosis.
You’re not alone
Mental illness affects 1 in 5 adults each year (about 44 million of us). Depression is likely to affect about 14% of people at some point in their lives, with anxiety disorders affecting a similar number. If you have a mental illness, chances are you’re not alone- many people have it too!
It’s an invisible disability
When we think “disability,” we often picture wheelchairs or someone who can’t see. But disabilities don’t always show up as something physical like that. Mental illnesses are invisible disabilities- you can’t see them, but they affect people’s thoughts and their ability to function.
Sometimes, with mental illness, you can’t see the evidence of a problem. This can make it hard for your friends and family to accept that it’s real too. But an illness is still real even if you can’t see it.
It happens for a reason
Some mental illnesses happen because of genetics or biological causes; some are caused by certain events in your life (like what happened with me); and others have no clear cause at all. This is an important thing to accept- because even if you didn’t do anything to cause it, there still might be something that happened in your life or in your brain chemistry that caused it. You just have to figure out what it is.
It can be treated, but it’s not easy
The good news is that most mental illnesses CAN be treated, but treatments aren’t always easy to get (and they’re not cheap). This also means a lot of people who could benefit from treatment don’t get it- and this is something they, and everyone around them, should try to change. Treatments for mental illnesses often include counseling or therapy- you may meet with a psychologist, social worker, or counselor (or any other type of therapist) as part of your treatment. You might also take medicine or do some sort of activity like art therapy. Be patient while you’re getting treatment, and don’t give up if it doesn’t work right away.
You can learn to manage your illness
The treatment I’m talking about will not make the illness go away forever, but it should help you feel better for longer stretches of time or stay healthy altogether. Both of those things are important- a lot of us feel better while we’re getting treatment, but then relapse after the treatment ends. Some people’s mental illnesses are chronic- meaning they’ll have it for the rest of their lives- but with proper treatment and self care, you can learn to manage your illness so that you feel more like yourself and less like someone who is sick.
You can get better
People with depression and anxiety disorders have the same hopes like everyone else for a rewarding and meaningful life. While it’s important to manage your illness by seeking treatment, it’s also important to let yourself dream of having a great job or being an amazing parent or moving somewhere you’ve always wanted to live. Don’t let your depression define what you can be; work with those around you on a positive path for the future.
You’ll make changes you’re not ready for
When you’re depressed, it’s common to feel lost or confused about what you want out of life. Then when you finally start feeling better, you might realize that a lot has changed in your life- and so have you! It can be scary or frustrating if the person you were doesn’t seem to fit with where you are in your life right now, but take it one day at a time and remember that change happens to all of us.
You’ll have good days and bad days
This is something I didn’t really believe before my diagnosis, but depression isn’t like an on/off switch. It’s more like stumbling through a marathon- some days you’ll be running, and some days you’ll barely be able to crawl. Others won’t really understand this point at first, but it’s important that you know that the illness ebbs and flows with your energy level- don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day, just try to get back on your feet.
There will be setbacks
When I worked as a crisis counselor, my supervisor told me that the first year after her bipolar diagnosis was the hardest. I didn’t believe it at the time, but she was right. You can learn to manage your mental illness or cope with it in therapy and get medication for it, but sometimes you’ll have bad days for no reason (or a reason that doesn’t seem to make sense). That’s okay. Just know you can reach out to people who understand your struggle, and try again tomorrow.
There are new dreams ahead
I heard once that every time we face death or adversity, we’re forced to ask the question “Why am I here?” When you face your diagnosis, you might find yourself asking that question. Maybe it’s not a huge crisis, but maybe something happens in your life that makes you ask why you’re here. If this is the case and you have trouble figuring out an answer or how to pursue it, I recommend finding a partner in recovery- someone who reminds you of why you’re here and supports you in your recovery.
It’s not always easy to be diagnosed with a mental illness- in fact, it can be downright terrifying. But there are so many things you need to know and learn about your diagnosis that will help make the transition easier for you. You’ll most likely feel scared or confused about what this new life means for you, but don’t worry- a diagnosis is simply a tool to help you discover more about how your mind works. And once you know this, you are far more likely to be able to cope and recover.