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THE ABC's

Accept

The 'A' of the ABCs stands for acceptance. You need to learn to accept that you have a mental illness, and it's not as simple as it sounds. In my case, I actually skipped Acceptance and started with 'Believe.' For a while, I thought of my experience with mental illness as a phase that I went through--similar to how I went through a phase of smoking a lot of pot. I had alot of regrets about things I said, did or thought during my struggle with Mental illness, and while everyone in my life kept reminding me that I shouldn't feel that regret because I had a Mental Illness, it was difficult for me to see it that way.

The tricky part with acceptance is that we remember everything we did while our illness was destroying our lives... I think back about the shameful things I did and I still remember making those decisions... it wasn't like my illness consumed me to the point where I was trapped in my head while my mental illness controlled my actions as if I was a remote control toy robot and spoke for me like I was a mannequin. Since that's not how mental illness works, it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I had a mental illness... I considered my illness as a convenient excuse for my words, thoughts and actions, and the people in my life had no trouble accepting that my mental illness was to blame even though I didn't.

It took me a long time for it to sink in that I really did go crazy, because nobody ever thinks they're going to be the kind of person that goes crazy... we all have had preconceptions about the kind of people that go crazy... people like crack addicts, homeless people, people who had family problems or losers who hate themselves and their lives... we go through our lives thinking we're "normal" (whatever being 'normal' really meanS) and think it could never happen to us... even when we eventually do get diagnosed, we still go through a period of denial... At first, when I was encouraged to go to my current support group (that my parents started attending long before I did) I imagined that it would be a room full of depressed, zombie-like, emotionless people who spend all their time pitying themselves... I didn't think those people were 'normal.' I still thought of myself as normal and my illness was just a little speed bump... I thought it was a short period of my life where I had a fling with insanity but was never truly insane... it took me a long time to realize that I was, in fact, insane... that's an extremely important realization that we all have to make.

Believe:

The 'b' of the ABCs is 'believe.' For me, it took a long time for me to think that I could go back to having the life I used to have... go back to college, get a job, restart my social life and gain all my self esteem and confidence back. Mental Illness has a way of sucking every last bit of self esteem and confidence out of us, and without those two things, we feel hopeless and can lose our faith that says we really can get better. The way I see it, there is a positive meaning for 'believe' and a detrimental, negative meaning for 'believe.'

The positive meaning of 'believe' is that we decide that we are going to do whatever it takes to get our lives back on track... we make a plan in our heads and do our best to execute it, and adjust when things don't go according to plan... we take baby steps and at first it seems like things aren't moving fast enough and that it will take years and years to build ourselves up at the pace we have when we start making an effort to get better. But if you stick with it and don't worry about how long it will take to get better, things start snowballing and feeding off each other and we start getting better and better at a faster pace.

The negetive meaning of 'believe' is that--while it's great to strongly believe you are going to get your life back and make it as good as it used to be--we can fool ourselves into thinking everything can get better all at once... we get out of a hospital, determined to get our old lives back, and immediately call up friends, go out drinking, go back to school and sign up for an 18 credit semester, and go around asking every girl you see on dates. We can't do it all at once, and if you try, it's probably a sign that you're still a bit manic and if you try to jump back into that active life really quickly, your medication might not have started working yet... so, while it's admirable to be so determined to go back to the life you had, you need to take it one step at a time... trying to do it all too quickly can set you up for a huge let down, and it can lead you right back into depression. You can lose your faith because you know how hard you tried, but sometimes can't see that you were trying too hard.

Another aspect of 'believe' is that you can build yourself back up into the person you want to be. A lot of people struggle with the 'believe' part because they are totally focused on becoming the person they used to be. It's not hard--not even a little--to look back at our lives and spot all the mistakes we've made and dumb things we said and start thinking to ourselves 'if I only did that instead of that.' It's easy to look back on our lives and see all the things we should have done that would have led to a perfect life... it's easy to perfect the past in your mind, but you're never going to be able to perfect your present and your future--no one can, not even people without mental illness. WE have a tendancy to reminisce like that and, especially when we're depressed, think back about our better days... since the depression we deal with in our present can make us hate ourselves, it's natural for us to look back before the shit hit the fan and wish that we could be that person again... we remember all the great things we had and the great person we used to be, and no matter how much we want it back, we'll never be able to go back and be that same person and live that same life. A lot of us learn that the hard way.

One time at the support group, I talked about how we need to stop looking into our past and longing to be who we were. Instead, we need to focus on who we are now and who we want to be in the future... I was talking about how we needed to let go of that past we so deseperately want back. The people at group understood that, but they asked how they go about doing it. At first, I couldn't come up with an answer--I'd never thought about how I did it myself, but after a few minutes of thinking about it, I realized how I was able to let go of my past: I looked at who I used to be and what my life used to be like with a new, rational perspective. I stopped glorfiying the person I used to be and instead looked at the parts of myself I hated, yet conveniently forgot about while depressed. Odds are, there is a whole lot of room for improvement when it comes to looking at the person we used to be.

Commit to Change

The 'C' of the ABCs is 'Change' or, more specifically, 'Commit to Change.' Once you've accepted that you have an illness and believe you can get better, it's time to actually do it. It's hard work--especially at first--and it never ends. Commmitting to change is by far the most difficult part of the ABCs. THe reason I think it's hardest is that committing to change isn't one single step that will solve all your problems. YOu need to commit to change in as many ways as possible.

For me, I had to get myself out of my depression, out of my bed and back into the world. I got myself a job, I got myself back in school, I was honest with my doctors, I took my medication at the same time every day, I started going to bed earlier so I could sleep well and wake up earlier, I started talking to people from class around campus (which I never used to do), I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking pot, I went to the support group every week, I tried my best to become a better friend, son and brother, I started getting back into my hobbies again, I actually studied for my classes, I started reading more and all other kinds of things that made me a better person with a better life. It took me a long time to do all those things, and they didn't all come at once, but the key to being able to do all those things was not to do them as if I had a checklist that I could cross things off of, thinking 'did that-done, did that-done, did that-done etc. I did each of those things, but I didn't move on to different things--I had to commit to each one of them and stay committed to each one as I moved on to another thing that would make my life better.

When it comes to 'commit to change,' you need to realize that there is ALWAYS room for improvement in your life. Don't settle. Don't get complacent. Don't think that 'well, I guess this is the best I'll ever be... I'm not thrilled about it, but that damn illness is going to keep me from getting any better than this, so I'll just have to get used to the fact that this is how my life is going to be forever.'

I thought that I was as good as I'd get--and I was actually happy with that outlook on life and the person I thought I'd be for the rest of my life. I had no idea how much better I could get. I went to school for English-Creative Writing, and when I first came home from the hospital, and was on medication, I could not channel that creativity and the mind which worked at a million miles and hour that I had always relied on. I thought I'd never be able to write like I did before the illness... but it's what I wanted to do, so I worked hard in class, and when I graduated, I read nearly a hundred books about writing in a few months and now I'm better than I ever was--losing the 'easy way' of doing things led to a better way with better results and in the procoess, I gained the discipline and determination that I had lacked my entire life.
For the record, committing to change does NOT mean that you need to force yourself to meet every single goal you set for yourself. If you get a job but hate it, your boss or co-workers, start looking for a new one... if you sign up for 16 credits but hate a class or struggle with one, or two, drop the class. Don't let your desire to commit to change force you into doing things that are making your life more stressful and less satisfying. YOu need to focus on your happiness and recovery more than you need to do things that prevent you from getting better--even if those things are positive *in theory.*

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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