Day 4: What are the pros and cons of having a mental illness(es) or your specific illness(es)?
This is a question (or subject) which I have often reflected on and indeed written on.
And in truth, there will no doubt be some commonalities in the answers given by different people doing this challenge. But because we are all unique and our circumstances unique I don’t doubt that there will no doubt be some answers that I give, which are entirely specific to me.
I think I am going to deal with the ‘cons’ first as I would very much like to end this post on a positive note rather than a negative one.
Ok first the explanatory disclaimer. The truth is that there are a whole myriad of cons which can be associated to having mental illness or experiencing poor mental health. But in the interest of not boring you to tears or being seen as a ‘winging winnie’ I will list just some of the main ones.
Likewise, there are of course, as I indicated above, the common cons which will appear below but also perhaps some very personal ones…
The Stigma which is often so very wrongly attached to poor mental health/mental illness and indeed the resultant fall out from it.
Thankfully we (humankind) do appear to be making great strides in addressing this as our understanding of mental health and mental illness improves, but even so it really is still a huge problem. Some people simply don’t understand and, as a result of this, feel somewhat unsure – even threatened – by mental illness and poor mental health.
One such example of this is sadly present within the modern-day church. Many Christians struggle with the very concept of a Christian having poor mental health or having a mental illness. And trust me ( I know from first hand experience) where that mental illness causes depression or even suicidal thoughts this can send Christians into all sorts of conflicts and resultant arguments, assumptions, misconceptions, and responses.
Secondly, there are the Broken or Strained Relationships which sadly also seem to go hand in hand with mental illness and poor mental health. I have little to no doubt that my mental illnesses have – either through my own actions and lack of understanding, or through the actions and lack of understanding of others – damaged and even wrecked relationships which would have survived or even flourished if no mental illness was present.
And then there are, certainly for me personally, the Distorted Perceptions. These are times when I simply seem to see things in a totally different way to others. Where my understanding of what is happening or what took place is so very different from the other person’s understanding. Of course this can happen even where no mental illness is present but it does seem that where mental illness is present – or at very least where my mental illnesses are present – the frequency or chances of this happening are increased.
Those of you who are bothering to read all this and who are observant will probably notice that this is also linked to one of the ‘Pros’ I will list later. But in the negative it can also bring about…
‘Confusion and Self-Doubt‘ are things which often reign as a result of my mental illness and the ‘distorted memories’ which I mentioned above. So many times my mental illnesses can bring with them altered states of reality and consequently you end up often doubting yourself, your memory or your understanding.
And the last two/three examples lead me very neatly to what I like to call the ‘Cop-out Clause Effect‘. This is the label I give to those situations and circumstances where the other person has failed to see or understand your opinion or point of view in a situation. And where, instead of trying to understand or even consider that they could be wrong or might have behaved badly, they simply put the whole thing down to your mental illness. Man that can be so very annoying when it happens.
And conversely there is the ‘Get out of Jail free card‘ which is often played on your behalf when you have mental illness. I fully understand and accept, (indeed I know first hand) that sometimes my mental illnesses cause me to behave or react badly to things. And certainly I accept that, when this happens, any response to said reaction or behavior should take my mental health into consideration. BUT I am also fully aware that sometimes my behavior or reactions are not in the least bit due to my mental illness or poor mental health I am just simply behaving badly. And thus any reaction to this should not offer me a ‘get out of jail free card’ but instead hold me as accountable as anyone else.
Now I understand that this can be a veritable mine-field for folk, but I am a big boy now and I am essentially honest to a fault and I am convinced that calm, reasonable, adult conversation concerning what happened will soon afford the truth behind what took place.
And the penultimate ‘con’ in my list of cons about having mental illness is the ‘often hidden‘ and ‘fluctuating states of play‘ which can (and certainly are in my case) experienced.
Mental illness is not like having a broken leg where everyone can see you are wearing a splint of cast around your leg and so don’t therefore ask you to play football, run races or climb ladders.
It (in my case and experience) often fluctuates in the way and severity in which both presents itself and indeed in how it affects me. And in truth it can also often remain hidden.
This can often mean that folk fail to understand what your mental state is at any given time and thus fail to understand your capabilities or reactions. It can also mean that – as in my case where I am classed as being ‘extremely high functioning’ – when your mental illness does cause an odd or unusual reaction or behavior in you, the resultant damage can be greater than it would have been if your mental illness was recognized or understood in that situation.
And there is another aspect of this which is extremely important. (although I am really not sure I am explaining any of this very well at all). Because of the ‘often hidden’ and ‘fluctuating state of play’ of my mental health and because I am considered and (I accept) present as ‘extremely high functioning’ folk simply assume that I am able to cope with most things most of the time until my mental health goes wonky. This is simply not the case! There are aspects and areas where I am simply not able to cope and thus am a complete wreck in those areas.
Which brings me to the last ‘con’ which I will share in my soul-bearing list of cons attached to my mental illnesses. And that is the state of playing ‘catch up and repair’ which can often result from mental illness or poor mental health.
Whilst I have freely admitted that there are certain aspects and areas where, as a result of my mental illnesses, I am a wreck, generally speaking I am extremely high functioning and do cope with most things. But when the state of my mental health worsens things do go awry and chaos and confusion seem to reign.
This means that, once my mental health improves again (and yes my mental illnesses presents itself in such a cyclical fashion) I am forced into a state of playing ‘catch up and repair’. Examples of this are such things as…
the tidiness of my home,
eating patterns disordered,
correspondence ignored and not replied to or dealt with,
bills not being paid and the monies set aside for them spent on other often useless and frivolous things,
medication not taken as prescribed,
increased isolation and commitments and appointments not kept.
So there you have just some (ok quite a few) of the myriad of ‘cons’ attached to my mental illnesses. But, as I said before, I don’t want to end on a negative note. And, in truth, I really do try to keep a positive outlook concerning my mental illnesses. So here are just some of the ‘pros’ definitely or potentially attached to my mental health/mental illnesses.
Very top of my list has to be that I truly believe that my mental illnesses afford me ‘a different way of seeing‘. It can be a hard thing to describe but it somehow opens your eyes to considering things in a different and often much deeper way than a lot of people seem to do.
‘a acute sense of humor‘ This one is one which some people disagree with but it is, I think, very interesting that some of the greatest comedic minds of our time (and let’s be honest here we have less information concerning the comedic minds of the past and certainly a much lower understanding of mental health in those days) seem to also struggle with poor mental health or with mental illnesses. I found this article ‘Tears of the clown: Comedians who battle with serious mental health problems‘ very interesting. As well as this one also ‘Study finds comedians are more inclined to have ‘high levels of psychotic personality traits”.
‘an inner strength‘ and ‘perseverance‘. Again a difficult one to describe or truly pin point. As a Cristian a great deal of my inner strength no doubt comes from my faith. But I also recognize that because so many of the most simplest of tasks – which many folk take for granted – often, as a result of my mental health, take far more effort or concentration.
The words of Romans 5:1-4 (NKJV) tells us.. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. “
And whilst this is primarily applicable to faith, the statement ‘Knowing that tribulation produces perseverance’, is extremely relevant to what I am talking about here. That is not to say that we ( and more personally I) don’t struggle or don’t grow weary and I for one can truly understand when mental illness brings you to a point of despair and a desire to end it all. But the bright side of it all has to be the strength that is shown even making it as far as we have sometimes.
‘Creativity‘ Here again this might well be linked to one or two of the ones above ‘a different way of seeing’ and ‘an acute sense of humor’ for example. But I do accept that I am or can be extremely creative. Or ‘artsy’ as some folk have labelled me. I write poetry, novels, blogs. I draw, sketch, paint, sculpt. I love acting. All of these things a very possibly related to my mental illness and it is perhaps interesting that Stephen Fry (and others) – in his documentaries “The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive” when answering the question “If there was a big red button which, when pushed, would remove your bipolar disorder – would you push it?” also considered within his answer how many positives he might also lose along with his bipolar.
‘Deep thinking‘ Also linked to one or two of the above, my mind – which after all is the very same mind which has the mental illnesses – seems to allow me to think extremely deeply and indeed to take my thought processes off on a myriad of side journeys and considerations. (Which trust me can sometimes be just as much a curse as a blessing). But this does allow me to unwrap thoughts, questions and topics extremely deeply at times and does open up a whole world of different perspectives and understandings.
‘Being able to relate‘ One of the greatest benefits of suffering from mental illness for me personally has to be that it has brought with it an ability and openness to relate to others with similar challenges or difficulties in their lives.
Mental illness does, as I have said elsewhere, all to often push people away. It can make people unsure of themselves or of how to communicate with or behave around folk who have mental illness.
And this is so very tragic as by shunning or avoiding folk – by effectively writing off – who have mental illness we lose a wealth of experience and creativity and beauty that we would so very much benefit from. If suffering from mental illness myself has brought me just the ability to understand this then truly it is worth it!
‘A reluctance to judge people‘ Oh how very grateful I am for this one! How many times in my life have I felt misjudged or misunderstood? And as a result of this I try so very hard not to do the same thing. I am acutely aware that so very often we do not know (or at times people don’t even bother to consider) the back story behind the way a person acts or reacts.
‘A heightened awareness of injustice.’ Is the last ‘Pro’ that I am going to share in my list of ‘Pros’. And again whilst I think this is also intrinsically linked to my faith I cannot, in all honesty, separate it from being a bi-product of my mental illness.
I have seen (and personally experienced) a great deal of injustice in my time and it never gets easier to stomach and never gets easier to find acceptable. Often times I find myself understanding (to some degree or another) the causes of said injustices but they always still sadden me so very deeply.
Many have been liked to mental illness but in truth not all of them are. And I will stop myself from going off on a rant here. But suffice to say that when you have, as a result of your mental health or your involvement in mental health awareness, witnessed or experienced injustice you do seem to become attuned to it or have your awareness heightened to it.
So there you have my list of just some of the pros and cons attached to having my mental illnesses. As I read back over them there are so many others that I could include and indeed some which can be both a pro and a con depending on the circumstances or approach to them.
I just hope they haven’t bored you (the reader) too much and I am of course willing to discuss them further should anyone wish to comment on them.
I also recognize that not all of them a exclusively specific to mental illness and many of them could be resultant from other factors. This is so often the case with a lot of things, is it not? But for me there is without doubt some correlation between my personal experience of them and my mental illnesses.