How to Get a Better Life Despite a Mental Illness

I’m here to tell you that for MOST, anything is possible

Are you sick of people trying to tell you how to handle your poor mental health? “Be positive!” How often does someone try to make you drink the positive thinking kool-aid and ignore everything else? How healthy do you think it is to suppress emotion because it may be more negative?

Not very, I would say.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence. I’m not going to try to convince you that being positive will solve all your problems. Most of the time, it won’t, no matter how hard you try.

We are ill, not ignorant.

But, there is some good that being positive can do for you.

Do you want to know how to improve your life? What if I told you that you could change everything with good old sweat and hard work. Oh, you wanted an easy solution? Sorry!

Trust yourself. You can do more than you are right now. We can always do more. When I started making changes in my life, I used every excuse I could find:

  • “If my doctors can’t heal me, how can I?”
  • “There is nothing I can do — I have a chemical imbalance!”
  • “My illness is too severe!”
  • “I’m too depressed!”

I thought of every way to get out of doing what I knew would help me. That’s what our mind does. It finds the easiest solution and goes with that above all.

The easiest solution would be to continue what you’ve been doing all along. Take your meds without knowing what they are and sit around having a pity-party all day. Or, force yourself to be positive no matter what — even if your life is unraveling around you. Then one day you get sick and tired of living, and you swallow a bunch of pills.

Ouch. Too strong? I’m sorry — that’s what I did.

I knew the answers to my problems, but I was too afraid to try and fix myself. So I did the same things over and over until I couldn’t take it anymore. That’s what someone with depressive-type schizoaffective disorder does. They wait. The doctors said I would never have a “normal” life.

So, I took three handfuls of pills and waited to die.

I didn’t. You can see I’m still alive, and 100% better than I was the day I took those pills.

People have different philosophies about life and how to be happy. I know what worked for me and that’s all I can suggest you do. Sometimes people understand — sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and shouldn’t get the hopes up of people who are suffering.

I should keep my mouth shut.

But, I’m a believer. I believe other people can benefit from the lessons I learned. Maybe I’m misguided, but I still think I can help others.

I’m not a doctor. I’ve had exactly one patient — myself. I’ve been successful so far in improving my life to the point where I’m not constantly looking for an exit.

I’ve figured out a way to explain how I did it, and it may help you understand.

There is a lot of negativity around the phrase “fake it till you make it.” It’s for a very good reason. It is terrible advice. I should know, I’ve offered it before to others as a way to gain confidence before actually doing the necessary things to change your life.

In my defense, I am an idiot.

I borrowed the phrase from the business world. If you don’t have a good reputation or brand yet, you act like you do until you do. The idea was you’re going to act like your life is great, until it’s better.

It’s not quite that simple, but it’s a general idea.

It’s terrible advice.

I’m not a fake person, and that fact alone should have warned me that I shouldn’t be peddling this advice. I don’t know why I thought it was a great idea to tell someone to be fake until they figure out how to be real.

Again, idiot.

The best advice is much simpler. All you have to do is work hard to develop confidence in both your actions and yourself.

Let me explain.

I noticed one thing when I thought about myself. I also saw it in the hundreds of people I knew who were battling a mental illness every day. They had no confidence! Psychiatrists weren’t handing it out along with Prozac, so most of us suffer from very low self-esteem.

To make valuable changes in your life, you must have confidence. You must harden yourself and develop poise, or you will fail.

Bottom line.

How do I develop confidence?

Nobody can blow magic fairy dust up your butt-crack and tell you to be confident if you don’t really feel like it. There is more to it than that.

Developing confidence takes time and hard work. You have to try to be aware of it at all times. When you get in a stressful or unnerving experience, if you should smile and repeat, “I’m confident — I’ve got this!”

Do it!

I know it sounds silly, and to tell the truth, I felt like a moron doing it for a long time. Nobody could hear me talking to myself, but I still felt reluctant and embarrassed.

I don’t like giving out advice like this, because, to me, it always sounds like I’m trying to be like the self-help gurus that I dislike so much. But as stupid and simple as repeating an affirmation to yourself is, I know it works. I’m willing to put myself out there and suffer embarrassment so I can help a few people.

Soon enough, if you keep doing it, you will start to feel more confident in different situations. I’m not saying you will be 100% of the time, but your self-esteem will appear when you need it.

If you practice this enough, you will be on the path to improving yourself.

Next, hit the books!

If you don’t know anything about your illness, how are you going to get rid of it or at least deal with it every day?

Read everything you can find, even things you may not agree with. You may not agree with me, but you’re reading! You never know what may help you.

Research everything about your illness.

One of the first things you’ll find in your research is what you eat affects your mood. If you’re eating burgers and drinking Coca-Cola all day, you’re going to feel like junk. All that sugar and processed food cause inflammation in your body. Inflammation isn’t good!

Eat some fruit or nuts. Take a walk. Drink lots of water. It’s not much harder than that.

Next, start reading about people who beat the odds and went on to do great things. Maybe you read a love story. Activate all those areas in your brain the illness and medication have shut down. Feel something! Not all emotions are bad. Even bad emotions aren’t all bad. Everyone is sad once in a while.

Listen to your doctor

Just because you may be feeling a little better, don’t go off your medication unless your doctor tells you to. You should have already been talking to your doctor or therapist about this long ago.

Please, don’t cold-turkey your medication. I did several times, and all my attempts ended in disaster. I finished up in worse shape than when I started and had to do it all again from the beginning.

I said I was an idiot, right?

My thoughts on medication have changed over the years. I used to think that anyone could live without medication — even someone like me with a serious mental illness.

I thought medication was poison.

You’ve heard all the stories about how the pharmaceutical industry has all the doctors in their back pocket. “Big Pharma, Man!” You hear of doctors keeping people on medication for profit. Not all doctors are bad. Most have our best interest in mind. You already know doctors that are working to help people feel better every day. But, I believed the conspiracies.

That’s what I get for listening to hippies on Facebook.

Until something better comes along, don’t doctor yourself. Stay on the medication. Even if your illness is mild, be careful about trying to decide when you should go off the medication for good.

Sometimes you have to trust someone — like a doctor. If that someone proves themselves to be self-serving, move on. But, if you want to get better, you must trust.

Look for opportunities to be confident and carefree

Let’s replace some of the negative in your mind with positive. I’m not trying to get you to drink the kool-aid I talked about earlier — there is some value in being positive.

Read optimistic messages. Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest are good for this if you like social media. Follow a lot of very confident and hopeful people and start each day with something that makes you smile.

Rebuild your circle of friends. If you’ve been sick long enough, you may have lost all your friends and family when you were fighting battles they couldn’t understand. Start over. Pick people with the same goals as yourself. If you are an introvert, look for friends online or take a chance and put yourself out there in the real world.

Look for things to do to help you build good memories and uplift your moods. Try volunteering or joining an online group to help other people. Give of your time. You’ll grow from the experience.

You could also write about your experiences. I do, and I know some of you already do as well. Whether people read or not, write! You could help one other person, and that would be a great legacy. Helping others is also great therapy.

At some point, you start being more confident, and your attitude and moods will change. Where you go and what you do from there is up to you. No longer do you have your emotions dictated by a harmful frame of mind. It may take some time to learn how to interact with the world again, but it will be worth it.

I always have to ask if what I’m doing is right, because I’ve forgotten how to act!

Go your own way. Try new things. You may have days of depression or anxiety, but you will get past it.

It does get easier.

No matter how old you are, or what you have suffered, start over! I did, and now almost 51, I have a 7-year-old daughter, an infant son, and a beautiful wife. I have never been more in love and happy.

I will say one more thing because I’m known to make assumptions and lump everyone in the same group sometimes. All this we discussed will help, but know this — some are so sick and disordered that no amount of confidence and positivity will help. I’ve known people who never made it off the ward and never will.

I cry for those who never make it, but I don’t believe that about you. You can do it! If you work hard and believe, there is nothing you can’t do.

Build confidence. Embrace the positive. Educate yourself.

Do it for yourself!

Do you want to get exclusive (content)? Sign up for my newsletter, Beautifully Broken, and let’s talk about what makes life worth living, or if you prefer to read about travel, you can check out my blog, The Frightened Traveler.

Introverted essayist and creator- I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store