The Mental Illnesses Lie: You Can’t Live Without Me
Mental illnesses aren’t the repulsive monsters that many people believe it is. Despite how unpleasant and torturous it can be, mental illnesses are more like a companion. It holds us close and tight in arms of comfort, never threatening to leave. Many persons, even those faced with their own mental health struggles, are completely unaware of the strong attachment that they have developed with their mental illness. It might sound odd, but it happens, and when you’re on the road to recovery, you might notice that there’s a part of you that is trying to go back. You find that some part of you is trying to move away from healing in order to submit to the persistent urge to hop right back into the arms of your mental illness. You may even notice that there are some persons who don’t want to get better at all.
Immediate Relief Vs. Long-Term Healing
Many mental illnesses follow a cycle and the fact that relief of any kind is a consistent part of the cycle is enough to make persons settle. They become comfortable in their mental illness with their eyes set on relief as opposed to healing. Overcoming this is a true battle because the greater the distress, the greater even a smudge of relief will seem. Without noticing, they become dependent on the cycle, going through their days, hand in hand with their mental illness, as they patiently await a few moments of “peace”.
Relief is defined as “a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress,” and the mentally ill go through their life with the mindset that there must be “anxiety or distress” for them to get the relief they so desire.
A perfect example of this is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD consists of obsessions, which are the thoughts, ideas, or feelings, and compulsions, which are the actions carried out in order to satisfy the obsessions. For example, imagine that you are leaving your house. You lock the door to your house and enter your vehicle. For some reason, despite having a vivid memory of locking the door, you still get the feeling that the door wasn’t locked properly (the obsession) and that you need to check it again, so you exit your vehicle and unlock the door, then close it again… and you repeat this action three times (the compulsion) because you just have to ensure that it’s done right. When it’s over, the momentary satisfaction and calmed anxiety seem worth it.
Facing An Attachment To Your Mental Illnesses
Persons also become attached to their mental illness and may feel the need to depart from their path to recovery simply because change is required. Across all areas of life, change is a difficult process for many persons. Mental illnesses often develop over time and, as it develops, persons allow themselves to become accustomed to the symptoms, incorporating them into their daily routine and personality. In the healing process, you will be required to change thought processes, add to and take from your daily routine, and, generally, step outside your comfort zone and tackle your fears head-on.
Whether consciously or not, persons will go the extra mile to hold on to the familiar patterns of their old habits rather than to face change with the mere possibility of improvement. Even friends and family members might become uncomfortable with the change that comes with recovery and may even try to hinder it. People fear the unknown, and while mental illnesses bring them distress, it is distress which they have allowed themselves to become comfortable with — their new “normal”. Deviating from it can be uncomfortable and frightening, inciting so much fear and anxiety that they’ll begin to regret leaving the cocoon of their mental illness and miss the comfort it provided. The prospect of being thrown into an unpredictable future is terrifying. They are now faced with their whole life being placed on the guillotine of change and, when their mental illnesses make bittersweet promises of familiarity and consistency, they will definitely want to run into its arms.
Where personality disorders are concerned, the individuals are normally unaware of their issue but persons around them are still affected by their behavior. As personality disorders involve behaviors ingrained into one’s personality over time through different life experiences, persons with these disorders will rarely be able to identify or acknowledge that there is something wrong. To them, their attitude and behaviors are valid, each having their rational reasons for existing. Just as everyone else’s is simply a part of who they are, they feel that theirs does not need to be changed despite how others are affected by it. Even when they’ve become aware of their disorder, they may find no need nor have the desire to fix it. Again, the prospect of change appears too frightening and too great. Their disorder is their life and reality and recovery requires them to shift all that they know. Many persons are simply not willing or they don’t see themselves as being able to endure such changes.
A Dependence On Pity
Many persons lean on the pity that they receive from their own or others’ mental illness. They develop a dependency on the sympathetic reactions to their situation that people may have. They become so satisfied when they receive attention and empathy, that they sometimes have absolutely no desire to change or become better.
An example of this is in cases of a psychological disorder called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP; also known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another), where an individual lies about or even creates, an illness or injury for a person in their care. The targeted party is often young children or the elderly, sometimes endangering this person’s life as they are forced to endure risky treatment processes without a true or accurate issue. Persons suffering from MSBP behave in this manner in order to receive the attention that would be awarded to persons who are caring for genuinely ill individuals. The gratification that they receive from this can be addictive and persons suffering from this will lean on the source of their gratification.
In other instances, persons will refuse to depart from their own mental illness and, instead, brandish it proudly, accepting the negative effects, using it as an excuse for normally unaccepted behavior and easing their way out of difficult situations. They’ll see no urgent need to recover from their mental illness because, regardless of how it disrupts their lives and the lives of those in their environment, it helps them to escape several undesirable situations — like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card with unlimited usage.
Some Steps to Overcoming Attachment to Your Mental Illnesses
- Keep the main goal of your recovery in mind at all times. You may recite it every morning, record it to play on your way to work, or school, or make a poster and put it above your bed. You must keep the goal present in your mind and space, holding on to it tightly. Whenever you feel your mental illness whispering sweetly, “Come back,” and you feel yourself longing for its familiarity, drown out its voice with your own, as loudly and as often as you feel necessary.
- Stay positive by trying your best to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Do some daily reflection. Don’t think of it as a chore, but rather, as a hobby that pays with the currency of mental wellness. Take a few minutes out of each day to think about, and perhaps write down, all the things you are thankful for in your life, even if all you can find to be grateful for that day is the chair that you’re sitting on. Make a fortress of gratitude and positivity around yourself. When you start to feel like you need to lean on past habits, instead, lean on all the things you’re grateful for today.
- If you were prescribed medication, stick to your prescription. Medication helps to address imbalanced hormones which may have contributed to the mental illness, reduce symptoms, and lessen chances of setbacks during recovery. There is no shame in needing medication to recover from your mental illness, just as there is no shame in needing medication for relief from a headache.
- Be disciplined. Stay away from the things that you know irritate your mental illness or make you want to return to it. Stick to the routines that you know help to make your situation better and follow the advice and prescriptions given to you by your therapist if you have one.
There are so many obstacles on the road to recovery. The biggest of these being ourselves. As difficult and uncomfortable as it can be we must be strong, disciplined, and resilient as we strive for mental wellness. As we seek to recover and turn a new page, we must not allow ourselves to believe that we cannot live without our mental illness, nor should we allow ourselves to reduce the potential of our character to our mental illness. We are not our mental illness — it does not define who we are. Many steps into our future may be unsure and wobbly, but we can, and we will thrive without mental illness lingering by our side.
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