July 24, 2015

Mental Illness: The Truth about Recovery.


I went to see the doctor because I was constantly suffering from depression. What happened was a journey of self that I never could have expected.

When we’re physically sick, we want to be better. If there’s an infection, we get antibiotics. If we have a cold, we need bed rest and fluids. The medicine works, and we’re cured. We’re fixed and can go back to living a normal life. It is how illness works, right?

That is what I wanted. I wanted to be cured. I wanted to be better. I wanted to live life normally—to laugh, to love, to find joy. So, I saw the doctor and he gave me a diagnosis: Bipolar II. With his guidance, I tried medication after medication, looking for something that worked.

Nothing ever did. My illness was out of control, my doctor couldn’t do anything more for me, and I had lost myself. Then, a desperate cry from my soul changed everything. It said, “There is no way you can heal your past, heal your hurts, and learn to live and find joy again—all in a pill.”

I believe we all need wake-up calls every now and then. We need something to stop us in our tracks and make us realize what we’re doing isn’t working, or right, or healthy. And in that moment, we make a choice. Do we continue on our path or do we make a change?

That desperate cry was my wake-up call. I realized it was up to me. That I needed to find out what was really stopping me from living a happy life. I needed a new path.

What began was a period of self-discovery healing. I researched everything I could find on my illness: buying books, attending webinars, and taking online classes. I educated myself on anything I found that could possibly help me.

I began creating habits of healthy living, with regular routines of diet, exercise, and sleep. I found Dialectical Behavior Therapy and it became a very effective tool for me. I learned skills to manage and evaluate my thinking. I learned skills that helped me to cope, to heal my hurts, and to manage my anxieties and depression.

I realized I had to let go of some “comforting,” short-lived bad habits. I learned not to believe every thought or feeling but to examine where it came from and react in healthy, appropriate ways. I found inspiration in others.

I also learned this important truth: There is no such thing as recovery from mental illness.

Those of us who suffer can’t be cured. We won’t get “better,” like with the flu. There is only a daily management of symptoms. Why? Because, the day we think we are recovered, we stop practicing the skills that have worked to help us heal, and we fall right back into those lows, those cycles of grief and suffering.

But with that knowledge came another truth: People with mental illness can have happy, healthy, fulfilling lives.

We’re not destined to be miserable on the sidelines of life while only “normal” people can thrive and enjoy the journey. We can have all of that. Will there be only perfect days? No. But we can push through the bad. We can create our own happiness and make the most of our good times. Isn’t that what life is really about?

I created my own “medicine.” I found my path, and I am healing.

Go and find your path to healing. Whatever it may be, it all starts within you.



The Mental Health Decision that Saved my Life.


Author: Dania Vanessa Illescas

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Bill Strain

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Dania Vanessa Illescas