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How my mental illness really went

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Assumptions often govern our understanding of the world and those around us. We guess what it's like to be rich and famous, or the impact of travelling a long, rocky road due to disability or misfortune.

Many people start their journey living with a mental illness with little practical knowledge of the long-term effect their symptoms may have. They may not understand the battles they'll need to fight just to leave the house, visit family, go to work, or attend treatment.

To understand how the reality of mental illness and how it differs from first impressions, we asked nine SANE Peer Ambassadors to share their experiences.

Medication is not the only answer

Some days are good, some days are bad. I thought medication would fix it all, but even being vigilant with my medication and self-care, bipolar still impacts me every day.

Whilst my illness affects me on a daily basis, when I am functioning well I pack as much into my life as possible. What I achieve probably outdoes what a healthy person can and does achieve.

– Nicci

The impact is wider than you think

I think there were times in the early years when I thought my bipolar and anxiety would ruin my life and deny me a 'normal' life.

It has neither ruined my life, nor made me feel abnormal (for the most part). In many ways it has enriched my life.

Perhaps the biggest aspect of ignorance relates to how it impacts all the people in my life. I think it has impacted my family, friends and colleagues and I don't think I considered this early on. I am grateful for their support and aware that it takes its toll at times.

– Tania

Help can be hard to accept

The experience has changed as I've become more connected and accepting of the condition.

While I was relieved at receiving a diagnosis, it still took a long time to accept that I was someone with a mental illness. It directly challenged my desire to be independent, strong and capable. When I had setbacks, it was even harder to accept the help I needed.

– Lesley

It forced me to change direction

My food addiction is a condition that needs daily management for the rest of my life. I had always thought that one day I'll be able to eat dessert like normal people.

Today I feel blessed to have a food addiction. It has forced me to turn my life around and to live according to my highest values and clear spiritual principles. I'm crystal clear on how I want to live my life and how I spend my time on this earth.

– Vanessa

The impact isn't as big as first thought

As opposed to my original concerns, it hasn't impacted on my life too much, as long as I work at managing my condition on a daily basis.

I have been able to deal with stress, study, hold down full time jobs, maintain relationships and stay out of hospital.

Despite the difficulties of staying well at times I have for the most part been able to stay positive about life in general and have hope for the future.

– Matthew

Disclosure is hard

I've always been very open about my life. But, I've found myself holding back from disclosing my illness from people because of the associated judgements. Particularly in relationships.

– Natasha

I made changes I may not have made

I thought it would just go away. I thought the medication would fix everything like some kind of magic, I could get on top of my symptoms and then ignore them.

But embracing it, changing some aspects of how I live, committing to therapy, talking about it has been empowering. I'm grateful for the awareness, reflection and changes this mental illness has given me. I see so many people just 'going through' life, but I make decisions about mine every day.

Lisa

The symptoms are unique to me

I believed my life was over and it wasn't worth living. I was suicidal.

I never thought I would ever live a 'normal' life again and thought I would have to be on heavy medication forever. All this was depressing.

I set about researching everything I could about C-PTSD and spoke to dozens of people who had lived with it for decades. I realised each set of symptoms are quite unique to each person, as are the management plans.

Leonie

I lost my sense of self

I knew nothing about bipolar disorder beyond knowing someone I admired, Carrie Fisher, had it.

Once I received my diagnosis, I figured it'd all be hunky-dory. I'd read Carrie's books and she turned out okay, so it wouldn't be too hard.

What I didn't realise was how confusing it would be. I had an identity crisis for about 18 months. I could no longer be sure which bit was me in the whirl of mania and darkness. But by learning about my illness, I came to realise that it was all me - just different degrees of me. And I'd be fine.

Charlotte

For more information about complex mental illness, call the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 7263, or you can view SANE's Facts + Guides for concise information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatments available.

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