When Mental Illness Can Be Difficult to Accept

It is difficult to accept when you first learn you have a mental illness. Sometimes it’s a shock when the doctor tells you, but you believe and trust the doctor and begin exploring options towards recovery. What if it’s not a doctor? What if your family is telling you to get help or telling you why certain behaviors make them think you have a mental illness? Will you accept it when your friends or family say you have a mental illness? I have seen some people reject the idea and run from it instead of considering getting a professional opinion.

I can understand why some people have this reaction. When I first looked into the symptoms of Complex PTSD, I was shocked to learn how much of what I thought was my personality derived from symptoms of this disorder. While I learned many of the things, I didn’t like about myself were symptoms, I also learned many of the behaviors and traits I identified with most were symptoms. This was a hard reality to accept. The inner image I had for myself was wrong and I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

It took some time, but I eventually started to accept this new self-image. Certain things were reidentified in different ways, but I am still the person I have always been. This new information only made me understand myself more. I know myself better than I did. It takes time to get to know another person and this is true of knowing oneself. The hardest part is accepting and learning how to move forward. I’m still struggling with moving forward. Most of my life I didn’t have a support system. I have a small group of people now, but the path forward is still difficult.

Anyone who feels their family is attacking them with accusations of mental illness, my advice is to see a professional if for no other reason than to prove everyone wrong. Don’t argue. Offer to see a counselor and get an official diagnosis. Too many mental disorders have similar symptoms and behaviors and it can be hard to determine what is causing certain behaviors. Even from a psychiatric professional, the news is difficult to process and accept. Remember that, despite the stigma, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and does not make you less of a person. It is one more battle you weren’t expecting, but it can be won. Don’t give up.

Photo Credit: <unsplash-logoPriscilla Du Preez

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11 Replies to “When Mental Illness Can Be Difficult to Accept”

  1. Thank you for your post. It resonated strongly with me. I have been diagnosed with PTSD (not Complex.) It was my first diagnosis at the age of 22. My next was Bipolar disorder Type I with psychotic features 10 years later. I understand the feeling of the loss of self one can experience on being told that one has a mental illness. I also experienced anger; a very deep seated anger. I think the greatest “gift” if you can call it that is that I have had to learn about myself in order to do battle against the mental illness. I try to move forward as much as possible, but that can be rough. Thank you again for your post.

  2. Thanks James. I also think that this can go the other way. Namely, that whilst mental illness diagnoses can bring relief or validation, they can also bring stigma and false hope.

    I speak both as a psychotherapist and from my younger days of severe depression whilst living in a dysfunctional family. Many people who suffer mental distress (that can attract a psychiatric label) are actually suffering from the mistreatment they suffer from people around them: family, school, workplace etc. And so for those folks, they’re actually responding quite sanely to ‘sick’ social dynamics.

    The false hope can come in the form of the idea that having a psychiatric label promises ‘treatment’ that can make you better. Of course, for some people this is the case. But for many others it just isn’t. Yes, they will give us medication, but medication never once helped me, and I have a list of patients over the years who report the same thing.

    I think mental health services need to examine the context in which mental distress takes place. My own view is that most of the mental illness/ distress I come across is a ‘normal’, sane response of (usually sensitive) people to gross circumstances that could never be considered ‘normal’ by anyone’s standards.

    Be well.

  3. I have often wondered what part of me is actually me and what’s my illness. I’ve been scared of losing myself in medication and not dealing with my actual issues. I really need to get back in therapy. Great post!

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