I will never forget meeting the psychiatrist before I was transferred from ICU to the psych ward. I was nervous as he entered the room, clipboard in hand. He gave me my diagnosis, then gave a brief overview of what to expect in the coming weeks. But I didn’t hear his plan. All I could think was, I’m now officially crazy.
My palms were sweaty, my breathing shallow, as I remembered my Aunt Missy, who died by suicide when I was a teenager. I remembered the way people whispered about her when she was alive, both around town and in our family. I feared life would be exactly the same for me.
I was convinced a diagnosis meant I would never be able to find a respectable job. My kids would have to grow up with their friends talking about their crazy dad. Everyone would think I heard voices and belonged in a padded room. It made me feel less than a real human. I believed I would never find full acceptance in any community again. Except, of course, with other mentally ill people. As the doctor’s voice droned in the background, I stared out the window, wishing for any kind of escape.
The stigma of mental illness sucks. But not getting better sucks worse. Those of us with a diagnosed mental illness just want our lives back. We want to get better. For me, one of the biggest hurdles was learning to focus on getting better, instead of the label.
Labels are important, especially from a medical standpoint. They give us a plan of action. They show us a lot about our limits. They teach us which medications may help and what substances or situations to stay away from. But when we focus more on the label than the person behind it, a human being in need of love and belonging, we miss the point. And we miss an opportunity to live a full and meaningful life.
In the psych ward, I learned I needed to define my triggers: those things that cause my anxiety to increase or my depression to worsen. For me, it’s as simple as black coffee and as complex as not spending days alone at a time. (Isolation can be a real son of a bitch for someone with a mental illness).
I had to create a plan I could follow. My short-term strategy included intense therapy with professional counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists during the first couple of years of my recovery. Eventually, the intensity tapered off, but I know I can still make an appointment any time. My plan also included medication, which was much stronger in the beginning than it is now. The truth is, I will always take medication of some type. When depression and anxiety descend like a fog, medicine clears the sky so I can find myself again. It makes me more of who I am, not less.
Another part of my plan was to name my support system, the people I can lean on in hard times, the ones who could handle my needs. In the five years since my recovery, I have experienced various reactions from people. Some can handle the recovery process. Some aren’t at a place where they can handle it. Some friendships are seasonal and some are for a lifetime. During recovery, I think you should expect people to come and go from your life. And that’s ok.
Each segment of my recovery plan has carried me a step further down the road to healing.
While I have learned to accept my diagnosis, it doesn’t define me. It gives me boundaries and forces me to embrace self-care. I have depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t get to determine who I am. I am much more than a label or the stigma attached to mental illness.
-from Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, by Steve Austin and Kate Pieper, LMFT
Abuse, addiction, and a suicide attempt weren’t the end of Steve Austin’s story. In fact, a suicide attempt is where his life began. Steve hosts CXMH and the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, in addition to being an author, speaker, and life coach. Read more at iamsteveaustin.net.[clickToTweet tweet=”I have a mental illness, but don’t call me crazy.” quote=”I have a mental illness, but don’t call me crazy.” theme=”style3″]
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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