Cor, that sounds like a click-bait-y title doesn’t it? It’s exactly what this post is about though, so if you took the bait, don’t worry – I promise to come through.
When we think about mental health, we so often think of the negatives. The awful statistics, the lack of funding in the NHS, those who don’t get the support they need. Of course, these are all valid narratives and stories that need to be heard.
As with all stories however, there are two sides.
The more positive aspects of mental illness can easily be forgotten. You may be reading this and thinking “are there positive aspects of mental illness?” and well, I think there are.
Looking at my personal journey, there have been two times in my life when problems came up and my mental health dipped. The first was when I was younger and I developed an eating disorder and self harmed. The second was more recently when I struggled with anxiety and low mood.
I thought it could be interesting to look back and explore why I’m grateful for these. And I will preface this by saying mental health in an incredible personal experience, and how I feel about my own issues in no way reflects how others with similar issues may feel.
The first mental health dip – my eating disorder
Let’s start by looking at the first ‘dip’ when I developed an eating disorder at 15. Firstly, let’s be clear – I wouldn’t wish an eating disorder on my worst enemy. I feel incredibly lucky that I got help early and only lived with it for a few years, I think it’s because of this I’m able to look back and see how it’s shaped my overall journey in a positive way.
I was at my lowest point mentally when I was at my lowest weight. Recovery showed me that my weight didn’t have an effect on my happiness. Getting through an eating disorder and coming out the other side, I feel like I see the diet industry and societal beauty ‘norms’ in a whole new light.
This combined with my discovery of the body positivity movement has put me in a place where I am comfortable, proud and happy with my body than I’ve ever been. I’m not afraid to take up space.
I’ve learnt the tools I need to love myself both physically and mentally. I’ve learnt how to cheer myself on. I’ve learnt awareness, self-compassion, how to communicate with my inner critic.
I’m not sure if I would see these things or have learnt these lessons had I not suffered (and, crucially, recovered from) an eating disorder.
The second mental health dip – my anxiety
This happened much more recently, however now I know the symptoms I can trace it back years. Those chest pains I would Google while at university weren’t to do with my heart or trapped nerves after all, it was anxiety. I just didn’t know it.
When this came up for me last year, it was like crashing into a big old stop sign. It made me realise I had (/have) a lot of shit going on and wasn’t processing or recognising my thoughts.
This is why I think I got purely physical symptoms – I was pushing everything down without realising and it manifested in my body.
Getting help, learning tools and techniques in CBT and being honest about the whole process with friends and colleagues was invaluable. It made me even more passionate about self-care and self-awareness. It helped me process my thoughts better and know what to do if I feel things build up again.
Without these experiences, I’m not sure I would be where I am career-wise. Learning how to overcome them has put me in a position where I feel I can help others – and that’s pretty incredible.
I can look back and be grateful for what I went through and see the bigger picture for myself. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think having mental health problems, learning how to manage them and even overcome them makes a person hugely resilient and strong.
I’ll reiterate that I consider myself one of the lucky ones – my experiences have been for relatively short periods of time and I’ve not been to the extreme edges of the spectrum. I know for many, the thought of being grateful for mental illness would be an insult, but equally it’s a different side to the story I think we need to hear.
Would love to know if you’ve struggled with your mental health – do you feel grateful at all? Has it shaped your life in a positive way? Let me know in the comments.
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