Mental Illness Superpowers: An Intro

I’m Ali.  I am a full-time occupational therapist.  I live in a house with my husband and fur-babies.  I have been married for four years.  Some of my interests include traveling and spending time outdoors, playing music, creating art, writing, and watching my favorite TV shows.  Oh, and did I mention I have a mental illness?  Well actually I have two, but who’s counting?

In the last couple of years I have been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder.  I have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, have completed two partial-hospitalization programs, have been to literally hundreds of therapy sessions, and have tried many different medications (seriously, I think I’ve lost count).  But most importantly I have learned a lot about myself, and ultimately what it means to live a life worth living.  I would be lying if I told you I am an expert in mental health or even in managing my own disorders.  I would be lying to you if I said the management of my disorders is going all that well right now, or that I’m successfully functioning to my fullest potential in my life.  And I would be lying to you if I said I considered mental illness a superpower even most of the time.  But if I’ve learned anything through countless therapy sessions, psychiatry appointments, group therapies, and mental health classes, it’s that hating my mental illness gets me nowhere.  So why not consider it a superpower?

For a long time, I rejected my illness, refused to accept the reality that was staring back at me.  I would constantly say to myself “This isn’t fair,” “I should be able to fix this,” “Why me?” and “I give up.”  I would hide my mental illness behind the “perfect” outer shell of myself.  Okay, honesty check, I still say those things to myself sometimes; I still hide.  But when I am able to access my wise mind, with emotion and reason equally balanced, I whole-heartedly believe that turning your mind toward acceptance is the road to fulfillment, no matter what struggles you are facing.

So my challenge today is twofold.  First, I want to be painfully honest and vulnerable in describing what I hate about having a mental illness.  Second, I want to describe just as many of the positive “superpowers” that come from having a mental illness.

Many days, I HATE my mental illness.  Here’s why:

  1. Managing my mental illness takes a LOT of work and a LOT of time.  Trying to keep up with therapy appointments and homework, psychiatry appointments, mood tracking, and medication management is overwhelming and exhausting.
  2. Managing a mental illness is EXPENSIVE.  Even with great health insurance, paying for medications, therapy appointments, psychiatry appointments, regular bloodwork, hospitalizations, partial hospitalizations, well…it adds up.  Then add to that reduced salary for short-term disability needs and unpaid FMLA days.
  3. Life with a mental illness often feels unstable; inconsistency or instability in relationships, work, moods and symptoms, social life, and self care.
  4. Many people with mental health disorders, myself included, have co-morbidities that make management of chronic illness more difficult.  According to NAMI.org, having a serious mental illness makes you more likely to develop many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart conditions.
  5. The symptoms of mental illness can be disabling.  For me, my bipolar disorder causes me to experience cyclical depression and my anxiety disorder causes panic attacks and long periods of distressing physical anxiety symptoms.
  6. As a female with a mental illness, pregnancy and parenthood get a lot more complicated.  I have to consider medication safety and potential medication changes with pregnancy, mood stability with the addition of pregnancy and post-postpartum hormone changes, worry thoughts related to the likelihood of passing on mental illness to a child, and serious concerns with my parenting ability, knowing that there are times I am just barely surviving myself.
  7. Sometimes mental illness can cause unwanted cognitive deficits. For me, I sometimes have trouble concentrating on activities, remembering things, and paying attention.

Okay, that list feels pretty heavy.  So the challenge now is to describe my mental illness superpowers:

  1. My mental illness facilitates empathy.  I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person, but going through deep suffering has brought me a new level of understanding and compassion for others who are suffering.
  2. My mental illness has taught me to be an excellent listener.  I am working on moving away from “fix it” listening toward compassionate listening.  And believe it or not, compassionate listening alone has strengthened many relationships in my life already.
  3. Remember earlier when I said this is all a lot of work?  Okay, this is making the superpower list too.  Why not spend all that time and energy on yourself?  Having a mental illness has forced me to take a hard look at myself and spend a lot of time on self-improvement to a degree I never would have done without it.
  4. I’m not going to say I typically cope well with difficult or unexpected situations, but I sure do have a large toolbox of coping skills at the ready, skills I’ve learned only as a result of mental health treatment.
  5. I do not take the small joys and accomplishments in life for granted.  I may not always be able to see the shine, but I try to turn my mind back to the things for which I am grateful.  Without suffering, there is not happiness.  So to me, great suffering also means great happiness.
  6. When you go through a difficult time, you develop a strong support system.  And the more vulnerable I am in sharing my struggle, the more that support system and my connectedness grow.
  7. Resiliency.  When I looked up the definition, I read “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”  While I don’t necessarily agree with the “quickly” part, I know this statement describes me.  I have fallen and gotten up more times than I can count.  I am still here.  I am still fighting.

12 thoughts on “Mental Illness Superpowers: An Intro

  1. Thank you for being an inspiration to others who hide their mental illness in fear of judgement. The more it feels safe to talk openly about mental struggles the more we help build a community of support and understanding. It starts with one person standing up for the rest of us and themselves, thank you for being the one, you’re inspiring. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ali….beautifully written! I appreciated reading and learning more about you and what you show such strength and perseverance with. Thank you for opening up this side and sharing with me!

    Like

  3. You continue to inspire me to be more transparent. More honest with myself and those around me who love me and want to understand me. 😘

    Like

  4. I always admire people who are willing to be vulnerable – it just shows that you are real, genuine and comfortable in your own skin.
    Your rehab team will walk along side you regardless of how bumpy the road may get! ♥️

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  5. Ali, you are doing beautiful, important and long overdue work here. This wrecks me for you and for everyone affected by mental disorders. I’m so grateful that there is this platform for you to share your story and information! Carry that torch of support and enlightenment, baby, and I will gladly walk alongside you! I will forever, love you with all my heart!

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  6. Hi Ali and thanks for a wonderful, honest, and inspiring post! 👍🌈 O.T.’s rock!

    My name is Dyane Harwood. I was diagnosed with postpartum bipolar one disorder in 2007 six weeks after my baby was born. I’ve lived with bipolar one disorder and anxiety ever since. Like you, I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve had therapy sessions galore, and I’ve taken many meds.

    On the brighter side, I’m also the very proud furbaby mama of Lucy, a Scottish Collie.

    I’d like to offer you a free PDF copy of my memoir “Birth of a New Brain–Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder,” an offer which you’re welcome to share with your followers.

    Postpartum bipolar disorder has many of the same symptoms as the other kinds of bipolar disorder. I also wrote about my struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and depersonalization. The book is not all gloom and doom, though, and I’m honored I’ve had readers say the book is inspiring and informative.

    (If you’d like a PDF, please email dyane@baymoon.com)

    Thanks for raising awareness about bipolar disorder & anxiety in such a unique & refreshing way.

    Take good care,

    Dyane 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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