The closer we come to recovery, the clearer it becomes that we are no longer the person we were before our journey through depression. Whether we realized it at the time or not, each battle we faced taught us a little more about ourselves, about other people, about mental illness and mental health, and about the things in life that truly matter.
As we spring forward into a new stage of our lives, we bring with us wisdom with the power to make a difference in the world.
This is an amazing gift, but to quote Uncle Ben from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have to learn to use the wisdom we have gained from our experiences in a way that makes a difference in society without jeopardizing our progress.
One key to using our wisdom well is intentionally developing an identity and a community outside of our struggle with mental illness.
After going through an illness that affects us at our most fundamental level and shakes our conceptions of ourselves in permanent ways, it can be hard to build connections with people who cannot understand such a deep part of our life experience. But life is meant to be lived in balance, and if all of our connections are built on the basis of a shared struggle, we will likely miss out on the light, joyful, free-spirited moments life also has to offer.
In addition, it is all too easy to take our passion too far, putting our recovery in danger by taking on the burdens of others too intimately and personally. Going through mental illness gives you a unique perspective to share with others who are struggling, but it does not make you a therapist.
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If you try to be the therapist in all of your friendships, you will not only get burnt out, but you will also do an injustice to those who need you to just be a friend, who need you to prompt them to get professional help, and who need you to take care of yourself.
Similarly, with the intensity of the self-awareness we were exposed to during our struggles as well as that which we cultivated during recovery, it can also be difficult to reconnect with the more surface levels of ourselves.
Just as we must work at forming more diverse friendships, we must also work at “forming a relationship” with the parts of ourselves we have neglected.
Despite the difficulty of this task, it is absolutely crucial for us take this step because we are not designed to live in a constant state of intense self-analysis, and to attempt to live in such a state puts us at risk of tunnel-vision in which we focus too closely on one aspect of our story and end up neglecting the broader, more beautiful mosaic we truly are at our core.
Most importantly, it is critical for us to be willing to admit when we are beginning to struggle again.
Wrapped up in our often public mission to help others reach the recovery we have begun to find, it is easy to ignore and/or deny that we ourselves need the very same help we are trying to offer.
This means more than just admitting our struggle. It means valuing our recovery enough to take time off from trying to help others recover, to focus on helping ourselves first. In the end, this is the only way we can be truly effective wisdom-bearers for the long term.
What wisely using our experiences boils down to in the end is, like most aspects of mental health, about balance: we are equipped with a unique ability to change the world, but in all things we must remember first and foremost we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves.
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