The terms “mental illness” and “positive” aren’t always paired. Some might argue that together they’re an oxymoron, blatantly contradicting each other in striking opposition. I say that not only are they not an oxymoron, they can be combined very well. Indeed, there are a great many positives about mental illness.
No One Wants to Live with Mental Illness
Mental illness is an incredibly broad term that encompasses disorders of the brain. No matter the mental illness (there are over 20 categories of mental illness and three clusters of personality disorders, each category and cluster containing multiple specific disorders), they all share a common characteristic. Mental illness and personality disorders impact someone’s thoughts, emotions, and/or actions and get in the way of his/her quality of life. Psychiatric disorders can get in the way of relationships, employment, and more.
Adding insult to injury, negative stereotypes often cloud understanding of what mental illness truly is like. People speak of stigma, a type of prejudice that is one more barrier that people with mental illness often face. Stigma makes people feel judged for who they are.
Mental illness, however, most certainly is not who someone is. People aren’t their illness, which means that while mental illness can have negative effects on lives, the people themselves have many positive characteristics, traits, and strengths.
Mental illness is difficult to live with. It isn’t who someone is at his/her core, though, nor does it have to destroy one’s life and the living of it. Separating ourselves from the symptoms and effects and very legitimate challenges can allow us to shift our thinking to let in some positives that are equally legitimate.
Here are just six positives about mental illness, things mental illness doesn’t take away, we can learn from novels and their characters (inspired by my own personal and professional experiences).
6 Positives about People with Mental Illness
1. We can enjoy the simple things in life, individual moments of pleasure and happiness.
2. We can grow and evolve and learn to live well no matter our symptoms.
3. Mental illness doesn’t overpower love. People living with mental illness can love and be loved in return.
4. Even though it can be hard to do, people living with mental illness draw on their strengths to help others.
5. People experiencing mental illness have hopes and dreams and goals. This is stronger than any illness.
6. No matter what illness or challenge someone faces, he/she can still invite fun and playfulness into his/her life.
People really are so much more than their illness, and they have so many positive traits, strengths, and characteristics to offer themselves and others. As Oliver tells Penelope in Leave of Absence,
“It’s okay to feel frustrated for having to deal with this illness, but don’t hate yourself because of it. This illness is only a tiny part of you.”
“Other people don’t see it that way.”
“Like friends we used to have. Like Rod and Paula.”
“You know what? Then maybe it’s time for some new friends. Does William agree with Rod and Paula?” She shook her head but said nothing. Oliver pressed on. “And what about me, Penelope? I didn’t know you before. You had schizophrenia when I met you, and I wasn’t repulsed. Quite the opposite, actually. I like you a lot. I find you unique and delightful and honestly quite helpful.”
When we focus on what is right rather than what is wrong, on our strengths rather than our weaknesses, we begin to create a quality life and live it fully.