when mental illness is a crutch

The big dilemma of the day: when faced with a challenge, is my judgment based off using my mental illness as a crutch or as a legitimate reason for struggle?

The answer isn’t black and white. It’s not the same for every context and setting. Different moods, different people, different triggers…

The argument itself sounds neurotypical, something a “normie” might say of someone who cannot get themselves out of bed or says no to another social invitation. It’s hard for others to understand why normal activities can be difficult, especially for a disease that’s “all in your head.”

But we can sometimes rely upon our mental illnesses. We’re so used to them, it’s easier to stay in our shell of comfort than push our personal boundaries. Sure, sometimes opportunities are just not worth getting anxious over.

Other times, it’s good for us to venture out into discomfort. That’s when it can be worth asking ourselves: Am I taking care of myself? Or am I going through the motions to avoid new experiences? We probably all have different questions and answers, but here are thoughts we likely all relate to.

actually feeling good.

As permanent as mental illness can feel—this current mood a life sentence in mental prison—this too shall pass. And when it does, you think the hard part was over.

Well…to a certain extent, yes. A day or week or more when you feel stable and content is refreshing. The clouds break open, and here comes the sun.

Sometimes, however, we’re still stuck in our own ruts. We’d gotten used to every day as a total uphill battle. The space we’re left with to do more than “make it through” is a wide abyss of unknown.

Routines are comfortable. You know what to expect. That alone alleviates some anxiety. Now that you’re capable of more, is it worth the effort? Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

Such a question leaves us stagnant, a plant refusing to grow any taller because it doesn’t know what to do with the extra height. “What’s so good about being tall anyways? I’m fine down here.”

What if you had the chance to be more than fine? All that hype is true about activities like, dare I say, socializing? (I know, my sentiments exactly). You can accomplish tasks you never thought possible. It’s fun to prove yourself wrong sometimes.

reverting back to illness.

Relapses into the thick of mental illness are inevitable for most. With that in mind, it’s easier to not get too involved in a “normal” existence only to fall harder than before. It already sucks to be sick, but at least the transition is smoother if we were already “prepared” for it.

If we’re living like we’re always at our worst, then it shall be so. We set ourselves up to fall. Having a backup plan in place, a trusty mental health toolbox, is smart, but not if it’s self-sabotage. Then you never actually enjoy feeling well because you’re too hung up on feeling bad.

Extreme highs and lows are obviously not ideal, but we build up the drama way out of proportion. We make it way worse for ourselves than it needs to be.

Take care of yourself as you always do. Be realistic in how your mood is bound to change. But also know that all mental states are temporary. If you spiral down again, you’re just as likely to rebound again, too. We’re in constant flux, and while it can make life unpredictable, it’s also beautiful.

“It’s who I am.”

Personally, here’s what I’m most guilty of. I’ve always felt drawn to identifying myself with any label I can because my mind struggles to feel okay just being. A different dilemma for another day.

In any case, there’s a sense of belonging that comes with a designated identity. #relatable, am I right? Especially with the isolation accompanying mental illness, finding solidarity feels nurturing.

Where mental illness can become a crutch is always making your diagnosis the tagline. “Since I have depression/anxiety/whatever, here’s how I am. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.” The mental illness isn’t the force holding you back: you are.

By abiding by a label, you’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Throw around all the cheesy sayings, but your mind is a powerful thing. Nothing will improve if you’re not in the headspace to do so. Nobody can change a stubborn mind.

The less often you challenge yourself, the harder it is to break away from mental illness. Think of how you treat a phobia: you face the fear often enough and build an immunity. The opposite is also true: the less often you face a fear, the scarier it seems. You become well acquainted with avoidance. As Mother Superior said in the iconic The Sound of Music, you can’t hide and run away from your problems; you have to face them.

final disclaimer.

Don’t get the wrong idea: mental illness is not a crutch. Those who face mental illness on a sporadic or regular basis are the strongest folks around. The discrepancy arises when mental illness isn’t the genuine cause for disability. Unnecessary accommodations or avoidance.

Yes, I have mental illness. But when I choose to let it have me, I’m passive and distant. I lose my strength and independence over the diagnosis. It’s a life sentence I accept without question.

Even in the deepest, darkest pits of despair, we all have a choice: lean on the crutch or actively take a stand. Asking for help and pursuing self-growth isn’t automatically in your grasp. Equip yourself—and allow others to help equip you—with the tools and skills you need to do more than just exist.

Because it’s possible. This too shall pass. And when it does, you deserve the fullest life possible. Take advantage of every ray of sunshine. With as much as you probably put up with, you earn some fun, new memories, and a world of possibilities.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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