Six People On What They’d Tell Their Younger Selves About Mental Health
One in five Australians will experience mental health challenges in their lifetime. The effects of mental illness can be widespread and challenging, but the good news is that people can recover and also learn to manage their illnesses. We spoke to six people living with mental illness and asked them to reflect on what they would tell their younger selves. From reaching out to practising self-compassion, they reflected on maintaining hope during their mental health journeys.
If I could tell my younger self anything, I would tell her that no matter how hopeless you feel, or how impossible the current situation is, it will get easier.
Keep talking about and advocating for mental health and most importantly – know that there is always hope.
For a long time, I didn’t have any sense of hope. The main thing that has kept me standing during my worst moments has been the support, care and understanding of those closest to me. Their belief in me helped me to start believing in myself.
That mental illness cloud in your head may make it feel impossible to see any worthwhile future for yourself, but one day you’ll be able to use your experiences to help others and that will give you a whole new sense of fulfilment and purpose.
Finally: do what is best for you and your mental health, no matter what anyone says. Keep talking about and advocating for mental health and most importantly – know that there is always hope.
I would urge myself to look after my mental health during the good times, too. Mental health care shouldn’t be reactive, but proactive. It took me years to work out that even when I was happy and stable, if I made the effort to do the right things, it really would cushion the fall if I’d have another downturn.
Mental illness has certainly caused me problems but it has made me tread a little more cautiously in life. I’m wary of drug use because there is a history of schizophrenia in my family and I’ve had a few psychotic episodes in my life. One time I almost crashed my car because it felt as if somebody else was using the steering wheel. That experience alone put me off driving for life – I haven’t driven a car since. I don’t trust myself but I do want foster kids in the future so I know I’ll have to teach myself some day so that I can be the best carer I can.
I wish I knew that people wouldn’t immediately hate me if I told [them] I hear voices and have alternate distinct personalities. I have been dealing with schizotypal things since I was about seven or eight, and have only been able to talk about it in the last year because I was so terrified of being rejected. The only thing I knew at eight years old about what I was going through was that society hates people like me.
You’re doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can ask for.
I would tell myself it’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to get better at your own pace (or not at all). You’re doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can ask for. You aren’t going to fix this yourself, you need to talk to someone about your problems. Also, you’re a girl.
I would tell my younger self that bulimia is a horrible, life-threatening disease – not an easy way to lose weight. I would tell younger Dani that they’re about to ruin their insides, lose their hair and essentially give themselves irreplaceable gut damage. I would tell them to open up about this to their family and mental health professionals because keeping it in and private will almost kill them.
I would tell them to not give up with trialling medication and therapy – if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying. They may be tired and exhausted, but keep pushing through because it will get better. I would stress to them that things will improve. That what they’re experiencing isn’t just being weak or dramatic, it’s a serious condition that will get easier with time, medication and professional help. I’d just tell them to not give up.
[Personality disorders] exist on a spectrum and while it’s really really hard, you can be happy. As for healthy relationships, I’m not sure they exist for me yet, but hope springs eternal.
Tell people close to you how you’re feeling and advocate for how you need to be treated.
I wish I knew that it’s OK to advocate for how you want to be treated. I spend so much time thinking about my own behaviours and it’s OK to talk to people about theirs. Some people aren’t worth it… if they’re not willing to engage and respect your feelings and needs, don’t bother.
[I would tell my younger self to] find a progressive, non-judgmental psychologist ASAP. Take advantage of youth services while you can. Tell people close to you how you’re feeling and advocate for how you need to be treated. Finally, you’re queer. Get used to it but take your time figuring out your place regarding your gender and sexuality.
I wish I’d understood earlier the toll that caring for other people can take—that it’s never any person’s ‘job’ to take care of us, no matter how much they love us or how much thanks we give them. It’s important to build and maintain social support networks so loved ones can ‘delegate’ the emotional labour. And, even more crucially, we each need to take responsibility for our own mental illnesses and capitalise on whatever mechanisms and programs exist that can aid and rectify those issues.
If I could, I’d tell my younger self that I don’t have to do and think and say things the way everyone else does, because brains work in diverse ways. I would tell myself that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me—that, despite the judgments and teasing and normative labelling, I am worthy of respect, acceptance and love.
Feature image: Hannah (centre)/supplied
NB: Answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.
If you’re in need of urgent assistance, call 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. To get the facts about mental illness, visit SANE Australia.