Mental Illness and Meaning in Life

I‘m going to deal with a question that may cause controversy. At least when I’ve heard people talk about it, the subject raised my eyebrows.

Mental illness usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives. Often these illnesses occur during adolescence and young adulthood just as life is unfolding and we are searching for the meaning and purposes which will guide our lives. So the question I want to deal with is: Is there meaning to be found in suffering a mental illness? Let me say first, truly, life never ceases to have meaning, even when one is suffering mental illness. But can that meaning be found in the illness itself?

My answer is a quiet, respectful, but firm “no.” My life had meaning before mental illness and my life has had a great deal of meaning despite mental illness. Mental illness has only taken away, caused pain, and robbed me of human encounters so sweet nobody wants to miss them.

I am the best I’ve ever been these last three years ……I’m stable and happy. It is still a surprise to me most days when I wake up and when I go to sleep. (I don’t have morning black thoughts because I’ve unlearned them with cognitive behavior therapy, and I don’t welcome bedtime as a refuge, only for peaceful sleep and loving sex, once again.)

I don’t take any of it for granted, and yet, today, not everything is difficult. Of course, some things are hard but I don’t feel defeated before I start. I can be objective. And I can dare to be optimistic.

Being well, healthy and whole gives me all the above. Having use of my right mind, my well mind, my mended repaired plastic brain (plus the great good fortune of medications that continue to work for me, and a WRAP plan built with supportive friends and family and professionals) brings me to this point.

Having a mental illness has lead me to know some wonderful people and a great organization, but it is the relationships and the work that have given meaning to my life, NOT the illness. I would have made wonderful friendships also had I been free of mental illness. My volunteer interests were already allied with other great organizations: The Nature Conservancy, Amnesty International and the AT (The Appalachian Trail Conservancy). But mental illness put fog in the way, greatly affecting daily life with my family and undermining confidence at every turn. Then things got worse.

Did the suffering cause me to be more reflective and sensitive now in recovery than I would otherwise have been? Who knows, honestly? I’m perceptive now because I have all my faculties! Who wouldn’t be more alert and better attuned to others around them in recovery than before! I am more creative and I sing and laugh and socialize more. I certainly never wrote essays before 1998. When I started toward recovery in the early 1990’s, my husband said “I’ve got back the girl I married.” He did.