If I could go back in time to any point in my life, I’d either choose the summer of 1999 or 2008. The reason I’d choose those dates is so I could tell myself I’m more than the empty pill and alcohol bottles covering my living room floor and my ADHD diagnosis.
As I think about those times, I recall how my mental health and recovery journey began in a place of shame and suffering in silence for years. I never thought I’d get to a better place. Now I can speak with my doctor and others about my challenges confidently even though it’s still challenging.
I additionally use my lived experience to help others in their journey. Was this an easy process? Pardon my language, but fuck no! I’m surprised I survived, if I’m honest, but through the grace of God and hard work, I’m still here.
It feels surreal talking about this because it makes me realize my mental health challenges empowered me to develop some of my biggest strengths. I never thought there’d be a day where I’m grateful for the gifts my mental health and recovery journey taught me over the past decade or so.
Without those experiences, I would never have developed such a passion for empowering others in their journey. Yet I also know due to my lived experiences how painful and overwhelming receiving a mental health diagnosis can be, while simultaneously feeling equally freeing after receiving a diagnosis.
For this reason, I’m going to detail the things that empowered me to go from feeling hopeless and powerless to feeling empowered and resilient concerning my various diagnoses to hopefully make your journey a little smoother than mine when I began my journey years ago.
Progress isn’t always what you think.
I recall sitting in the hospital 10 years ago thinking I couldn’t wait for the day my anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse issues were gone. After a while, I realized that day might never happen, and at first, this was a little discouraging. After a while, I began to see hope in the form of a powerful psychological tool called reframing.
The APA describes reframing as seeing our various mental health challenges, progress, and even our diagnosis in a more strength-based and resilient manner. It’s an amazing psychological tool that empowers us to take a more realistic approach to our inner critic by understanding it instead of ignoring or silencing it.
When I struggle with this, I tell myself I’m just a failure because I still struggle with certain things related to my mental health diagnosis and other self-defeating thoughts, thus causing me to believe I’ve failed myself somehow, which isn’t necessarily true.
I learned this lesson starting in 2016 when I started going to therapy and continuing my psychology and mental health education. As a result, I’ve gained a healthier perspective on those thoughts and feelings, and now I have a better understanding of what progress means.
At first, reframing for me was challenging, but now, instead of calling myself a failure and other things, I acknowledge that self-talk, then check it by asking myself, Is this helpful or true? Then I reframe those thoughts by telling myself progress is more about recognizing my challenging thoughts and feelings using what psychology calls the 3C’s.
The 3C’s is a tool used to catch, check, and change (or reframe) our not-so-helpful thoughts, inner dialogue, and sabotaging behaviors. Learning the 3C’s and reframing helped me see that progress is more about taking a resilient and compassionate approach to those challenges, thoughts, feelings, and memories, while teaching us it’s okay to still have certain challenging thoughts and feelings.
The reason that I’m making progress is now I’m able to recognize those challenges and take a healthier approach to them. The approach I’m talking about is it isn’t necessarily what we go through that defines us or our progress. It’s more about how we relate to those challenges, and even simply recognizing them is a sign of progress.
You don’t need permission from the people who have hurt or traumatized you or others to validate your feelings or challenges.
I get the feeling of not wanting to let go or move past a particular experience or memory until the person causing it apologizes. I grew up in a home where I was treated like my family’s metaphorical punching bag, and I was bullied and shamed daily because of my ADHD diagnosis.
Then, on top of that, whenever I brought up the bullying, shaming, and gaslighting, it just got worse, leading me to years of telling myself things like I’m a burden and other self-defeating statements.
Those untrue beliefs lead me to ignore my mental health challenges instead of opening up about them for years, resulting in me having two stays in the hospital, where the last one almost killed me.
I was hospitalized for an overdose and then asked to be admitted into detox, but it wasn’t just my family’s fault; I additionally played a role. I wasn’t in a place where I could recognize and acknowledge my past adverse childhood experiences, which were a big reason for my overdose.
I now realize we all play a role in our treatment or recovery, and I get how the following exercise is challenging, to put it mildly. For that reason, it’s essential to remember I learned from living with undiagnosed ADHD throughout my youth and various childhood traumas.
When we wait for people to give us closure, we’re indirectly giving those individuals our power, which makes us feel even more powerless. So instead of doing that, I want you to remember the following exercise to regain your power and define how you relate to your difficult memories.
One of the world’s foremost experts on emotional vulnerabilities developed an exercise for giving ourselves permission slips. She talks about it in greater detail in the following Oprah’s Life Class video.
She talks about how she permitted herself to move past vulnerabilities and challenging thoughts, feelings, and other things like insecurities. It’s a straightforward exercise designed to empower us to realize we don’t need other people’s permission to move past these challenges or experiences.
The activity is to write down what you permit yourself to move past, whether it’s challenging memories, experiences, people, or whatever. For example, here’s how I use it to gain closure regarding difficult memories and past experiences: I write or tell myself I permit myself to move past people who’ve hurt and shamed me for having ADHD and substance abuse issues.
Then I use reframing by writing down or telling myself even though those memories and experiences are traumatizing. I’m no longer letting those memories and people have my power over me; I permit myself to let go and move on.
I understand how moving past and acknowledging our traumas and vulnerabilities involves more than writing down. Still, it’s a healthy step for empowering yourself to choose how you relate to those challenges.
It’s equally critical to get the proper support to help you in this journey. One way to do this is through qualified professionals like therapists and other mental health professionals. I get how talking about those things can be overwhelming and terrifying, but the more we talk about them to someone trained to support us, the less power they have over us.
I also want you to remember when it involves our challenging thoughts, feelings, memories, and even your insecurities, it’s more about reframing it to understand those challenges through things like therapy and support groups, not using things such as avoidance.
In combination with permitting yourself to move past those challenges when you’re in a healthy place to do so—and that day will eventually come, I promise—I also want you to remember there is no timeframe for dealing with these issues.
I know I still have triggers years into my recovery and mental health journey. When this occurs, I remember step one and tell myself this doesn’t mean I’m making no progress. It means I’m human.
The role you choose to play in your mental health or recovery journey is more important than you think it is.
Having lived experiences dealing with substance abuse, ADHD, and adverse childhood experiences, I can confidently tell you some issues metaphorically run deeper than the Marianas Trench.
For this reason, you must take the time you need to properly deal with the challenges that go along with living with a psychological issue or mental illness. It’s equally critical to understand the role you play in your treatment or recovery with the assistance of a trained mental health professional.
Plus, help can be many things and even a combination of various medical, psychological, and, if needed, pharmacological interventions. The best approach is a well-rounded approach to treating your diagnosis by figuring out and focusing on the things that work for you, which often involves a combination of things.
For example, I do therapy and take medication for my diagnosis because each is helpful. I additionally have a strict self-care routine.
I want you to remember if you struggle to find your role, that’s normal. I’ve been there, and so have many other people. For this reason, I’ve listed a few ways to empower yourself to better relate to your diagnosis and become your biggest advocate.
- Don’t be afraid of seeking professional help or possibly taking medication. I do both; I can confidently say seeking help and taking medication has done nothing other than improving my life. Additionally, if you are nervous about seeking support or taking medication, it’s understandable; I’ve been there, and it’s normal to be nervous.
- Write down your beliefs or any questions about your diagnosis and bring them to your appointment to ask your doctor or therapist the next time you see them. It also empowers you to gain a voice in your mental health and recovery journey.
- Create healthy boundaries around armchair psychologists and the know-it-alls who know nothing at all types of people who stigmatize mental health. Additionally, I want you to remember you don’t need to explain to these types why you’re getting support for your diagnosis or taking medication. It’s honestly none of their business.
- Practice self-compassion. Even though it doesn’t feel good to acknowledge our erroneous beliefs, it shows you’re developing valuable skills like self-awareness, self-compassion, and critical thinking to name a few.
- Instead of avoiding traumatic memories and other types of challenging thoughts and feelings, understand them with the help of a qualified professional. Otherwise, those things will worsen over time.
Why are the above critical in empowering a person with how they relate to their diagnosis and challenges?
When you’re diagnosed with a mental illness, experienced adverse childhood experiences, have PTSD, or have psychological or emotional issues, you know how powerless and overwhelming it feels and how it can dominate your life, regardless of your diagnosis.
In combination with mental health stigma, these are big reasons why we struggle to accept and treat our diagnosis. It even makes it extra challenging to accept seeking help from a therapist or taking medications for various conditions like ADHD or anxiety.
For this reason, the above skills are critical for us gaining a voice in our treatment/recovery and empowering us to define how we relate to our challenges, triggers, stigma, and diagnoses.
When we take the time to learn the proper psychological coping skills, our challenges can make us more compassionate and resilient than we thought was possible. Through learning to focus on the things and people who matter, we’re empowering ourselves to realize it’s okay to have these challenges, because they don’t make us less than others.
We’re empowering ourselves to gain a voice in our treatment, recovery through helping learn to define our challenges and even our diagnoses and relate to those things in a healthy, resilient way.