What does freedom mean to you? What does being free entail?
- Is it freedom from debt or your stressful job?
- Is it relief from chronic health issues?
- Or is it freedom from toxic relationships?
- Is it being able to live the way you want to live?
- Is it being able to travel as much as you want?
- Or is it waking up every day happy to be alive?
Merriam Webster defines FREEDOM as:
1 : the quality or state of being free: such as. a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another // independence. c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous //freedom from care.
Freedom is so precious. It is something we require to be happy. Most people would do anything for a certain type of freedom that they feel like they are lacking.
What if freedom was within your grasp and you chose not to attain it? I think this is an interesting phenomenon in the mental health community. It is more common than people think for those living with mental illness to fear being free of their disorder.
Disclaimer: I do not mean it is possible to be cured. I mean it is possible to be stable and well.
I thought it was an appropriate topic, since in the United States today is Independence Day. I wanted to explore 5 reasons why a person with depression or another mental illness might fear getting well.
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Reasons people fear freedom
It requires changing habits.
One result of healing after a bout with mental illness is typically a massive lifestyle overhaul. What types of things are involved with better emotional wellness and being free from your illness?
- Healthy diet
- Exercise regimen
- Changing medication or dosages
- Giving up alcohol or caffeine
- Changing jobs
These things are daunting for someone struggling with mental health issues. It takes a few months on average to establish something as a habit. The thought of committing to a new action for a few months when you are basically playing a guessing game can seem impossible.
Having to rediscover who you are.
“I’m afraid of getting better because I don’t know who I am without mental illness. I’ve been mentally ill for over half my life and I feel like it’s so deeply a part of me that I’m scared to find out what I’d be like without it.” – Anonymous quote from a friend
This is something I can relate to so much. I have had some sort of depression for about 24 years. I literally have no clue what kind of person I would be or could be if I was more stable.
Becoming emotionally healthy involves re-examining yourself. (The things you enjoy, the way you act, your health habits, etc.) This is a hard task for anyone, but especially someone who lives with chronic illness.
Changes to relationships.
Being mentally ill is a bit like living inside the eye of a storm. Your life blows around you in a million pieces at 100mph. When you can reach a place of stability, and the storm subsides, you often find yourself picking up the pieces and trying to reassemble them.
One of the biggest reasons someone my fear getting well is being scared of who will or won’t be around anymore. I have had friendships change because of my mental illness. I’ve damaged relationships with family members. When a person becomes well, they might come to find that the amount of people in their life is reduced.
The idea of looking back with regret.
This is another one I can relate to so much. When you are in the throes of depression, the big picture isn’t always clear. You are living from one sad moment to another. When you get well, it is common to then be able to regain some perspective. What does that lead to? Quite often, looking back with regret.
With the help of a therapist and good support system, this can be effectively managed. However, it is a reality that I, and many people like me, live with every day. What was I like during my darkest periods? What friends did I hurt? Also, what could I have done differently?
Needing to make apologies
That leads to my next point. When you enter a period of being free, you find yourself making a mental list of people you need to apologize to. This can be incredibly painful. It is hard to realize just how many people your words and actions have hurt.
Another friend brought up a good point. It is important to make the distinction between two concepts: getting better and becoming stable. When I refer to “getting better” in this article, I do not mean becoming cured of depression. I mean reaching a point of stability where not as much intervention is necessary.
She says, “I’m afraid to get better because I think it would be false confidence. I don’t trust that I’ll never not be on medication. If I were to try to get off medication again, it could be deadly. Part of managing my mental illness is accepting that I have it. Thinking that I “got better” is a deadly idea if I’m truly not free of mental illness.”
Yes. Absolutely. I am not talking about why people fear becoming cured, because that’s not possible. We will always be on medication (most likely) or in therapy. We will always have our disorder. What I am referring to is the fear of what pieces have to be put back together when you are once again stable.
Another quote from a friend: “I’m afraid to get better because I was doing so much weller (sic)… and in the last month I feel I have moved 10000 steps back. Will I even be able to get better/weller?”
It is true that making progress and backsliding can cause frustration. That is another thing to remember. Many fear being well because they know what a fragile state it is, and can too easily slip away.
In summary: “Being Free” is possible
Mental illness is a life long battle. Many people are able to reach points where they are “doing better.” This can be accomplished with the help of proper medical care like therapy and medication, and necessary lifestyle changes. For a lot of people it is scary to picture life without their mental illness (by that I mean, a life that is stable).
If you are one of those people, hang on to your support system. Take your meds. See your therapist. It is possible to be stable, and although being free can feel scary, you can do it.
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“I’m afraid to get better because I don’t know who i truly am, my mental illness has been at the forefront since i was a kid.” -Anonymous friend
“I’m afraid to get better because I don’t want people to think I was “faking” it, or using it for attention.” – Anonymous friend
“I’m not afraid of better. Better isn’t a reality in mental illness or diabetes or any condition to affects your body chronically. But that’s okay, I can be weller. And weller is more a happy perspective.” -Anonymous
Comment below and tell me about what your life would look like if you were more free of mental health issues. Can you relate to any of the reasons listed?
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