Heather’s Story

By: Heather D.

My name is Heather D., and I have been recovering every day from a mental illness. I was diagnosed with a mental illness at 18. Currently, I am 37, and have come to a point in my life where I finally believe I have recovered from my mental illness.

I was shifted around southern Minnesota multiple times to get stabilized on my medication. That lasted until I was 25. Today, I am a senior in college, working toward a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. I choose to be a social worker to show the multiple service providers a perspective that many of them do not understand. My voice of recovery is something I want to pass down to other mental health consumers, and my mental illness gave me that.

It has taken me almost 10 years to accomplish this task, and it hasn’t been easy. I remember when the doctors told me I had a mental illness. I had no idea what a mental illness was, or what it meant. I thought it was so bad that I initially believed mental illness was a serious illness like cancer. Boy, was I wrong. I have learned that mental illness is not like cancer.

I think the most difficult part of my entire experience of living my life with a mental health condition has been developing good coping skills. I still haven’t mastered some coping skills, but have developed healthy ones to get this far. If I could offer any advice about what coping skills work the best, I would choose the ones that work right for the person struggling with different life stressors. Sometimes working with coping skills that haven’t worked in the past can be coping skills that put you in the wrong direction. On the other hand, creating new coping skills that are similar to those that have worked in the past can be just as beneficial as developing new coping skills.

When I am in a difficult situation where I begin to feel or think that my mental illness is the reason why I struggle with people, I take a step back, then remember that the road to recovery isn’t paved in gold. Recovering from a mental illness is something that I have to continue to do every day because the road to recovery can be paved with golden stones if I make healthy choices.

For someone like me who has been mentally ill since 18, to make healthy choices is difficult because I never had the opportunity to experience life without my mental illness. This has made it very difficult to find and develop healthy coping skills and healthy life choices.

The thing is, I would not change my life because I have a mental illness. My mental illness is the very reason why I am about to graduate with a 4 year degree, can now say I live independently without any assistance or services, and I am happy with who I am.

I believe that choosing to be a social worker is a way for me to have a voice to service providers, and be able to show people that there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. I can do this by providing them with empathy and understanding, so they can accept their mental illness. As a consumer of mental health services, I have learned that though these things are not lacking in the mental health community, people still have needs that mental health providers cannot always provide. What I can provide to other people with mental health conditions is a gentle hand when the services haven’t provided what is needed to make that person’s day brighter, and supportive ears when coping skills are not enough.