As someone who suffers from schizophrenia, I find my life challenging. I continually face setbacks in both my personal and professional life, and my symptoms often cause me to feel isolated and lonely. However, despite it all, I've discovered a huge benefit to my issues — I’ve become a more empathetic person.
Following By Example
As soon as I was diagnosed with a mental condition, stigma followed fast behind. Many family members, friends, and acquaintances couldn’t relate to or understand my difficulties with concentrating at work or participating in daily activities. I often felt utterly alone in my struggle.
But I have also experienced incredible empathy from a number of people in my life. Through their understanding, I’ve become stronger as an individual, and I know I’m not alone. One friend in particular has consistently pursued me whenever I've had a loss of interest in daily life or activities; as a result, I’ve been able to become engaged again in the outside world and participate in the hobbies I enjoy. Many of my improvements and progress can be attributed to others around me who have reached out to offer help — even if they can't relate to what I’m going through.
I’ve experienced the power of empathy firsthand, and because of it, I’m motivated to extend empathy to others. Although I may feel powerless — especially after going through all stages of schizophrenia — I've learned how to regain my power by making a difference in other people's lives.
Regaining My Voice
When you're diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be easy to lose your voice. Many individuals don't trust what you're saying or how you're feeling. Once I began to see a professional therapist on a routine basis, I felt heard for the first time in my life. Processing my feelings and emotions brought healing because someone was willing to listen. I learned to trust my therapist, which made them able to recommend techniques that can help me to find relief for schizophrenia.
I'm much more intentional with listening and providing my undivided attention to my family members and friends when they've needed support. Although I may not always be able to relate to their specific struggle, I understand that active listening can help them in whatever they’re going through.
Focus More on Others
In my experience of dealing with a mental health disorder, I've found it easy to be consumed by my own issues. I tend to focus most of my attention on myself, especially during my depressive episodes and when I’m facing a lack of motivation.
Although it may feel inconsistent and even dramatic, focusing more on the welfare of others has allowed me to find relief for my symptoms. My challenges can often feel heightened and out of control, but when I make a point to inquire about the well-being of others and their current state, it allows me to avoid focusing too much on my own feelings throughout the day.
Becoming more generous to my coworkers and friends is so rewarding. Plus, it has often improved my mood, which has worked as a form of treatment for my condition. Making other people smile, laugh, or benefit from my support allows me to have a purpose in life instead of becoming lost in my diagnosis and feeling overwhelmed by it.
When I ignore the needs of others, my selfishness takes over. It allows me to use my mental health condition as an excuse to avoid making a positive change in the world.
It can be challenging to remain vulnerable with other people when they may have a lack of understanding of your situation or mental state. Due to fear, I've often limited how much I've opened up to others because I've assumed they can't relate. After a few years of practicing empathy and vulnerability, I've learned that my personal experiences have value and can benefit others. I don't need to have the same background or struggle to make a connection with someone. Just by being there and listening, I can provide support to someone struggling with an addiction or going through a divorce.
Although it will likely take a lifetime to learn how to navigate my mental health issues and cope with my symptoms, practicing empathy has allowed me to grow as an individual. It has prevented schizophrenia from becoming my identity. I feel confident in my ability to extend a hand to others when they're suffering, which has allowed me to finally find a silver lining in my mental health issues.
If you live with the reality of mental illness or are trying to support someone who does, you do not have to walk your difficult road alone. We recommend that you see a professional counsellor. Also, we have free and confidential mentors who are ready to listen to your story and encourage you. You can connect with a mentor through the button below.
This article was written by: Alex MoorePhoto Credit: Nina Conte