The stages of grieving have been written about extensively and are well known. Receiving a diagnosis of a mental illness often runs through a list of stages, too. Not all people with a psychiatric diagnosis will experience these stages. Some may skip one or more, but I believe it’s safe to say most will move through all of them in one form or another.
Initially, a person will may feel overwhelmed being diagnosed with a major psychiatric illness. I was. I had grown up with constant reinforcement that I was very smart. I thought of my brain power as my major asset, and then a doctor told me that same brain was my worst enemy. For the longest time, I felt lost and scared.
Second, a person gives into the power of the diagnosis. I felt abandoned by everyone and everything and that I would never be any better. My life would not amount to anything. My days of being a contributing member of society were over. I was caught in despair for many years. It was a dark time.
Thankfully, I moved on to the next phase, which is questioning. I began to wonder if I could be more than simply defined by my illness. I looked at my capabilities and entertained ideas that I could be whole again. Maybe I couldn’t work, but maybe I could be productive in other ways. I volunteered at the library and other places. It improved my self-esteem greatly.
I believe regular readers of this blog will understand the next stage as challenging and educating myself. I put myself in places where I was forced outside my comfort zone. I exercised when I really just wanted to stay in bed. I brushed my teeth when I didn’t give a hoot about anything related to taking care of me. There are too many examples I could give of challenging myself to live fully when I wanted to crawl in a shell and disappear.
Finally, I am currently in the last stage of recovery, moving beyond the diagnosis. With my job training to be a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, I have decided not to allow fear to rule me. I am scared, but I won’t let that stop me. There will be more challenges ahead, but I will go slowly and face them one at a time and one day at a time. I don’t have to be overwhelmed.
What good does it do us to know about these stages? I believe it helps those struggling with mental illness recognize where they are and then to move further along in recovery. Instead of remaining stuck, it allows us to stride towards a better life. It’s all about recovery and wellness.
[I did not come up with these five stages on my own. They were taught to me during my first week of training. The originator on the enormous binder holding all the information says, “Appalachian Consulting Group – 2006”. I do not claim to own the copyright to the stages, but I do maintain my rights to what I’ve written here and anywhere else on this blog.]