is mental illness a crutch?

When you struggle with a mental illness, there inevitably comes a time when you ask yourself, “Am I using my mental illness as a crutch? Am I relying too heavily upon my diagnosis?”

They’re valid questions. Upon realizing your emotions and thoughts are valid, your lack of or excess energy isn’t just a figment of your imagination, we choose how to respond to our reality that is living with a mental illness.

So, is mental illness a crutch? Not necessarily. Most times if someone is opting out of socializing or cannot will themselves out of bed, they aren’t making anything up. They truly are feeling stuck and helpless. The thought of going about the day as per usual is hindered by misfiring neurotransmitters saying otherwise.

But yes, mental illness can become a crutch if it becomes a go-to excuse for any uncomfortable situation. If for every invitation to go out with others or do something not predetermined by your daily routine you cite mental illness holding you back, then you might want to reevaluate.

I fully know I’m guilty of this too often. Social anxiety’s whims that rise up in crowded places or with unexpected guests leave me with an added anxiety: what situations will trigger panic, and what can I do to avoid them? That leaves me walking down a thin line of safety, trying not to tip the boat.

The thing about a comfort zone is, it might be a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. I could say my daily life, even when I try to avoid discomfort, is challenging enough, but is that growth? Where do I distinguish where mental illness is making my day difficult and where I myself might be to blame?

Obviously I have more questions than answers, as I’m sure you do, as well. Not to mention helping others understand if or how mental illness is crutch. It turns into a classic case of the boy who cried wolf: once you throw out the mental illness card for every single mishap, it loses its value and honesty. It devalues those who might actually be struggling rather than just excusing away a dislike for something or someone.

Mental illness doesn’t give you the excuse to be rude to others, to place blame on anything other than yourself for your behavior. If that’s the case, excuse yourself to practice self-care and reflection, but be mindful of when you might be mental illness as a crutch that leaves others feeling guilty when they shouldn’t be. Plus, who knows what others might be going through themselves, and they don’t deserve extra burden from your disdain.

On that note, mental illness also isn’t a crutch that should undermine others experiences and hardships. Life is not a competition to see who can “win the race,” or in this case, have the most difficult circumstances. We’re all on different paths, destined for our own obstacles for specific purposes. Comparison only adds unnecessary pressure and worry. What we really need is to empathize and support one another, avoid creating opposing sides to life’s universal suffering.

How can we make sure our mental illness isn’t a crutch then? Be mindful of your actions. Even if your mind is racing or you’re completely dissociating, your presence doesn’t dissipate nor are you ever isolated from others. If you aren’t up to socializing or leaving the house, let people know. Pay attention to your tone and language with others, especially those only wanting to help you.

Understand the difference between a triggering situation and a challenging situation. A trigger serves no good to engage in and will only cause an up-rise of symptoms, regardless of what you do. It makes sense to bring up your mental illness because you know how you’ll react.

A challenge, however, is a situation that might cause some anxiety or make you depressed, but in it lies the opportunity to grow, to face something head-on, even for a short period of time, and come out of it feeling accomplished and proud of yourself. A challenge might seem impossible, but there’s a sliver of hope you can prove yourself wrong. In that instance, don’t always just pull out the mental illness card. If you can handle even just a few spare moments in that situation, do it.

Yes, you’ll be scared and uncomfortable and probably despise it all in the moment, but when you come out of it, see how you feel. Hopefully a wave of relief and a newly found sense of strength and resilience you always possessed. You’re braver than you believe. You’re capable of so much, even with a mental illness. Maybe mental illness holds you back from certain desires and everyday abilities others can manage, but mental illness affords you greater empathy and insight that might be just what is needed at the moment.

Being open about your mental health demonstrates mindfulness and self-awareness. But don’t forget that despite it all, you can still stand on both feet.

Mindful meditation: Heavenly Father, you have presented each of us with many tribulations in this life. Although we might feel drawn to wallow in pity or shy away from our problems, Your love provides us the strength we need to accept what may come and find hope in even mundane daily struggles. I pray my mental illness can serve a purpose in helping others and serving Your mission. Amen.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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