Surviving or Living

Surviving means denying death. It means focusing on staying away from hunger, thirst, mortal wounds, and other such life-threatening things. Also, when you live with mental illness often your symptoms are so severe it feels like you are dying or what you imagine dying must feel like. So, you learn to live in a survival mode just to make it through most days.

While surviving focuses on how not to die and to withstand another moment in time, living centers around life and how to embrace life to the fullest and enjoy the beauty of living. Both have the same end result–living.

Recently, I realized I spent the last twenty-five years of my life surviving–figuring out sometimes just how to make it through and survive another minute–one minute at a time–1440 minutes 365 days a year for over twenty-five years.

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I tried to enjoy life as much as I could through the pain, sorrows, loss, gray clouds and fog of mental illness. Anxiety, depression, mania, mixed bipolar episodes and dissociation interfered with my ability to function and live some days. Surviving life makes it difficult to appreciate the beauty of living. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond happy to be alive and am blessed to have survived but I missed out on participating fully in many moments of my life.

Every minute of my life wasn’t bad or difficult either, but I was never completely free from the sensations and feelings mental illness emits. Surviving life meant being slightly removed from life. People who live with mental illness must learn to cope and survive their symptoms nearly every day.

I lived with mental illness almost every day of my life but more severely after the birth of my first child over twenty-six years ago. Once I was diagnosed and labelled with mental illness and started taking psychotropic medications it seemed I entered a twilight zone there was no escaping from.

Twenty some years ago a Psychiatrist said, “You will never be normal again, but we can get you to live a functional life.” What kind of life sentence is that? I was supposed to accept that? We (people with mental illness) should just settle? Shouldn’t we be allowed hope? The answer is YES, of course. We should have hope and something to look forward to besides just acceptance of this devastating news and illness.

Other than the many days and months I struggled with debilitating suicidal ideations and thoughts, I fought my diagnose–hoping my life would someday get better. I wanted to get better and not just maintain a functional life. I had to have hope and something to reach for and shoot for. I aimed for a better future.

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A mental illness diagnosis does not mean your hopes and dreams for your life must vanquish or dissipate. Never. Maybe life will change, as life usually does but it doesn’t mean it has to be less. You never have to be less than you are. Instead let your diagnosis make you become more. Keep striving to make your dreams come true. Make new dreams or keep your old ones or maybe reinvent them. Do whatever it takes to survive and eventually thrive.

We must keep fighting and living with hope that our symptoms and life can get better. I believe we should. No doctor should ever take your hope away and tell you that you will be less than you are and can only live a minimal functional life like one of mine did. No one knows this for certain.

I spent so much time being sick and learning how to cope and get through the moment that I missed many opportunities to live in the moment and enjoy the beauty of living–the way we are supposed to live. We are supposed to live in the moments we are in and be present in the moment to get the most out of our lives. I am so blessed that I can now live fully in my moments and appreciate the absolute beauty of living.

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Part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is mindfulness which is learning to be fully present in the moment. Don’t people realize how hard it is to live in each moment when you have a mental illness?

When you live with severe mental illness symptoms sometimes the only way to cope is to pretend you are not in that moment and you do not exist. I spent many moments in the psychiatric hospital or when I was severely depressed or in the middle of a mixed bipolar episode getting through a moment by pretending, I did not exist at all or I was not where I was. I needed to do that to survive at the time.

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I hope you can all love your life and enjoy the beauty of the moments. There were many moments that were beautiful when I was living in the middle of my severe symptoms. I tried my best to live as thoroughly as possible when I was with my children peeking through the pain and fogginess so I could live in the moment, but mental illness made this difficult. I wish I could relive some of those moments now that I am mentally well, but I know I can’t. I greatly appreciate that I am blessed to be mentally well now and will make the most of the rest of my life that is for sure.

Life is so much easier when you can live and enjoy the pure beauty of living without having to be strong and survive through it. When you can just enjoy the pure natural easy beauty of living, that is living.

I promise you one day you will make it there. You can reach it. It is possible. You can make it through the impossible to the possible. There are no impossibilities only possibilities. Life is full of them.

When you are surviving another minute try to find the beauty through the pain and survive it anyway you can. Just survive. Make it through. You can do it. Recovery is possible. I am living proof.

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29 thoughts on “Surviving or Living

    • Thank you dear. I hope I can be an inspiration to others. It is my passion to help others in any way I can. I still have struggles occasionally but nothing like they were. I believe everyone in life has struggles sometimes with or without a mental illness. At least there isn’t that gray fog or funk or whatever it was cloudiing up my days. I pray you are doing well too. Be well my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Being mindful is also about letting it go and just “being” in the present moment….or living in the moment. I don’t consider this “fighting” because sometimes when we “fight” our illness or symptoms, they persist….and we are in “survival” mode…which is not living. I like your post!

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  2. Great post, working and dealing with psychiatrists and mental health professionals as well as having been in therapy myself has made me realize that psychiatrists (many) are med management. Your PhD’s, LPC’s, LCSW’s are more emotion management, more therapy focused. The psychiatrist on my team told me most psych meds are a placebos the other day!

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    • Yes many of them are just about the meds.or maybe most of them. Wow. I can’t believe your psychiatrist said that. I believe most meds are bandaids and don’t do much except cause bad side effects. Meds and I never worked well together. I couldn’t ever find the right mix and had severe side effects and adverse reactions. ECTS were the only thing that helped me. Everyone is different though. Meds help many people. Thanks for your great feedback. I appreciate it greatly. Much love, many blessings and hugs, Sue

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  3. It was really terrible of that psychiatrist to tell you that! It does nothing for you except to send you the message that you should prepare for your life to go badly and there’s nothing you can do about it. I know about survival vs. living. When I am depressed or in a mixed episode it is all about just surviving. But I have learned that there is more to life, even if we do have a mental illness. God has shown me that life was meant to to be lived and I find that life in Him. Your post really blessed me and I pray that things continue to go well for you as you live your life!

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    • Yes. That Psychiatrist was too rough around the edges and I could never forget those words. I fight to prove him wrong and will continue to… I am still working on making him WRONG. I am so happy my post blessed you . That makes me happier than you can imagine. Thank you for blessing me back with your kind words. Your comments were beautiful and insightful… every one of them. Thank you. Much love, many blessings and hugs, Sue

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  4. I love your candor in telling your story. I’m here with & for you. Living with mental illness sucks and I recently experienced my first failed suicide attempt, was accidentally found before it worked, and that was Nov 7. I’m 6 weeks into antidepressants and while for so long after more of my days were spent surviving… I have to say these days most are living. But that changes. Here for you!!

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    • Thank you. I am very happy you liked my post. I am glad you are working on enjoying life. Living with mental illness makes it difficult. Even though I am doing much better mentally, I still have struggles and moments that are difficult. I try to focus on enjoying the beauty of living. Much love and hugs,

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  5. This addresses the questions I have been thinking about. Life is about finding one’s place between surviving and living. No one can ‘live’ all the time and no one can ‘just survive’. They each have their moments. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Thank you for sharing this. I just started writing again and started my wordpress. You were one of the first to like my post. I’m very glad this showed up in my feed. I’ve been struggling to find my first actual blog topic (just been posting some poems I’ve been playing around with), but I think I just found it. While mental illness is not all I’m fighting right now, it has played one of the biggest factors in how I’m coping with everything going on. I feel like you were talking straight to me. Not even 12 hours ago I was having a conversation about this very thing, and my fiancé pleading with me to realize my mental illnesses are taking control of how I’m dealing with all my other health issues. Anyway thank you for inspiring my first topic. I’ll figure out how to tag you and this blog post (still new to this) as a lot of what you’ve said explains it perfectly. Not just for mental illness, all those coping with chronic disease that takes the joy from their life. Thanks again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think living with mental illness affects our perspective on everything in our lives. It makes life more difficult. We must learn how to cope with it all. It is challenging and takes time but it is possible. I am very happy I inspired you to come up with a topic. I am sure it will be great. I look foraward to reading it for sure. You can link my blog post on your post. That would notify me and if I am following you it should show up in myemail notifications. I look forward to reading your blog post. Much love, many blessings and hugs, Sue

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