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For those of us with a mental illness we are often focused on the details of our lives, because the details of our daily lives often reveal our symptoms – so we pay attention. We might also see a psychiatrist and tell her/him about what is happening to us. We might also see a therapist and again talk about what is going on with us. Then there is writing. We might also keep a journal or a blog and write for therapy or write to educate others about what our particular mental illness is like from the inside.

That is a lot, a whole lot, of focusing on the self. How do you look so closely at the self, and focus so closely on your illness without completely defining yourself by your illness? If you spend the majority of your day going over the symptoms of your illness, then the majority of your life is given over to that illness. I don’t want the majority of my life to be given over to my illness.

I want to write about paranoid schizophrenia, but I want to be defined by much more than that diagnosis. It isn’t enough to just to say that, and hope that people respond to me in a way that proves they know there is far more to me than being mentally ill. I have to create the environment and situation where I treat myself, and show others those other parts of me. There are ways to help people see beyond our illnesses.

Volunteer – many of us can’t hold down a regular job, but may be able to use a skill that doesn’t bring on symptoms to help others. What I do has to be done from home, or with my husband because of my increased social anxiety. There are many non-profit organizations looking for help with their newsletters, or with grant writing. If you can arrange to spend a couple hours a week helping from home that will be a couple of hours that you are giving to others instead of focusing on yourself. Volunteering has been proven to have many mental health benefits, so this is really a winning situation – time off from thinking about you and time where you are benefiting others.

Ask a Friend to do one of Their Favorite Things – Do you have a friend that loves indoor rock climbing, or going to the latest movie release, or seeing their favorite band play live? Try to do something with your friend that they love to do and you will then have experiences in common and things you are sharing besides your mental illness. Your friend will begin to see you as a rock climbing partner, or movie date, or concert enthusiast rather than a person with a mental illness.

Feed your mind and soul – do something that forces you to take your mind off of your symptoms and the details of how you are doing. Occupy your mind with inspirational books, art shows, movies, etc. Not only will it give you so much to think about that has nothing to do with your illness, it will give you interesting things to talk about (and possibly more social confidence) when you are with others.  Of course, you may actually see or read something that inspires you to change your life.

Take a Class – I have tried to take in-person classes but have eventually failed at them because of the anxiety and the fatigue I feel from my medication that makes me have to take a nap. I can, however, take online classes. Online classes can help you learn something new, introduce you to people who are interested in the same things you are, and give you a complete break from dealing with anything regarding your illness. Also, if you finish, you will have a sense of accomplishment. And again, it gives you something new to talk about with people when you do find yourself in a social situation.

Find a Hobby – Try to find something that you are passionate about that is creative. There is a trend in the country right now for adults to color and there are many coloring books for adults on the market (search Amazon) or you can print out patterns from your computer. Learning to do Zen Tangles is another hobby where you teach yourself to make simple patterns (at first) and as you get better the drawings become increasingly complicated. You can look for instructions for free online. Photography is also a great hobby, because it is not very expensive to start out with and there are many places to show your work online and become part of a community.

Writing – If you love writing and you keep a journal or blog about your illness, then by all means keep that up, because it can be therapeutic, but also give yourself other assignments. For example make it a goal to write one short story a week, or two poems. Write on topics that have nothing to do with your illness.

Include Something Spiritual – You define this for yourself. Meditation? Yoga? Church? Temple? Synagogue? Mosque? (I’m sure you could list far more possibilities).

We are all so much more than a diagnosis, but we can’t expect people to see past our diagnosis if all we ever do is talk about it.

Today I am going to write an essay about a time I fell in love. It will have nothing to do with schizophrenia. I am more than my illness, and you are too, come on, let’s show people, let’s shine.