Friday, 28 December 2012

The Up-Sides Of Mental Illness: Compassion

Recently, a friend shared with me a practice he's been using at the end of each day to boost his confidence, mood and sense of self.  Interestingly, this friend is of good mental health, but still finds it necessary to work on "improving moments" from time to time.

The technique is something most of us have probably heard of in one form or another.  It's to list three things at the end of each day that you are grateful for.

I initially didn't think much of this, until I actually gave it a go.  It's really helpful. 

Some days, even if it's been a really bad day, I am still grateful for something as simple as sanitation.  If this sounds like it's not that big a deal to you, then I am almost certain you have never been to China - believe me, when that pork dumpling platter started to go south on me, and there was nothing but a hole in the ground behind the restaurant where kids were playing... Well, you can take my word for it, access to a sanitation system is a blessing.

I've decided I'm going to use this more often, to get in the habit of changing my perspective on things to see all the angles.

So, I'm starting a series of posts about the positives of having mental illness.

Lately I've noticed that my own mental health struggles have allowed me to be much more compassionate to others experiencing the same.  This seems obvious, but it pops up in places I wouldn't expect.  

Today, when I was stopping by the shops to pick up some groceries, a man was being arrested in the car park and was causing quite the kerfuffle.  

It took four police officers to hold him down, and two more to keep pedestrians away and prepare the police van to transport him.  He was screaming and shouting that these weren't police officers, but were secret police, that had poisoned his water.  Most people were standing around rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.

But my first thought was that the guy probably suffered from mental illness, and that if he had a choice, I was sure he wouldn't want to be in the situation he was in.

I can guarantee that a few years ago, before becoming mentally unwell myself, there is no way I would even have considered that.  I still probably wouldn't have been as judgmental as the people standing around, but it wouldn't have immediately occurred to me how involuntary his predicament was.

In all honesty, I can say that I appreciate being able to access this compassion and understanding for anyone who is let down by their brain in the same way that I have been.  

This isn't to say that I'm Jesus or anything, but I think it actually feels better to experience the emotion of compassion rather than emotions like judgment or disgust.


  1. What a great tip!!! I've been using an app on my iPhone lately regarding this. It's a very well-designed Gratitude Journal, and I copy/paste the answers into my private journal (also an iPhone and Mac app called "Day One"). It definitely helps me on days that I keep up with it. And I can relate that I'm starting to see the world a bit differently. Mr Turtle (John) has been so proud of my progress lately. I've been seeing things more rationally. I'm not sure entirely what to attribute it to, other than: getting a good job, journaling more, working through self-help books, meeting BPD friends who inspire me (hint, hint) and maybe my meds are all starting to kick in and stabilize me. :) Regardless, big turtle thumbs up for this post!!!


  2. I love this idea and look forward to reading more about the positives. I think having a mental illness definitely does cause many of us to become compassionate as you were with the man who was being arrested. Beautiful work!