It would not be truthful to say a person with a major mental illness can have and do all the things that someone without a mental illness can. A major mental illness has ramifications that affect all parts of a person’s existence. “Why me?” is a commonly asked question, of a person who feels that he or she has been dealt an unfair hand by fate. One could come up with many answers to such a question. In fact it seems we are all dealt cards that are not “chosen” but are random, and it is up to each person to play those cards to the best of their ability. If you believe in God, it doesn’t have to include the narcissistic belief that God likes you better than someone else. Some people get cancer, a physical deformity, or could be given an apparently “perfect” body and then could later become a burn victim. There is not necessarily any “reason” why life gave someone a mental illness and someone else, not. (Neither is it a sign that you have done something wrong and are being punished for it.)
A major mental illness may severely limit a person’s ability to generate income during part or all of the normally productive years. Not having a good income for many years of one’s lifespan then affects many other areas in life. Without income, it will be impossible to do many of the things one’s peers are doing, such as travel, buying a house, raising children. Many persons with severe mental illness could be lucky to have a checking account with a few hundred dollars in it. Without income and the ability that comes from it to keep up with one’s peers, we may have a feeling of being left behind.
We may feel that we are denied the good things in life that other adults are getting. This can create a lot of grief. It can create bitterness when we see non-disabled relatives having moderate or great success in life, and when we then compare this to our own apparently lesser progress.
A mental illness can cause a person to lose friends, or to never make friends in the first place. Once again, one of the doors to the good things in life has been slammed shut in our faces. A man in his twenties, thirties, or forties who has a chronic mental illness is not usually perceived as an appealing friend. People may be afraid to associate with us for fear of our unpopularity rubbing off on them. (Due to the nature of how groups function, this fear of unpopularity through association is not unfounded.) At the onset of a mental illness, whether this happens to someone in adolescence, early adulthood, or middle age, we may find that people who once were previously our friends will now have nothing to do with us. This can cause anguish.
We may be stuck with going to treatment programs in which we are supervised and managed, and in which we are perceived and treated as a child in the body of an adult. I once went to a program in which an intern therapist assumed I was unable to make a cake from a cake mix without assistance. On the other hand, someone familiar with me recently hired me to diagnose and repair a laser printer—which I did without a problem. (Electronics is my other career.) The assumption that because we have a mental illness we are dumber than a young psychology student is not a valid assumption.
So far, I have included limitations from a mental illness which are social or societal. The illnesses also limit a person’s existence through direct biological causes. For some persons with mental illness it can be difficult to go out into public places and deal with crowds. Due to the illness as well as the medication, an afflicted person’s ability to drive a car could be limited or nonexistent. The ability to multitask in a pressured situation is particularly out of the question for the writer of this column. Many persons with mental illness have a greater need for peace and quiet than do the non-afflicted. Also due to both the medications and the illnesses, the ability to read books is limited; or reading can require more effort. Due to medications and due to the illnesses, there may be a greater need for “comfort food.”
Some persons with mental illness, rather than dealing with the frustrations of their life in a straightforward manner, turn to alcohol and illegal drugs. This bad decision only leads to negative consequences, and ultimately compounds the limiting factors in life.
Some persons with a mental illness also have restrictions that are mandated by the court system. Conservatorship and other court orders are intended for those who can not handle their affairs in a self-directed manner. The limits that exist in the lives of persons with mental illness may seem daunting and unfair. However, when one door is closed, it could be an indication that another one should be knocked on. Choosing a purpose to your existence, one which is challenging but realistically attainable, is one way of dealing with the cards you are dealt.