THE BLOG

How My Mental Illness Has Added Years To My Life

03/18/2013 05:22 EDT | Updated 05/18/2013 05:12 EDT
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ZINGST, GERMANY - MAY 02: A little boy takes delight in feeding seagulls near the beach at the Baltic Sea on May 2, 2011 in Zingst, Germany. A cold wind made for choppy waves under a blue sky on the north German coast today. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

It is no secret that I have been very public about living with mental illness but also some of the challenges I face. A lot of people perceive mental illness to be a burden and it's that perception that only furthers the stigma and prevents people from seeking treatment. I love sharing my story but I can no longer tolerate having people say to me "I'm so sorry you have to go through that" or "Having mental illness must suck, eh?"

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada recently asked their Twitter followers: Does anyone feel you've lost years of your life because of mental illness?

The question got me thinking because I, too, am curious how many people believe they have had years of their life taken from them or wish they could remember the peak and intensity of their mental illness in a more positive fashion. I've no doubt experienced moments that I never want to relive nor would I ever want anybody else to experience either.

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I live by the infamous saying, "Everything happens for a reason" because I believe one event in our lives leads to the next. I truly believe life is like playing dominos, if you play it in your own unique way things will fall in place in the way that you meant them to. But remember the golden rule in integers in math class? Two negatives equal a positive. While two wrongs make a right may only apply in math, the beauty is if things don't happen the way you hope they do you can always go back and try again.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, I believe my mental illness has helped to shape my life in a very positive fashion. Each and every one of us has a calling in life. When I was a very young child, my grandmother sat me down and said "Arthur, you are going to grow up and do something very positive with your life." For the longest time I have wondered what my grandmother meant by that and sadly I no longer have the opportunity to ask her.

A few months ago I was in Los Angeles on vacation and I got to meet a few celebrities and it got me thinking "What will their legacy be?" but then I asked myself "What will my legacy be?" and the truth is that I'm only beginning to build my legacy.

Statistically speaking I have 55 to 60 years to build my legacy, but as I look to the future I don't want my mental illness to define me. Nor do I think it should it define anybody else. Rather, I want to be looked at as turning a challenging experience into a positive one. And over the coming decades I will continue to finish what I've only just begun to do. I will continue to fight for the rights of those with mental illness. I will continue to advocate for change and reform, for laws to be changed, for more funding. And I will continue to be aggressive in my fight to challenge and end mental health stigma.

Getting out of bed each and every day is difficult and some days I want to concede to defeat. But I will not let my mental illness defeat me, I will defeat it. This is why and how mental illness has not only added years to my life, but it has improved my quality of life.