Imagining a Life Without Mental Illness

October 10, 2022 Mel Bender

Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if I didn't have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). It saddens me to think about the experiences and accomplishments I may have missed out on due to my ongoing battle with mental illness. While it's impossible to know the life I could have had, it's an interesting thought experiment to look back and imagine how things could have turned out differently. What if I'd led a life without mental illness?

A Life Without Mental Illness May Have Saved Relationships

Living with BPD and complex PTSD, I tend towards hypervigilance, defensiveness, and insecurity. I fear conflict and go to great lengths to avoid it; I'm quick to bail on relationships when the going gets tough, and I struggle to share my real opinions, feelings, and needs with anyone.

If I didn't have mental illnesses, I think I'd be more optimistic, resilient, and confident. I'd handle conflict with greater grace and ease; I'd be more persistent in repairing and nurturing my relationships with family, friends, and partners, and I'd bring more of myself to the table, as opposed to presenting a curated version of my identity in an attempt to avoid judgment and rejection. I think my past friendships and romantic relationships would have been healthier and lasted longer. I probably would have stayed on better terms with my family, and I definitely would have hung in there longer with at least a few of my past jobs.

My Career Might Have Developed Differently in a Life Without Mental Illness

I had big plans for my career. When I went to university for the first time, I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but I wasn't well enough to do a post-graduate degree. So, after graduation, I spent five years grappling with my mental health and working as a tutor, receptionist, live model, and maid.

When I went back to university to get my second undergraduate degree, I wanted to become a writer and professor. Once again, though, I wasn't well enough to do a master's degree. I went on to work as an English as a second language (ESL) instructor, administrative assistant, and proofreader.

Would I be working as a psychiatrist or professor now if I'd been well enough to complete my post-secondary education? I'd like to think I would be. I know I'm intelligent enough to do it. Intelligence has never been the issue; emotions have. If I didn't have a life with mental illness and had held greater mastery over my emotions, I believe it would have enabled me to achieve the career success I've only been able to dream of for decades.

Greater career success would have also contributed to success in other areas of my life. Money isn't everything, but not having enough of it has contributed to my poor mental health over the years. If nothing else, more money would have bought me more therapy, and that alone would have made a significant positive impact on my mental health and quality of life.

It's Never Too Late to Start Again

I suppose it's a futile exercise to speculate about how my life would have been different if I hadn't had to deal with mental illness from a young age. No matter what I do, I can't change the past. At the same time, it's an opportunity to reflect on the things that are important to me now -- namely, my relationships and my career.

I'm not where I want to be with my career, and I'm not as good of a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, partner, or employee as I would like to be. I need to remember, however, that just because certain things have been out of reach for me in the past doesn't mean they will be in the future. I may have BPD and complex PTSD for the rest of my life, but I am more than my mental illness. As long as I'm alive, I still have a chance to imagine a better future for myself and pursue it to the best of my ability.

APA Reference
Bender, M. (2022, October 10). Imagining a Life Without Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 21 from

Author: Mel Bender

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