5 Surprising Reasons Why You Might Fear Being Free From Mental Illness

What does freedom mean to you? What does being free entail?

  • Is it freedom from debt or your stressful job?
  • Is it relief from chronic health issues?
  • Or is it freedom from toxic relationships?
  • Is it being able to live the way you want to live?
  • Is it being able to travel as much as you want?
  • Or is it waking up every day happy to be alive?

Merriam Webster defines FREEDOM as:

1 : the quality or state of being free: such as. a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another // independence. c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous //freedom from care.

Being free is so precious. It is something we require to be happy. Most people would do anything for a certain type of freedom that they feel like they are lacking.

What if freedom was within your grasp and you chose not to attain it? I think this is an interesting phenomenon in the mental health community. It is more common than people think for those living with mental illness to fear being free of their disorder.

Disclaimer: I do not mean it is possible to be cured. I mean it is possible to be stable and well.

I thought it was an appropriate topic, since in the United States today is Independence Day. I wanted to explore 5 reasons why a person with depression or another mental illness might fear getting well.

Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.

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5 reasons people fear being free of mental illness

Why would anyone fear being free of a mental illness? Isn’t that what you should want? It’s more complicated than you think!

It requires changing habits.

One result of healing after a bout with mental illness is typically a massive lifestyle overhaul. What types of things are involved with better emotional wellness and being free from your illness?

  • Healthy diet
  • Exercise regimen
  • Changing medication or dosages
  • Giving up alcohol or caffeine
  • Changing jobs

These things are daunting for someone struggling with mental health issues. It takes a few months on average to establish something as a habit. The thought of committing to a new action for a few months when you are basically playing a guessing game can seem impossible.

purple background with white text that says "5 Surprising Reasons Why You Might Fear Being Free From Mental Illness" with a black and white photo of a sad woman with her face in her hands

Having to rediscover who you are.

“I’m afraid of getting better because I don’t know who I am without mental illness. I’ve been mentally ill for over half my life and I feel like it’s so deeply a part of me that I’m scared to find out what I’d be like without it.” – Anonymous quote from a friend

This is something I can relate to so much. I have had some sort of depression for about 24 years. I literally have no clue what kind of person I would be or could be if I was more stable.

Becoming emotionally healthy involves re-examining yourself. (The things you enjoy, the way you act, your health habits, etc.) This is a hard task for anyone, but especially someone who lives with chronic illness.

Changes to relationships.

Being mentally ill is a bit like living inside the eye of a storm. Your life blows around you in a million pieces at 100mph. When you can reach a place of stability, and the storm subsides, you often find yourself picking up the pieces and trying to reassemble them.

One of the biggest reasons someone my fear getting well is being scared of who will or won’t be around anymore. I have had friendships change because of my mental illness. I’ve damaged relationships with family members. When a person becomes well, they might come to find that the amount of people in their life is reduced.

The idea of looking back with regret.

This is another one I can relate to so much. When you are in the throes of depression, the big picture isn’t always clear. You are living from one sad moment to another. When you get well, it is common to then be able to regain some perspective. What does that lead to? Quite often, looking back with regret.

With the help of a therapist and good support system, this can be effectively managed. However, it is a reality that I, and many people like me, live with every day. What was I like during my darkest periods? What friends did I hurt? Also, what could I have done differently?

purple background with white text that says "5 Surprising Reasons Why You Might Fear Being Free From Mental Illness" with a black and white photo of a sad older woman being comforted by a younger woman

Needing to make apologies

That leads to my next point. When you enter a period of being free, you find yourself making a mental list of people you need to apologize to. This can be incredibly painful. It is hard to realize just how many people your words and actions have hurt.

Additional thoughts on being free

Another friend brought up a good point. It is important to make the distinction between two concepts: getting better and becoming stable. When I refer to “getting better” in this article, I do not mean becoming cured of depression. I mean reaching a point of stability where not as much intervention is necessary.

She says, “I’m afraid to get better because I think it would be false confidence. I don’t trust that I’ll never not be on medication. If I were to try to get off medication again, it could be deadly. Part of managing my mental illness is accepting that I have it. Thinking that I “got better” is a deadly idea if I’m truly not free of mental illness.”

Yes. Absolutely. I am not talking about why people fear becoming cured, because that’s not possible. We will always be on medication (most likely) or in therapy. We will always have our disorder. What I am referring to is the fear of what pieces have to be put back together when you are once again stable.

Another quote from a friend: “I’m afraid to get better because I was doing so much weller (sic)… and in the last month I feel I have moved 10000 steps back. Will I even be able to get better/weller?”

It is true that making progress and backsliding can cause frustration. That is another thing to remember. Many fear being free because they know what a fragile state it is, and can too easily slip away.

In summary: “Being Free” is possible

Mental illness is a life long battle. Many people are able to reach points where they are “doing better.” This can be accomplished with the help of proper medical care like therapy and medication, and necessary lifestyle changes. For a lot of people it is scary to picture life without their mental illness (by that I mean, a life that is stable).

If you are one of those people, hang on to your support system. Take your meds. See your therapist. It is possible to be stable, and although being free can feel scary, you can do it.

purple background with white text that says "5 Surprising Reasons Why You Might Fear Being Free From Mental Illness" with a black and white photo of a sad woman rubbing her eye

More quotes about being free

“I’m afraid to get better because I don’t know who i truly am, my mental illness has been at the forefront since i was a kid.” -Anonymous friend

“I’m afraid to get better because I don’t want people to think I was “faking” it, or using it for attention.” – Anonymous friend

“I’m not afraid of better. Better isn’t a reality in mental illness or diabetes or any condition to affects your body chronically. But that’s okay, I can be weller. And weller is more a happy perspective.” -Anonymous

Comment below and tell me about what your life would look like if you while being free of mental health issues. Can you relate to any of the reasons listed? Also, make sure to share this post if you found it helpful!

Being free might feel scary, but it is so worth it!


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Related posts about seeking treatment:

FAQs About Mental Illness: What You Need To Know

Mental Illness: How Do You Get Diagnosed?

74 thoughts on “5 Surprising Reasons Why You Might Fear Being Free From Mental Illness”

  1. I can totally relate with this the last few years. I had a childhood trauma, the reason I have anxiety and depression for years.

  2. Mama Maggie's Kitchen

    This is such a great topic to discuss. I never thought that people actually fear of being free from mental illness. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. That’s true! Real growth happens outside of your comfort zone. Even if you just stretch a little bit. Thanks for that, and for reading!

    1. To be honest, until I really thought about it, I never realized I felt that way! It’s such a complicated subject. Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading!

    1. It’s so true. I often feel overwhelmed that if I “get better” I will have a lot more to live up to. Glad you were able to learn something. Thanks for reading!

  3. This post really made me think. I would not consider myself depressed or struggling but I do find myself not letting myself be free with certain things in life, especially when it comes to my kids and worrying about them.

    1. It could definitely apply to that too! Glad you still found it relatable. I can definitely empathize with that struggle too. Thanks for reading!

  4. What a fascinating perspective! I feel that since you have been through depression yourself, you are able to empathize and connect so deeply with others.
    I’ll be following your work for now on. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great post! I can definitely relate with not really knowing who I truly am without my mental illness. It is quite a scary thought getting to the stage where I feel completely stable, I feel like I’m not going to be the same person so I think thats what scares me about it.

    Chloe xx

  6. Freedom to me was when I got out a 22-year marriage. There was no violence but other things that I just couldn’t deal with. But before I made my decision, I thought I would never be a normal person without a spouse. I was so wrong!!! My soul was free!!

    1. That is awesome! I’m so happy you were able to make that a possibility. Take care, and thanks for reading!

      1. Fear is a cunning beast so it can have a hold on us in covert ways even when we think everyone wants to be better. I like the notion of wanting to be weller rather than better..

    1. Well that’s great! I hope it keeps up that way. Sending you some good vibes for the rest of 2020! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. This is such a thought provoking post! It’s fascinating that we all don’t necessarily want the same things in life. That what might seem a straight forward concept just isn’t! Fear is such a controlling factor in much of our lives xxx

    1. It really is. I think about this often, what would life be like if I didn’t have depression and anxiety? It’s very overwhelming! Thanks for reading, and take care.

  8. I really loved your article. It’s nice to read about how people with a mental illness feels about getting better. I really liked the quotes.

  9. theGlobeTrevor

    Good information. I struggle myself sometimes. You make alot of great points, and theres a lot of good things to remember.

  10. This is a very insightful and thought provoking post. Got me thinking why I hate taking medication of any sort so much. Guess I have some soul searching to do now.

  11. Love this article. Being free in some ways means being untethered and that can be scary… or incredibly exciting. It’s a bit of the unknown and if you are good with that, it’s going to be a fun ride! I used to be sooo tethered and then I decided to truly live my life, proactively and it’s been a blast.

  12. Very interesting post! I have never considered or thought that one might FEAR getting better. You do a great job explaining the different reasons why I person might be afraid to be free from their mental illness. While it seems most of us are afraid of changes in general, even though they are inevitable, I had never considered that we can fear change that rids us of our difficulties as well; bad relationships, emotional struggles, etc. You have given me something to think about. Thanks.

    Roger

  13. Wow, this post is fantastic. I’ve never thought about freedom in this way, but you’re right, people are afraid to make the changes necessary to truly be free. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Great post! Freedom is such a unique thing, different for every person. Personally, I love my job and would love to keep working BUT that doesn’t mean we’ve hit the point of freedom. Freedom for me would be having enough income that my husband could walk away from his job to travel anytime we want. Unlike my job, his can’t travel with him and that holds us back. We keep talking about renting an RV and driving across Canada and the US, and the freedom to do that would be amazing.

  15. Well said. I think people have fear, too, about how seeing treatment will change them. “If I take these meds, will I be a different person? Will they cause me to behaving in ways that aren’t “me”?” It can be scary seeking treatment, admitting help is needed, and taking steps to be free from mental illnesses. Likewise if you’re a parent having to make these decisions for an adolescent child.

  16. Thank you for this post! I think sometimes making those changes can trick you into feeling less free and more bound by rules, however true freedom is my eyes is being content with everything around you, and stable and balanced within yourself. If I have to give up some things for that then it’s totally worth the effort in the end, and much more freeing than being able to do everything, but perhaps with dire consequences.

  17. There are so many levels and layers to what freedom means to me so I can’t put them all in this comment – but having mental freedom – freeing myself of what is conditioned in society, etc – is something that I’m working on right now. Really interesting post!

  18. Such an important topic for all of us to be well informed about, thanks so much for sharing this! I think it can apply to other chronic illnesses as well. I have been suffering from migraines for almost 30 years and interestingly, I’ve never thought about it as if I were afraid to be well (or at least stable!) so reading this was very eye opening! You never know who you can touch with your words…keep up the great work!

  19. Freedom to me is waking up every day not happy to be alive but just happy. Freedom is having the freedom to make choices and live how I want to live my life. I think it is easy to not love yourself and fall into a prison of comparisons so I am happy to see this post encouraging others to find freedom and love who they are.

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