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I’ve spent about half my life fighting mental illness. Some people in my situation would give anything to live a “normal” life. For me, though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am not defined by my mental illness, but it has shaped me into who I am today. Yes, the fight has been miserable, but it’s given me some positive things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Because happiness has to be fought for and is at times unattainable, you learn to take pleasure in the little things. Instead of expecting to be happy all the time, I take time to value the small things that build up to happiness. I smile at the flowers on my way to class. I enjoy the multicolored umbrellas on a rainy day. I take pleasure in the unique and fun clothes and jewelry I wear. I am mindful of what’s around me, and I use that mindfulness to boost my mood. When I focus on the little things, the world seems a lot less gloomy and intimidating. The little things accumulate and help me build lasting happiness regardless of the larger phenomena at play. Without my history of having to fight for my happiness, I don’t think I would take the time to notice and be pleased with the little things in life.

Compassion is another attribute that has been strengthened by having a mental illness. I know what it’s like to have suffered in a certain way and have thus cultivated an understanding and empathy for others who struggle in similar ways. I am able to put myself in others’ shoes and see things from their perspective. This may not be the case for everyone, but being ill has definitely increased my capacity for compassion. I never want to see someone else feel the way I have felt. It’s because of this that I write about my experiences and share them with you.

Having a mental illness has given me a valuable perspective on life. After years of wanting to end my own life, the gratitude and appreciation I have for the years ahead of me are indescribable. I’ve fought hard for the opportunity to make a place for myself in this world and to leave my mark on it. It’s not something I’m going to risk giving up again. The future is much more valuable and powerful to me because I didn’t have one for so long. Being ill and being in recovery have given me the motivation to fight for myself and for my happiness and future.

Mental illness sucks. There’s no doubt about it. But there are some valuable takeaways from having a mental illness. Whether you want it to or not, it shapes you. It changes your perspective. It takes a lot from you, but it gives some things back. When it spits you back out again, you’re stronger than when it all started.