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12 Women Reveal How They Overcame Their Mental Illness

In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, let these true stories remind you there is always light at the end of the tunnel
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Though 'mental illness' is a widely used term that encompasses a large variety of disorders, from depression and bipolar disorder to panic attacks and post-traumatic stress syndrome, millions of Americans struggle with their mental health each and every year. In fact, the National Alliance of Mental Illness estimates that one in five adults (that's 4.8 million people or 18.5 percent of the population) battles a mental illness each year.

While depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and other diagnoses can make sufferers feel very alone, the truth is, most patients ultimately find a silver lining. And through treatment, they even discover a way to cope with their illness, going on to live full, vibrant and fulfilling lives and relationships.

If you're currently in the trenches and can't see past the chaos of depression or anxiety, let these true stories from women who have overcome a variety of mental illnesses inspire your journey toward health and clarity.

Image via Getty

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'I Tried to See My Depression Through My Child's Eyes'
After JF Garrard's father passed away, she felt overwhelmed by extreme guilt and fell into a deep, dark depression. Though his illness was out of her control, she felt responsible and worried that she didn't do enough to prevent his death. After months of struggling, JF sought cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to mental illness, creating actionable steps instead of relying on traditional talk therapy. It was through this type of therapy that JF discovered the mind-shift she needed to turn around her thinking.

While she had planned on visiting her father's grave to apologize to him for not being there, her therapist intervened and asked her to dig deeper into why she was carrying around the tremendous guilt. "The counselor asked me what I would tell my son if I was in the grave and if my son was telling me this. I said I would want my son to 'put the guilt aside and live and be happy. No decision made yesterday can be unmade, and we can only sum up any mistakes as experience to use for life in the moment,'" she explains.

It was that moment of clarity that helped her rationalize her depression in an impactful way, allowing her to realize that she had a greater responsibility to get healthy: not just for herself but for her son. "I did not want him to grow up with a depressed mother who can't take care of herself or other people."

Image via JF Garrard

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'I Made Time for the Small Things That Brought Me Joy'
Even though Shannon Battle is a licensed professional therapist, that didn't prevent her from developing a mental illness of her own. She was officially diagnosed with adjustment disorder, a condition where a person feels detached from life and struggles with extreme sadness, most often after a stressful experience or trauma. Though she had an inclination that something was wrong, it wasn't until people commented on her blank facial expression and growing distance that she took action.

What worked for her? Learning to make the small things in life that brought her joy a priority. "I blogged. I said 'no' more often, and I stopped thinking for everyone else, and allowed them to take ownership of their outcomes. I made time for myself -- physically by getting up at 5 a.m. to pray and exercise. And I started eating lunch away from my office while shutting down my phone," she shares.

By making this shift, she held herself more accountable for self-care and prioritized her overall well-being over trying to make everyone else happy. In the end, that helped her to see the light beyond the clouds.

Image via Shannon Battle

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'I Decided to Do It For Myself'
Though eating disorders impact 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States, body dysmorphic conditions are rarely referenced as a mental illness. For Alyssa Jeffers, who battled an eating disorder, a body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and panic disorder, learning to take control of her mental health was an important step in recovery. But the pivotal moment? Two weeks into her stay at an intensive outpatient eating disorder rehab, she realized that while her parents sent her to get help, she needed to make the choice to recover for herself.

"I had been so blind to how bad my anxiety, eating and everything else had gotten, but sitting in my group talking about our motivation for recovery really inspired me to look deep inside my soul and realize that I wanted to get better for myself," she says. "I still have my bad days -- everyone does -- but I now have the tools to recognize when I'm slipping so I can pull myself out of it. I have never been happier or felt better in my life."

Eight months into her eating disorder recovery process, Alyssa posts about her experience on her Instagram, @RecoveryIsDelicious as a way to help others going through similar experiences.

Image via Alyssa Jeffers

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'I Stopped Being Afraid'
For a long time, Patricia Bermudez kept the mental illnesses that haunted her a secret. Worried that others would call her crazy or think of her differently, a single mention of anxiety was terrifying. It wasn't until three years after her grandmother's passing and her diagnosis of bipolar disorder II, panic disorder, sleep disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that she mustered the courage to talk about it. Why? She didn't want to be afraid of who she was and what she battled. Instead, she faced her fears and accepted her experience.

"I knew I was on my way to recovery after fully accepting that I would never be the same -- and that was OK. I stopped being afraid of my diagnosis and all the stigma associated with being bipolar. I still struggle daily, but I am no longer afraid of the unknown. I embrace it," she says. Thanks to group therapy, art and meditation, she now manages her diagnosis and continues to push through the dark times to find the light.

Image via Patricia Bermudez

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