Managing Mental Illness as a Hero’s Journey

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It seems like it’s getting trendy to talk about the hero’s journey. Campbell’s monomyth is becoming more and more mainstream.

That’s great news, of course! Thanks to the efforts of individual “hero advocates” and groups like the Hero Round Table, awareness is growing about the mythic structure behind our ancient and modern legends.

We are rediscovering there is something within our species that yearns for heroic stories. We’ve continually created them, year after year, century after century, civilization after civilization. We’re still creating hero stories to this day, as evidenced by the flood of superhero movies released in the last decade alone.

But why do we do it? Sure, we can say such stories are just about escapism. We can be cynical and chalk it up to “an unwillingness to face reality,” or a “fruitless yearning” to be in total control of our circumstances.

But let’s not be cynical, shall we?

Because the hero’s journey isn’t about escapism. Rather, heroic tales are meant to simultaneously entertain (to hold our fickle human attention) and educate (remind us of our innate will to overcome obstacles and succeed). They’re meant to give us hope, and inspire us to strive for the power, intelligence, and resilience of the heroes we create.

Ultimately, the hero’s journey is a metaphor for the journey through one’s own life, and not just in the physical world. It’s also about the internal journey we all must make, a vital exploration of the soul with the goal of making peace with ourselves and tapping into the inherent strength we all possess.

Unfortunately for those who suffer with mental illness, the journey within can be especially challenging. 

The Cave You Fear to Enter

I have bipolar disorder. Like many with this condition, I went through a dark time in my life when I was hurting others with my actions, and hurting myself in the process.

I betrayed the trust of those I loved the most, and lost the ability to enjoy life while my thoughts and emotions swirled out of control. 

Eventually, I got help. I went to a string of therapists and psychiatrists, to get counseling and to start taking medication. These were absolutely necessary steps on my path to wellness, for sure.

But I felt like something was missing. Eventually, I realized I needed to do some independent work on my own. And one big step was to finally take a long, hard, honest look within myself.

In other words, I needed to take a trip through my own mind. As many of us know, an unhealthy mind can be a very scary place.

But, as Joe Campbell said, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” Was there ever a better metaphor for a mind in the grips of uncontrolled mental illness? The inner workings of one’s own brain can indeed seem to be a dark, monster-haunted underground lair.

But remember the second part of Campbell’s assertion: there’s treasure within that scary cave. In the case of mental illness, the “treasure” is a healthier, more stable condition.

There is great reward awaiting us if we get into the habit of being honest and brave about mental illness. In combination with traditional therapy and medication, a personal hero’s journey of self-discovery is critical to the path toward condition management.

The Never-Ending Adventure

Notice I use the words “condition management.”

Make no mistake, the journey to managed mental illness is an ongoing one. It’s a journey many of us must make for the rest of our lives. But it’s a journey that is very doable for those who suffer with mental illness. As I experienced myself, it first takes a conscious decision to believe the path to a more stable mind is possible.

Belief is a non-negotiable first step of the journey. You have to give yourself permission to believe you are stronger than your illness.

There will be setbacks. There will be times of necessary rest to recover your energy for the challenges that spring up. But eventually, we must rise to our feet again and get back on the road to a better self.

So, I ask you to try seeing your own mental health not as a struggle, but an adventure. Trust me, that’s a much healthier way to see things. Let yourself believe that you can become a hero to yourself, and that the journey is one of self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-healing. 
Good luck, fellow adventurer! I hope to see you on the road sometime!

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About the Author

Anthony Simeone is a writer, speaker, personal development activist, and social change warrior with over two decades of experience studying the practical application of literature, philosophy, psychology, and other disciplines. The culmination of his work is the Live the Hero concept, which he offers as a "life path" for use in overcoming daily obstacles. Live the Hero combines the wisdom found in the arts and humanities with the latest discoveries related to modern neuroscience. You can contact Anthony and learn more about his work at