Ask Me About My Mental Illness
When I tell people I have a mood disorder and an anxiety disorder, their immediate reaction varies. Some common ones include:
“Oh…so how do you like your classes?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Did you have a really hard life?”
“That’s, um, interesting.”
But the most common reaction, and the most difficult to handle, is silence. Frequently, people won’t respond, and then never bring it up again. It’s like they don’t want to trigger me or “set me off” because the media portrays generalized anxiety as a constant state of jitters and any brand of mood disorder as violent and irrational. While I’m pretty constantly anxious, you can’t always see it. I don’t always exhibit physical symptoms even if I’m panicking internally. I’m not angry or violent or a loner; I have a wide variety of friends and I’m generally an exuberant person. However, sometimes I do have inconsolable panic attacks. Sometimes my moods fluctuate incredibly quickly, and I go from being too depressed to leave my room to unable to sit still. But you’ll never know what my symptoms or triggers are if you don’t ask.
I want people to know that, while my illness is a source of suffering in my life, it’s not something I’m ashamed of. Just like some people have food allergies or diabetes or asthma, I have generalized anxiety. I have cyclothymia. I’m no longer afraid of either of those word because they’re only a part of me. There are other, bigger, better parts of me. I love poetry and politics. I have quirks, like putting hot sauce on essentially everything. I have dislikes, like math, escalators and spiders. These things are important parts of me and, although they maybe influenced by my mental illness, they’re not controlled by it.
But I also want you to understand my mental illness is chronic and debilitating. I need to adjust my life around this part of me in order to survive.
Throughout our lives, people with mental illness are encouraged to be quiet about how much we hurt and are hurt by society. Speaking for myself, I wish more people would ask me about my mental illness than shy away from it. It’s not a sensitive topic for me because it’s become routine. This isn’t to say it’s not hard — every day is a fight — but I know how to win each battle effectively now, and I will not be silent about my struggle. And you don’t have to stay silent either — if you want to know, just ask.
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