Mental illness can be a tricky beast when it plays with our thoughts, feelings and moods. It can be hard to tell who’s in control. Am I failing, or is anxiety talking? Am I really worthless, or is that just my depression? Part of recovery is figuring out whose voice is whose — when you can recognize mental illness’ voice, it’s easier to figure out when it’s lying.
To help you combat these lies, we asked our community to share some of the worst lies mental illness tells — and then what they say back.
If you need a good line or two to spit back to your mental illness today, we hope this helps:
It’s no shock to me that I’m overweight. I live with it every single day. It’s been creeping up on me for the last 15 years. Do you think I don’t cry myself to sleep at night after seeing myself in the mirror? Do you think I don’t see the people staring?
I’ve had more ups and downs than you can imagine. I’m sure many people take one look at me and just assume I’m lazy and all I do is eat. That’s not the case at all. I would think that someone with a medical degree could understand that. Sometimes it doesn’t just boil down to eating habits or exercise.
I’ve been on various medications for mental illness for 24 years; many of those medications have caused weight gain. Literally, the last thing I care about when I am in a depressive episode is taking care of myself. Nine times of out 10, I don’t even remember to eat at all. As it turns out, that’s just as bad as overeating. Who would’ve thought? I starved myself off and on starting at age 13 until roughly age 35. Even though it didn’t always work, I held onto it so tightly for fear of losing my last remaining crutch.
In 2014, I was finally diagnosed with sciatica. If you Google it, you get this definition: pain affecting the back, hip and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back, often owing to degeneration of an intervertebral disk. That almost makes it sound like a cake-walk compared to what it really is. For more than I year, I was virtually bedridden and on a healthy dose of painkillers.
Our doctor thought it was related to some abnormalities in my hip that he saw after yet another MRI. He then sent us off in the direction of a “specialist.” At this point, I could hardly walk from our bedroom to our bathroom, I was in so much pain. Being overweight doesn’t help any of the procedures, or knee brace fittings or x-rays. Don’t even get me started on the procedure where they inject dye into my hips, and I screamed in both pain an embarrassment at the fact they needed more people than usual to do the procedure. Well, somebody had to hold the fat out of the way!
We went to the hip specialist and he had more x-rays taken. I explained the entire situation to his nurse, all the way from the nasty fall I took on our back-porch steps in 2012. I slipped on the ice and landed square on my back on the frozen wooden steps. I explained three to four other falls I had taken, and then I knew I was overweight, but the pain had never been like this. It was excruciating.
It was even more painful that we waited an hour for that doctor to come to talk to us. We told him who sent me and what he thought was wrong. He said, “Well, that is not what is wrong with you. This all relates to your sciatica, and you should strongly consider weight loss surgery. You know what I mean, right?”
With a lump in my throat, I nodded and he walked out. Five minutes was all it took him to decide that there couldn’t be anything else wrong, except my weight. Once again, I was given the heave-ho because it was either all in my head or it was only happening because of my weight.
I went home discouraged and sad. I vowed that whatever would happen next would be on my terms. No more embarrassing doctor visits, and no more trips to the ER.
It’s a sad commentary on our times that I’ve told my husband, “don’t tell them I’m
bipolar!” due to the standard reaction you get. Once the eyes glaze over and the condescending nod kicks in, you know you’re not going to get treatment.
It took me a few more months after the Five-Minute Clinic to get past the sheer shock of the whole experience. I decided that the side effects I was experiencing from the painkillers were too much to handle, so I began weaning myself off them. My primary care doctor agreed with that decision.
I took some time to try to figure things out. I watched documentaries, I read articles and I learned more about food and where it came from. I learned that I needed to start eating to live, not living to eat. I started a new yoga plan, and I was doing better. I was still in pain, but it was tolerable. I did start to lose weight, and I was feeling better. I will admit that during a particularly unbearable bout of depression, I gave up on taking care of me again, but I know what needs to be done, and I know I can do it.
What really makes me angry are the tears I’ve shed over that doctor that couldn’t be bothered to diagnose me with anything other than being fat. Let it be clear, he might have started the switch in my brain that made me realize I would never be taken seriously; but it was me who sought the solutions.
I still have good days and bad days, and I expect I always will. Weight loss is still a struggle for me, but it’s not something I am unfamiliar with. I’ve battled this demon since I was a chubby kid shopping in the “husky” department at Sears for school clothes. At least now I know what I need to do. It would have been nice to have a medical professional figure this out a long time ago, but that’s the way the rice cake crumbles, I suppose.
So, to the doctor that spent five minutes in the room with me, told me I was fat, and walked out, thanks. Thanks for making me so angry at you that I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I started to care of myself for once.
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My former roommate prompted this post. She put me down repeatedly and called me weak for doing possibly the strongest thing I’ve ever done — getting help.
If you think mental illness doesn’t have a stigma, then you might be contributing to it. Think about it — words like “psychotic” are spat out like poison. And no one’s supposed to hang out with people who are “not quite right in the head” or “insane.” Why? Because it might rub off? Last time I checked, hallucinations, compulsions and panic attacks are about as contagious as cancer.
And then, after all that, people decide it must be fun or easy to deal with mental health issues. We just don’t want to deal with things. We made it up. We just want attention. The truth? All we want is to be “normal.” While you’re thinking about how easy it is to stay in bed all day, we’re thinking about how easy it must be to be like everyone else. How easy it must be to know that you’re seeing the same thing as everyone else. How easy it must be not to “freak out” over something that isn’t scary. How easy it must be to go about life without knowing that in a second, everything could change and you could be completely incapacitated with no one to help you.
Others only seem to see two types of mental illness. Those who have “completely lost it” and those who are pretending, enviable because they can get out of things. They don’t see how truly desperate these people are to escape. I’ve tried to find experimental treatments and trials to join, from horse tranquilizers to brain surgery. “That’s ridiculous — you don’t need that, you’re just a little sad.” Well, you don’t understand, you can’t understand, what it’s like for something to always be there. And that’s OK. I envy you. And I really hope you don’t envy me. Because there is no one I would wish a severe mental illness on. Because it doesn’t just stop. It doesn’t take breaks no matter what is going on.
This stigma affects the people who actually suffer from these conditions. Especially because after a while, we start to fall into the trap. We believe we must be faking. We believe maybe we should and could just “snap out of it.” We believe we are weak for getting or accepting help. So on top of everything else, we put off getting help and hide our conditions. We don’t want anyone else to know because they might think we are weak. The disorder lies to us and others seem to agree. It’s hard for us to decide which voice to listen to. Who is right? Especially since we know everything could change it in a second.
This is what happened to me and this roommate. She she made it seem like mental illness was no big deal, and I believed her. She was confirming the things I was already thinking. While others protested, I couldn’t believe them. I wasn’t that bad. There were tons of people who waited more time to get help and were therefore worse than I was. I was faking it. I was over-exaggerating. I was needy. I was weak.
I know these things are not true. I know those who are close to me and care about me are correct. I know it. I try to believe it. And I try not to listen to the negative forces in my life, both external and internal. But it’s hard. That is something I think everyone can agree on, mental illness or not.
This is my take. I use “we” meaning people living with mental illness, but this is only my reality. There are exceptions; we are not all the same. But at the same time, we’re really not all that different from everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t make assumptions. Treat us the same way you would treat someone with diabetes. Diabetics may need special medication or watch what they eat. But it would be silly not to talk to someone because she or he were a diabetic, right? And it would be just as silly not to talk to someone because she or he had a mental illness. Don’t believe the stigma.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
I often run student workshops on a range of issues related to mental health and emotional wellbeing. Regardless of the precise topic, the most common question students ask me is: “What should I do if I’m worried a friend has a mental health issue?”
Perhaps it’s something you’re wondering about, or you’d like to be able to share ideas with your students, friends or your own child. I’ve shared my ideas below, but I’d love to hear yours, too.
The most important thing you can do for your friend is to make time for them and listen to them. They need to feel listened to, so get rid of all distractions. Giving them the space and time to talk is a really important first step — in the beginning, but also right through (and beyond) the recovery journey.
2. Don’t judge.
More than almost anything, young people with mental health and emotional well-being issues such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm tell me that they fear the judgement of others. They worry people will overreact, thinking they’re crazy or assuming they want to kill themselves. Or sometimes, they worry people will be dismissive and think they’re just attention-seeking. A good friend listens without judgement and sees their friend as a friend — not a unhelpful label like “anorexic or “self-harmer.”
When someone shares their struggles and concerns with you, the most helpful thing you can ask is how you can help. There’s no need to dissect the ins and outs of why your friend feels this way — that is the work of a therapist. But as their friend, you can talk to them about what practical measures you can put in place to support them through each day. Think about difficulties and barriers which are making life harder for them. For example, if they’re struggling with anxiety, maybe arriving at school when its really busy makes them feel panicky and out of control. To relieve this, maybe you could walk in with them each day to offer moral support. Exactly how you can help will vary from person to person, so the best thing to do is to have a discussion with your friend to bounce some ideas about. You should also try to revisit the topic every now and then.
4. Seek support — for your friend and yourself.
Depending on the nature of your friend’s concerns, it’s likely you’ll need to encourage them to seek further support. Telling a trusted adult at home or school will enable you to access further support – for both of you. Your friend might be reluctant to share their concerns with anyone else, but if you’re worried it’s important that you don’t go it alone. Also, you may end up developing well-being issues yourself if you take on your friend’s concerns without any additional help. You can help your friend to feel reassured and more in control of the situation by discussing:
WHATinformation needs to be passed on – you only need to share enough to access support, not everything they’ve told you.
WHO needs to know – think carefully about who you trust to respond appropriately and support you both.
HOW you’re going to tell them – does your friend want to do it themselevs, do they want you to do it for them, should you to it together or should you write a letter or email?
Of course, we should always try to seek our friend’s consent before alerting someone to their issues. However, there are some circumstances in which you should tell a trusted adult right away to keep your friend safe, and to access support as quickly as possible. These circumstances include:
Difficulties concerning food including bingeing, starving, vomiting or laxative abuse
Abuse at home (physical, sexual or emotional)
Abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend (physical, sexual or emotional)
Bullying of any type
5. Stick by them.
Finally, stick by your friend through thick and thin. It can be hard being friends with someone who’s facing these kinds of difficulties; you may find your friend pushes you away, stops coming out with you, starts acting differently or ignores you completely. But rest assured, your support will mean a huge amount to them (even if they don’t show it) and will help them through their recovery. Even just the occasional text message can mean a huge amount to someone who’s struggling to get through each day.
Sometimes the first step is the hardest. A step towards acceptance. A step towards treatment. A step towards recovery. When you live with a mental illness, often times that step involves therapy.
But therapy can be a scary concept, especially if the same voice in your head that’s fueling your mental illness is saying you don’t deserve it. There’s always someone worse. It would be a waste of time. Therapy makes you weak.
But who cares if there’s “always someone worse”? Therapy is not a waste of time, and it certainly doesn’t make you weak. If you think you might need therapy but are hesitant to take the first step, here are some messages from our readers that might change your mind.
If you don’t think you deserve therapy, here’s what our community wants you to know:
1. “You may not think you deserve therapy, but you do deserve to be happy. Therapy could be a key component in helping you get there.” — Syrena Clark
2. “Not every therapist will be a good fit for you. If it isn’t working with one, don’t give up! I went through several psychologists/psychiatrists before I found the right one for me. When I found the right doctor, he saved my life.” — Angela Wetuski
3. “Would you deserve chemotherapy? Would you deserve insulin? If you have a child who needed therapy would you think he or she deserved it?” — Mary Mazzarella
4. “As someone who has struggled with depression my entire life, I totally understand feeling like you don’t deserve therapy. I understand self-loathing. I’m comfortable in my misery. Treatment means stepping into something unknown, and that’s scary! When I feel like this, I image myself as the child I once was. I want to protect her and give her whatever she needs to become well again. Even if I feel that I don’t deserve the opportunity to get better, she does.” — Sarah Carson
5. “The voice of depression (or whatever mental illness you have) does not tell the truth. It feeds you lies and tears you down. You are fighting a battle, and you deserve to have an army on your side.” — Nicole Campbell
6. “Can you imagine a world where everyone who needed help was deemed undeserving of it? People’s minds can be sick in the same way that people’s bodies can be sick, and if you wouldn’t deny yourself a visit to the doctor to treat a broken bone, why would you deny yourself the opportunity to treat other non-physical illnesses?” — Emily Waryck
7. “A therapist once said to me, ‘If you play the comparison game, you will lose every time. Someone out there will always have it worse, but someone will always have it better, too.’ Focus on what you need as an individual, not where you stand in comparison to another.” — Delaina Conour
8. “No matter how manageable you may think it is or how much you don’t want to ‘put someone out,’ if you feel like you need help, seek it.” — Patrick Dovah Bowden
9. “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. You can’t pour from an empty cup — same theory.” — Jen Hall
10. “Who doesn’t deserve someone who you can talk to without having to worry about anything coming back to haunt you?” — Kim Compton-Carter
11. “You deserve to feel better, to feel your ‘normal’ again. Whatever that is for you. Therapy isn’t easy, and it will make you want to run sometimes. But you are brave and deserving just like everyone else. Never forget that.” — Donna Guzzo
12. “There are times we not only deserve, but need, outside support. Go treat yourself.” — Lucinda Walker
13. “The darkness can be consuming, but therapy can help you find your way to the light again. It’s time to meet yourself where you’re at and allow yourself to work from there.” — Miranda Tymoschuk
15. “The internal voice telling you that you’re not deserving of therapy, or to feel better or [that you] have good things in your life, is literally a symptom of the illness and needs to be thought of and treated as such.” — Andrea Michael
16. “Everyone needs a little help sometimes. You don’t need to fight this battle alone. You deserve someone who will listen and help you get through this. Don’t sell yourself short.” — Ashley Dakota Strand
17. “Telling yourself you don’t deserve therapy is like telling a drowning person they don’t deserve a rope.” — Vickie Vance Meredith
18. “There will always be people who seem to be in more pain than you, but your pain is just as valid as your need to breathe air.” — Claire Nieuwoudt
19. “You don’t even have to have a mental illness to ‘deserve therapy.’ Therapy is a fantastic tool that can and should be utilized by anyone who may be struggling with their mental health or anyone who may just need to talk to someone.” — Allison DeLuca
I’ve got my fair share of labels and I am often very honest and open about them and what they do to me. But I haven’t opened up about one of my diagnoses. Why? Like most people with a somatoform disorder, I have been too embarrassed, even ashamed to admit it.
When I was 17 years old, I suddenly developed a limp in my right leg. It felt like the muscles were tightening. The tightness progressed up one side of my body and into my arm. Doctors were baffled. My symptoms looked like that of dystonia, but something about it wasn’t quite right even then. I was given medication and sent away, and told it would either be with me for life or possibly go into remission some day.
Two years later, the twisting (which came and went) got so bad that I relied on crutches to get about. Oddly, I could still ride my bike. That same year, I suddenly began suffering from seizures. I was quickly referred to a neurologist who ordered a brain scan and a 48-hour portable electroencephalogram. By this point I had already resigned myself to the fact that I had epilepsy, so it was quite a shock when I went back to see the neurologist to be told my results were clear! What she said next upset me, although she didn’t do this intentionally:
“Your seizures are caused by stress. They are pseudo-seizures.”
I just heard the word “pseudo,” which I understood to mean “fake,” and got quite offended. “Are you saying it’s all in my head?” I asked, confused. She said no, but all I could think of was how angry I felt. More recently, another doctor said the seizures and dystonia were stress-related, but I still wouldn’t accept it.
The thing about somatoform disorders is that although the cause is not physical, the symptoms are totally real to the sufferer. A person with a somatoform disorder still blacks out as they seize or feels agonizing pain, even if tests say otherwise. What I have learned is that my illnesses are just as real to me as a genuine case of dystonia or epilepsy. None of these symptoms are faked by the sufferer.
The reason I still feel bad about talking about it, though, is because I often read stories about people who weren’t believed by their doctors when they presented their symptoms. They mention being told it was “all in their head,” then talk about the relief of finding out it wasn’t. At one point I thought I would never get that relief, but now I have, because I have a somatoform disorder and I am no longer ashamed to admit it. I hope other people like me will read this and feel the courage to spread the word about somatoform disorders so maybe one day we can find a cure.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.