Antique Venetian Masks on golden grunge and floral background

When Mental Illness Feels Like You're Hiding Behind a Mask

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Her mask shields her face as she watches the world go by. Laughter erupts. Couples dance as music plays. She watches from the balcony, scared someone will notice her.

She feels conspicuous, yet ironically invisible.

She wonders what it is like to feel like she belongs.

Sometimes, she wants to remove her mask and unveil her true self, but she has worn the mask for so long that she would not recognize her own face.

She yearns for the moment she can take off the mask, and join the world, but she knows the mask is what protects her. No one can hurt her if no one knows her. No one talks to the girl too afraid to show her own face.

That is how it feels to live with a mental illness: conflicted.

While depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are painful, they protect those who struggle with it from the outside world.

Rejection does not exist for a person who cannot even accept herself. There is nowhere else to fall, or at least that is how it feels.

But merely surviving is not living.

At some point, if she wants to live a full life of friendships, happiness, a relationship, and a career, she will need to unmask herself. This does not mean that she is cured, but that she lets the world in because living a life hidden never made her happy. She needs to be vulnerable and unapologetic in order to let go of the illness that has suffocated her for so long.

At first it will be painful. She no longer has a mask to shield her from the glaring sunlight. She may face rejection and ridicule. She will be afraid and overwhelmed by the loud, and at times judgmental world she lives in.  She may look in the mirror somedays and see not an ounce of beauty, but one day, she will see it was all worth it.

The mask prevented her from reaching her potential. And without it, she is a force to be reckoned with.

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#IGetDepressedWhen Hashtag Prompts Mental Health Advocates to Explain Depression

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On Thursday it seemed, for a brief period of time, as though the internet forgot what it means to have depression. The hashtag #IGetDepressedWhen began trending on Twitter, confusing depression – a mental illness – as another word for sadness.

The hashtag took off with people listing trivial things that make them sad, as well as users trolling the hashtag with jokes about the Clinton campaign, Harambe and McDonald’s. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for mental health-savvy Twitter users to explain what depression is and isn’t.

“#IGetDepressedWhen depression is not a mood. I find this hashtag highly offensive for all those like me who have this mental illness,” one Twitter user wrote.

“#IGetDepressedWhen my brain literally does not produce serotonin & I have a mental disorder that literally causes me to want to kill myself,” another user explained.

“#IGetDepressedWhen i have depression, which is always, because depression is a mental illness that isn’t situational,” wrote another.

One in five Americans live with a mental health condition. Those living with depression have a mental illness, which is not an emotion they can turn on and off. Like any other medical condition, depression is something that requires treatment.

“#IGetDepressedWhen i forget to take my medication and i’m unable to leave my bed for days since depression is an actual illness not a mood,” Twitter user @savethebumbles shared.

 

Not only are hashtags like this potentially offensive to people who live with depression, they promote misunderstanding and add to the stigma that people living with mental illnesses already face.

“#IGetDepressedWhen my mental illness is used as a trendy # while my MI is ignored & judged by those who don’t suffer from it, but use this #,” Mich Foreman wrote.

In summary: “This hashtag #IGetDepressedWhen should be changed to #IGetSadWhen cause depression isn’t a mood it’s a mental illness ????.”

Next time you want to create a hashtag making light of mental illness, think again.

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On the Days You Don't Feel OK

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You’ve become so accustom to saying you’re OK that sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re not. But not every day is an OK day. You and I know there are days that are really not OK at all.

But the people around you wouldn’t really know it, now would they? Chances are, you’ve gone to great lengths to make sure they don’t. They won’t.  To them, you are OK even on those days you really don’t believe it. Even on those days you’re struggling the very most.  You look at them through your strain and await their reaction. Always wondering where the point of intervention will be. Surely someone will say something sooner than later… or maybe you’re not nearly as sick as you’ve made yourself believe. Maybe no one notices because there’s nothing to notice… it’s all in your head. Your mind will make you believe your biggest fears until many of them begin to come true.

That’s the power of thought.

On the days you don’t feel OK, this power is all the more potent. It can destroy you.

On the days you don’t feel OK, you smile the most.

You try the hardest on the hardest of days.

You conceal, hide, shy away…

You lie.

And this hurts you. It hurts you and the people around you — the people who never get a chance to know the reality of what it’s like to be uniquely you… the people who are never given a chance to help.

You feel like you’re protecting them when really this prolongs the pain.

Yes, they may experience pain because of your pain. This is how empathy works, and anyone who loves you will at least try to empathize with your pain… but they need to know it exists, and you need to understand this isn’t a bad thing.

Pain leads to growth.

So they need to see it.

On the days you’re not OK, they need to see it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Image via Thinkstock.

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My Brain Is Sick, but That's OK

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The only constant in my life has been these demons in my mind. This sickness has always been there when no one else was around. When everyone has gone and left me alone, it is there. It wraps my mind in its arms and tells me it will always be there, forever, when everyone else is dead and has run for the hills.

My demons will never abandon me. They fill my mind with negativity, but they convince me they’re just being realistic and taking care of me. So many things I have missed in this life: opportunities to grow as a person and to just experience life have been forced to a halt thanks to my mind.

The things they whisper, I believe everything they say.

You can’t do it.

They will hurt you,

Judge you,

Leave you,

Abandon you.

They always do.

You are safer here,

Locked away in your mind.

You don’t need them.

You don’t need this world.

You weren’t made for it.

You were made to be in here.

Feelings of guilt and shame.

Constant fear of experiencing life. Of leaving my home. I surrounded myself with things instead of people. Things wouldn’t leave me. People will. Objects and fictional characters became my identity, my life. I kept using them to fill the empty parts of my head. Trying to find happiness in them.

All while creating this person I didn’t know, this image for the world to see. Because of course, the world wouldn’t want to see the real me, the train wreck, basket case. Anyone who’s glimpsed it always ended up running for the hills, or made me feel like a monster.

But am I a monster?

I didn’t choose my mind.

This life.

I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

How can I be a monster?

“Crazy,”

“Manipulative,”

“Psycho,”

“Negative,”

“Emotional,”

“Freak,”

That’s what they’ve called me.

It must be true?

No, it’s not true!

If it was, then why would I feel guilt for every little thing I do wrong. When I accidentally hurt someone, it hurts me 10 times more. I can’t be a monster. I’m sick, but why can’t they see it? Why is it so hard to grasp my brain just isn’t right. Every time someone is cruel, it shoves me back into my mind to my demons, who love me and will never leave.

It shouldn’t be that way. Why don’t people want to understand. Accepting I’m sick, just as if I had any another illness. But because my mind is sick that isn’t OK?

It is OK! I’m not the only one!

There’s so many of us and we shouldn’t have to be shunned, treated like we are a virus, ignored and shoved in the corner by everyone. It’s time to take a stand and end this stigma. Our brains are sick, but that’s OK.

I wanted to thank Twenty One Pilots. After seeing them in concert the other night, they gave me the motivation to do this blog. They help people with their songs. Hopefully, I can help people with this.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Hello Tristan.

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What the University of Chicago Should Know Before It Belittles Trigger Warnings

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A letter sent by the University of Chicago to the Freshman Class of 2020 has caused controversy over stating that the school “[does] not support so-called ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘intellectual safe spaces’” because of their “commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.”

So, what are trigger warnings and safe spaces and why are they so important?

Trigger warnings are typically a concise notification before a written piece, video, speech, etc. stating that the content includes topics that could cause one mental harm. Some of the most common trigger topics are sexual assault, suicide, racism, homophobia and other topics that could trigger symptoms like panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks.

These are not the same as when someone gets “triggered” by a person who has an opposing view (note to everyone: that’s not the correct usage of that term). These content warnings don’t alter the content that comes after the warning and people still have other outlets to release material that is potentially triggering. They’re similar to the ratings and warnings given for television shows and movies. Trigger/content warnings have become more popular over the years, especially on the internet, and some media outlets have used them to warn their audience.

Safe spaces are environments where people can be free from situations that trigger mental harm. People can be triggered by situations outside the classroom, so safe spaces and other mental health resources are vital. Examples of safe spaces are support groups, clubs for members of minority groups, and other supportive environments. In the media, many critics equate the term with political or ideological groups that refuse to listen to dissenting opinions, but just like trigger warnings, safe spaces don’t censor.

Some critics of both of these claim that students should be exposed to the “Real World,” but
trigger warnings and safe spaces exist outside of college campuses and exposure therapy should be left to therapists who are educated on evidence-based techniques and appropriate time frames. Professors already have a lot on their plate and no one expects them to also be their students’ therapists, so these simple practices can make professors’ jobs easier.

Why is the University of Chicago’s letter harmful to students?

The University of Chicago claims in their letter that the school “welcomes people of all backgrounds,” but the belittling of trigger warnings and safe spaces alienates those whose mental health would benefit from these practices. This letter included some lofty assumptions. The author assumed that a) trigger warnings and safe spaces only exist to censor and people want them for that purpose only, and b) students can easily access appropriate mental health support on campus or elsewhere. These assumptions are dangerous and stigmatizing.

College is supposed to be the time where you are exposed to people from different backgrounds who have different views, a point with which the University of Chicago agrees. However, this letter shows an ignorant perspective regarding mental health issues and the mental health of students. There’s a difference between challenging students academically and challenging their ability to cope with situations that endanger their mental health, especially on campuses where counseling centers already face a growing number of students who need its services.

About one out of every five Americans live with mental illness (including me), but this number doesn’t include those yet to be seen and diagnosed. According to Emory University, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds. About one in every 10 college students has planned the means in which they would die by suicide and over 1,000 suicides take place on college campuses each year.

The positions schools take regarding how they tackle mental health issues can influence their success and the success of students. Richard Kadison, Chief of Mental Health Services at Harvard University and co-author of “College and the Overwhelmed: The Campus Mental Health Crisis and What to Do About It,” explained that “studies show that greater investment in mental health services leads to higher retention and graduation rates.”

Of course schools can’t please everyone, nor should they be expected to know every single possible trigger, but they should be respectful of students’ mental health. It’s one way we can make society more understanding and less stigmatizing towards mental health issues.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Lead image: The University of Chicago

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When People Ask What It'd Be Like to Date a Person With a Mental Illness

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To date me is to be with me, not just me when my mental illness is under control.

To date me is to love me for who I am.

To date me is to be willing to be there for me, through thick and thin, and to know I’ll be there for you.

I’ve been asked several times what I think it would be like to date or even be friends with me. The answer is simple: It’d be dating a person. People are flawed. People are selfish. People love and care and save. People hurt each other. People build each other up. People are people. I am a person.

Dating someone with depression, anxiety, eating disorder not otherwise specifified (EDNOS), and other symptoms can be hard.  Co-occurring disorders are difficult to handle, so it seems kind of obvious to say that sometimes dating someone like me can be hard. Other times, it can be the best choice you make.

On bad days, I will try to hide from the world and everything in it. That includes people; that includes you. I love you, and I don’t want you to take it personally. Sometimes, handling the world is hard. I especially don’t want to show you my pain because I feel like my pain is ugly and should be hidden. You can coax me out of my shell and comfort me, but it will take a lot of effort. You can tell me I am beautiful, but I may not believe you. You can help me, but I may still resist the assistance. It’s hard to love me on those days, but I promise you it is so worth it.

On good days, I will snuggle up against you and love you and give you almost all of my attention. I will hold you and dance with you and laugh with you. I will still be me, but happy. I will be open, I will give you everything, my whole world. I will be the happy girlfriend easy to love and easy to be around. I may not always be this way, and there may be long stretches where I am not. With your love and support, though, I will thrive and will love you and support you in return.

Dating me… dating me is dating someone who will love you unconditionally, but it is also dating someone with co-occurring mental disorders. That can be challenging. I will try to be there, I will try to be likable, to be lovable. If I fail, I apologize. Please, know I am a human being. I am not my disorder, it does not define me, but it is a deep part of who I am. It is something that comes with the package. I will need you to be there, to help, to urge me to seek help when you can’t do it all. I will also do the same for you.

Image via Thinkstock.

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