When Loved Ones Don't Want to Understand Your Mental Illness
“It’s all just a crutch!”
Those words burned. God, they singed my soul to the core. The man I was in a relationship with, who I believed to be my safe place, screamed those words at me in our church parking lot, where he stopped to drop me off at my car after a 30-minute argument. It felt like my heart completely shattered. A person I thought I could talk to openly and freely about my struggles with anxiety and depression just told me in a fit of anger that my battle wasn’t legitimate.
When someone you love doesn’t understand your mental illness, it can be hard. I have struggled with anxiety and depression since before I even knew what those words meant. I had a pretty tumultuous childhood and was basically always on high alert. It’s how my brain learned to function. Sometimes I have flashbacks of things that happened to me when I was younger or things I saw. Sometimes this can trigger a depressive episode or an anxiety attack. And sometimes it’s something much more minuscule, like thinking about the way I worded something to a co-worker, and maybe — just maybe — it came off wrong and now they are mad at me. In fact, everyone is mad at me. How could they not be? I’m a terrible person. Look at me.
I couldn’t even get up early enough this morning to do my makeup. What’s wrong with me? I should have gone to bed way earlier, but instead I chose to be irresponsible and watch yet another episode on Netflix. Why can’t I be more productive with my time? Now I’m sitting in my office looking tired and unprofessional. I don’t even fit in here. I bet everyone who walks into our office looks at me and thinks I’m the ugly one.
Do you see how that progressed? Welcome to my mind.
Like I said, I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety. The thing is, I didn’t know it until early 2014, when I was actually diagnosed. I just assumed everyone thought this way. I truly believed everyone’s brain functioned like mine. It’s all I had ever known. But when I was able to put a reason to the way I was feeling, it was a true relief.
I didn’t have to feel “silly” anymore when I was freaking out, or question why I couldn’t handle situations that appeared so easy for everyone else. It was because I wasn’t wired like everyone else. There was a reason why everyday tasks could be absolutely overwhelming to me. It wasn’t that I was lazy. There was a reason why my whole body broke out in hives in an even slightly uncomfortable situation. Though no one wants to struggle with anxiety and depression, I was so comforted to know there was a reason I was the way I was.
Once I was diagnosed, I started researching things and putting puzzle pieces together. I began to open up to some people and found others who had the same kind of struggles. It was absolutely therapeutic. Then one day, after literally months of playing the conversation in my head, I worked up the courage to talk to my then-partner about something I was terrified to speak of: suicide.
We were driving in the car and talking about a few different things pertaining to mental health, and then I asked him, “Do you ever think about killing yourself?” It was a struggle of mine I had always kept secret. No one knew. Without even taking a second to look at me, he answered quickly, “Suicide is a coward’s way out.” And in that moment, I knew I would never talk to him about it again. I started to cry, and he knew I didn’t take what he said well. He apologized for being so callous, but the damage had been done. I knew I’d never feel comfortable approaching him about it again.
There were other occasions when he told me I just needed to “calm down,” or that I was overreacting. I felt he never took the time to try and understand me. My mind was dark and scary, and I didn’t need someone telling me it really wasn’t. I needed someone to say I was safe with them and I was free to talk about my feelings. I needed someone to hold me and tell me I was loved and worthy of life.
That day in the church parking lot was the day we separated. I knew the demons I fought everyday were not a “crutch.” They were as real as anything else. I was tired of being with someone who seemed to be fighting against me instead of alongside me.
Image via Thinkstock.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.