A Message to Those With Mental Illness, From a 'Success Story' Who Still Struggles
Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
I am one of the millions of adults diagnosed with depression. I am also one of the millions of adults struggling with high anxiety. Depending on the day, the doctor or the assessment, I could probably be diagnosed with a slew of other things.
Hi, I’m Kate, and sometimes, I am a hot mess. Life has been a struggle for me for as long as I can remember.
I remember in preschool, after telling a lie, I locked myself in my room and hit my legs until I felt sufficiently punished. I remember in third grade, my gymnastics coach taught me how to make myself vomit after eating to delay puberty. (It didn’t work. Puberty hit with vengeance in fourth grade.) I remember in fifth grade, in between math club and basketball practice, helping myself to Creme de Mint from my dad’s liquor cabinet every Tuesday and every Thursday to calm my nerves. I remember cutting myself for the first time in seventh grade, tracing the word “hate” into my arm to distract myself from the intensity of my pain.
It was hard. I struggled.
I had lots of feelings. I experienced everything with an intensity that others didn’t seem to understand. I felt misunderstood, and I felt alone.
However, I also knew there was a gift in my sensitivity. My strong sense of empathy helped me understand others. I literally felt their feelings. My sensitivity helped me be good to people and connect with people.
I grew up. I made friends. I got good grades. I went to college. I went to graduate school. I became a school counselor.
I live on an island, and I work at a small public school. I am lucky enough to sit with kids while they trust me with their truth. I am open enough to not be shocked by what they tell me. I’ve been through enough in my own life to never feel the need to judge them. If that’s it, if that’s all I have to offer the world, to be a person who kids can be honest with, to be a person kids can tell the truth to, then that’s the silver lining, the purpose, for my struggle.
Being a counselor is sacred ground for me. The kids I work with mean the world to me. While I’d like to wrap this story up right there, and I’d like to tie a gold bow around it and serve it on a platter as a success story, I can’t. Not yet.
Because I still struggle.
I struggle hard and deep and dark. I am able to see the magic and the beauty in life. Yet, simply being around people can be overstimulating and painful. Even as an adult, I struggle. Even as a counselor, I struggle. Even as a professional in the mental health field, I struggle.
Most of the time, I feel alone in my struggle. I work to end the mental health stigma for others and to advocate for kids who are struggling, but I don’t share my own experience very often. When I do share, I usually receive advice that comes with good intentions, but just cements the feeling of being misunderstood. And alone.
Sometimes, I feel like I am a big ball rolling down a cliff, disoriented and not sure if I am upside down or right side up. I am still learning how to temper the intensity of my feelings. I am still learning how to control my over active thoughts. I can be hypervigilant. Sensitive. Restless. Anxious. I take on other people’s feelings. I feel other people’s energy.
I have carried myself through my life. My soul is tired. I have dealt with my pain through a variety of different methods, and some of those methods have not been healthy. I have knowledge, skills and a master’s degree, but I don’t have all of the answers.
I know there are people struggling in silence out there. There are the people with “smiling depression.” There are the people who keep their addictions a secret. There are people fighting through things no one knows about. There are people hiding their struggles in their darkness, not only because of their own shame but because we live in a world that’s not prepared to handle our struggle.
Many people hide in fear that they will be seen as “crazy,” attention seeking, manipulative or weird. It’s not always safe to share. So we struggle in silence. We struggle alone.
For those people, who are hiding in the dark, I can offer you this:
Not everyone will understand you. In fact, most people won’t.
Your struggle might make people uncomfortable.
Your struggle might scare people.
That doesn’t make you scary.
That doesn’t make you deficient in any way.
That doesn’t make you an unworthy human.
When people don’t know what to say or how to respond, they often give advice. Everyone has an opinion, especially about things they have never experienced. People can only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves.
Be patient with people.
Be patient with yourself.
You are enough. You are worthy. You are a fighter.
Use the fight you have in you to fuel you. Help people. Help yourself.
You have walked through fire, and you may have invisible burns all over your body. Yet, you still get up every single day and try again.
You’re here. You’re alive.
You are strong. You are tough. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel weak for struggling.
You have to work at it. You have to grow through it. You have to learn yourself.
While we all need support, community and other humans, you do not need anyone to validate your struggles in order for them to be real, OK or acceptable.
You’re not alone.
And know there is community out there. There are people like me and you. There are people who will rally behind you, support you and try to understand you.
You just have to find them.
Because, sweet soul, I might be the only one to tell you this, but there isn’t a quick fix, magical solution, seamless coping skill or perfect medication coming to save you.
Find your silver lining.
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