9 Things I Wish You Knew About My Mental Illness

I’ve been struggling lately with relationships, and that has inspired me to compile a list of what I wish other people know and understood about me and my mental illness. I started writing about what I thought people with mental illness would want you, the people without mental illness, to know… But, I don’t know what others want you to know. All I know is this is what I wish you knew about my mental illness. I have major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as rheumatoid arthritis. My hope is by sharing some of my story, we can move farther in ending the stigma. I also want to help people learn and understand and in turn, create a more gentle and kind world for everyone.

1. There are millions of people who have mental illnesses and/or other chronic health diseases. Mental illness is real and not something you can just “get over.”

2. I am going through something much more profound than what you see on the surface. Sometimes I start to feel better. Sometimes I feel pretty good. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly “cured.” Depression, anxiety, and other illnesses can come in waves. I might make progress for a few weeks or even months, but even the most innocent event could send me back into internal chaos. Don’t fault me for not always being able to be in control.

3. I am just a regular person. I do not spend all of my time sitting around feeling terrible, sad, lonely, hiding under the covers, dwelling on my problems. (Although sometimes I do, because I have f#*&ing mental illness and a chronic disease! Sometimes it just sucks and I feel like crap, OK?) Even a perfectly healthy person has bad days. I am living just like you in many ways. The difference is I am living with illnesses that make things more difficult at times. I still have fun, smile, laugh, have friends/relationships, work, eat, and play. I am also working in my own way to get healthy and stay healthy. Relapses happen, even when I am working hard to avoid them. Just because I have depression, doesn’t mean I am a “depressed person.” I am a woman, who has mental illness and chronic disease. There is a lot more to me than just my diagnosis, and it does not define me.

4. Sometimes I act out of character and may do or say something that seems unreasonable. There may or may not be a reason, and it’s helpful if you understand that, even if the reason doesn’t make sense to you. Something inside me may have been building, and I didn’t even know it. I don’t know it’s coming or even why. Anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger can gain energy, grow strong, unseen, until that last little straw breaks. And because I am a regular human being, I do my best to recognize and apologize for my mistakes. I need you to understand that and be forgiving.

5. No matter how long I have known you, the illness makes me feel alienated. It’s simply impossible to relate to others sometimes. Don’t take it personally. Our culture stigmatizes mental illness, and that tends to make me feel like I’m in the wrong or that I’m guilty of something. You may not see the illness like you might see the manifestations of a cold or an injury, but it’s still there. It makes me feel like no one could ever understand, especially because, sometimes I don’t even understand. So stand by me, stand with me, learn with me, include me. Understand I may cancel plans more frequently than others do, but don’t take it personally, and please, don’t stop inviting me.

6. Supporting and understanding go a long way. And it’s fairly easy to do. That’s what friends are supposed to do in the first place. Just step up as a friend. Knowing I am not alone is sometimes all I need. I may not be in a place where I can give you what you need at that moment, but I will have better days and be able to be there for you when you need me. I get so happy when someone sends me a simple text just knowing they are thinking about me! And if you need more of that from me, just ask! Don’t give up on me!

7. Not everyone is the same. Not everyone with the same mental illness is going to act the same, have the same symptoms, respond to the same treatments, etc. What works for you may not work for me. Do not tell me how you think I should “fix” this or what magic cure your uncle found. This is my illness; I think I know a thing or two about it. I have not only learned a lot about my own illnesses, I have also learned a lot about standing up for myself, so believe me, if I want to know your opinion, I’ll ask. If you want to know what I’ve tried or what I am currently trying, I would be glad to tell you about it. Again, just ask!

8. Don’t be afraid of me. I am not some fragile little snowflake who will fall to pieces with the slightest breeze. It’s OK to talk to me about your problems. It’s OK to ask me about mine. It helps me feel loved, needed, important and useful. If you aren’t sure if I am up to a heavy conversation, just ask!

9. I have been to hell and back more than once. I am one of the strongest, bravest and most resilient people I have ever met. If you don’t want to walk with me than get out of my way.

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