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The Ways My Animals Help Me Face Mental Illness

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There are times when I am too tired to get dressed, too melancholy to bother to eat nutritional food, or to anxious to care about anything because I’m caring about everything. These times are exhausting, and life tends to slip through the cracks when I am experiencing these feelings.

But there is something that is always guaranteed to drag me from the couch and into the great outdoors – my animals.

Our dog, Darby, my dear sweet fur daughter, will make me feel guilty and frustrated with her boundless energy if I don’t at least take her out for a short walk. Her boundless energy can be infectious. She is my constant companion, and on the bad days, her intuitive ability is at its finest. She will be my shadow, sitting silently at my side or at my feet, lying on or under the bed if I haven’t managed to get up. Seeing her bright eyes looking up at me with concern helps me to push on when things seem to be too hard to handle.

Then there are my dear cows, Daisy, Budda-Bing, Cow, and Mavis. They are my playful and affectionate visitors who often drop in unannounced. They come up from the paddock and proceed to sniff around the house and bellow until I come out to them with carrots or apples. They like to be fed by hand, be petted while they eat, and they are always appreciative. They don’t care if I am still in my pajamas, if my hair is unwashed and unbrushed, or if my breath stinks. If I don’t answer their call, Daisy will bring it upon herself to tap on the cement at the front door, like a knock. She is determined that she must be rewarded for her lengthy journey up the hill.

Images Copyright: Kat and Steve Smith | ks-photography.com.au

Our chickens are tame too. While they don’t eat from my hand like the cows do, they will stand right at my feet and demand their food by pecking at my toes mercilessly. And when they bring their tiny, fluffy, cute little chickens home from their bush nests, it brings a warmth and joy to my heart.

And last but not least is Brewe, our Merino sheep. He was left here a year or so ago when the rest of his flock was moved on and has made himself part of the family. He amuses me so with his standoffish nature, which obviously wars with his natural curiosity. When the MooKids come for their visits, he comes too. I bleat at him, and he comes closer, until he is close enough to see I am not a girl sheep — but simply a girl — at which time he huffs and walks away. There is much to be said for the humor he brings to my life, although he would be likely unaware of it!

Some assume that animals are not intelligent creatures, but I would disagree. They have much more simple lives than us, but they are still complex in their ability to nurture our very own souls. They make me see joy, they make me laugh at their amusing antics, they warm my heart when it feels cold and numb. Their playfulness and the gentle understanding they seem to have makes me smile; they are so pure in their affection, wanting nothing more than a pat and a meal.

People assume that these animals rely on me, that they need me for their care, but the truth is far from that. I need them.

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Images via contributor.

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What It's Like When You Can't Separate Your Mental Illness Diagnoses

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I have four, count ‘em, four diagnosed mental illnesses. I struggle daily with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, with heaping spoonfuls of borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. It’s definitely a lot to handle. I’ve been seeking professional mental health help for 10 years now, although I could have definitely benefited had I started earlier… maybe when I was 13 or so. I’m 28 now and just got my most recent diagnosis of bipolar.

The Mighty is my group therapy session. I can pick and choose which illness I want to hear about today, all without having to contribute my own feelings and emotions to a group of strangers who may or may not judge me. Today I have to courage to share what it’s like having four diagnoses.

Every day, I hungrily lap up the latest Mighty article that relates to me that finds itself in my Facebook newsfeed. It’s so relieving to read someone else’s words and feel as if I’d penned them myself; it’s truly cathartic. I’ve always wanted to extend myself in that way, and The Mighty even prompts me on Facebook with questions like: “If you struggle with bipolar disorder, how would you describe it to someone who doesn’t understand?”

That’s where I get hung up. Which is the bipolar again? Is that the one that makes me want to sleep all the time or the one that makes me fear abandonment? I struggle with trying to put into words what it’s exactly like living with each disorder; all I know is how I struggle with the collective of disorders.

The good news is, living with a mental illness, or two, or more, isn’t living in box. Your emotions and experiences and perceptions are uniquely yours. Certain aspects of a mental illness may align with the way you think, behave or otherwise live, and that’s OK. That’s where diagnoses come in and lead you to the proper people for the appropriate help.

And a lot of people without mental illness don’t understand or even stigmatize mental illness. And that’s OK too because generally, people fear what they don’t know or understand. We have the power to educate others about mental illness, or, if you’re like me, find the proper resources to educate them when the words aren’t forthcoming.

That’s why I have to thank all of you for speaking out, writing it down, sharing it with the “group.” Because without other people who have had similar experiences, we wouldn’t continue to learn about our conditions, grow, be able to educate others, or find solace.

So keep on fighting, sharing, caring, and asking. We, as a community, deserve to have our voices heard, no matter how small of insignificant you feel. Because somewhere, someone is finding strength in your words.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Ryan McVay

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If Your Mental Illness Makes You Feel Like 'Too Much,' Read This

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For some people who live with a mental illness, there’s this fear of being “too much.” Like you need too much support, too much help or have too many needs. Sometimes this fear stems from being in an unsupportive environment; sometimes it comes from our perception of ourselves, as if reaching out to someone — even for the smallest thing — will make us a burden, will make us too much.

We want you to know you are never too much.

Everyone deserves support, and everyone deserves to feel the emotions they feel — no matter how big or how small they are.

We asked people in our community to share one thing they would want to tell someone with a mental illness who feels like they’re “too much.”

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “You have so much value. Your ‘too much’ is actually just your amazingness overflowing. You are loved by those who deserve to love you. Those who don’t, aren’t worthy of you.” — Abbey T.

2. “Things happen that are out of your control, and sometimes this relates to mental health as well. Never feel like you’re too much, sometimes you need extra support from a parent, guardian or friend. No one chooses this, it just happens. Accept yourself for who you are.” — Cara H.

3. “Sometimes it’s not about you being ‘too much’ — sometimes it’s about the people around us being ‘too little.’ Little understanding, little empathy, little support… but for every ‘too little’ person there’s always going to be at least one ‘just fine’ person. Fine with your mental illness, fine with understanding you, fine with helping you, fine with supporting you. Fine people are out there so don’t think of yourself as too much!” — Yazmin B.

4. “I always remind myself and others feeling this way that your space in this world is not conditional. You do not have to shrink yourself or cut parts of yourself off to fit into a box you feel you ‘should’ be in, whether it’s your illness or other people that are making you feel that way. Recovery is only possible by allowing yourself to be everything that you are, to feel everything that you need to feel. You are entitled to take up space, you are allowed to feel the way you feel, you are allowed to ask for help.” — Charlotte M.

5. “You are absolutely worthy of happiness, kindness and life itself. Your illness is lying to you by making you think you are too much, because you are loved and wanted by so many.” — Megan E.

6. “You’re worth it… On your worst days I am here if you need a shoulder. This is something I would like to hear now.” — Kim W.

7. “It’s OK to have good and bad days… I will be there for them no matter what. I will be their light in the darkness.” — Katie W.

8. “You are never too much. You’re just right for me and everyone who loves you.” — Kassy P.

9. “I constantly feel like I am too much. I take everything to heart. I feel everything. I read too much into every single thing. I analyze everything, then overanalyze it again until I become ill. I wish my friends would tell me they appreciate me, that they appreciate having someone who cares that much. That it’s OK that I worry.” — Annie T.

10. “You are just enough. Never too much, never too little: just the right amount you are.” — Schelley K.

11. “You are not alone in your feelings.” — Trish L.

12. “You may be too much for some people. That’s OK. Find those who crave your intensity, who love your ‘muchness,’ who encourage every bit of your wild heart to escape, to shine, to explore. The ones worth knowing will love every part of you: the darkness and the light, the ups and the downs. Let your ‘too much’ be your fuel, not your downfall.” — Alicia T.



If Your Mental Illness Makes You Feel Like 'Too Much,' Read This
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What Being Brave Means When You Live With a Mental Illness

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Bravery.

Some of us are brave for giving speeches in front of thousands of people. Others of us are brave for learning to walk after an invasive surgery. Some of us are brave enough to put our lives on the line to promote a cause we so desperately believe in. 

For some of us that kind of brave is reaching out of the comfort zone. Throwing yourself out there. Taking that step when the other side can’t be seen. That is one kind of brave.

My kind of brave is different.

My kind of brave is waking up every morning and telling myself to get out of bed. My kind of brave is swallowing those newly prescribed antipsychotics every day and praying that they might eventually work. My kind of brave is telling the people I know about my mental illness, all the while knowing they will judge me.

And my kind of brave is choosing life. Yes, that’s my kind of brave.

And, because you woke up today, I’m here to tell you that you are brave, too. If this is the last day you can bring yourself to muster. If you are holding on by a thread that threatens to break. If you are contemplating a way to stop the madness. 

Stop.

Don’t.

Be brave.

I know the struggle. I know the darkness. I know the suffering. I know the pain. I know the numbness. I know the chaos. And I know you think that in a single instant you could end it all.

Don’t.

Be brave for one more day.

And after that, be brave for the next.

Sometimes being brave isn’t climbing mountains. Sometimes being brave is as simple as finding the impossible will to make it through one more day.

So, please remind yourself of this today: 

You are brave. 

You’ve started another day. 

I don’t know how many days it will take for you to get better. 

But, I do know this: 

You will make it.

So, when you don’t want to wake up tomorrow, and it all feels like it’s just too much.

Please remember this:

You can make it through another day.

You are brave.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Thinkstock photo via sultancicekgil

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Selena Gomez Has a Message for Girls Who Think They Need to Have It Together

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To many, Selena Gomez is one of the more relatable celebrities out there. Over the course of her career, the 24-year-old has opened up about living with lupus as well as seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Now, in an interview with Vogue, the singer is sharing some lessons she’s learned since taking time off to address her mental health.

In October, Gomez canceled her second tour to enter a treatment facility to manage the anxiety and depression she experiences as a result of Lupus. “I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges,” the singer told People back in 2014, after she canceled her first tour.

Now, Gomez tells Vogue she meets with her “shrink” five times per week and is a “passionate advocate” of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help people with borderline personality disorder. “DBT has completely changed my life,” Gomez told Vogue. “I wish more people would talk about therapy. We girls, we’re taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back, the girl who’s down. We also need to feel allowed to fall apart.”

This isn’t the first time Gomez has spoken openly about her mental health. In November, the singer gave a speech at the American Musical Awards stating:

And I have to say thank you so much to my fans because you guys are so damn loyal, and I don’t know what I did to deserve you. But if you are broken, you do not have to stay broken. And if that’s anything, whether you respect me or not, that’s one thing you should know about me is that I care about people, and thank you so much for this, this is for you. Thank you.

Photo credit: Amanda Nobles

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When Your Mental Illness Makes You Feel Like the 'Other'

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I’ve never been great at fitting in. I was the shy, anxious child at primary school who once slipped through the gates and tried to go home in the middle of the day because it all felt too much.

I was the socially-awkward teenager who spent her secondary school days trying to work out which squad she belonged to.

I was the university student who always felt on the fringes of whatever was going on, making drinking buddies but no meaningful friendships.

I was the postgraduate student living in a house of undergraduates, silently cursing them for their loud music and piles of dirty dishes while putting in hours and hours of study.

“Otherness” is not a new experience for me. But the otherness that comes with mental illness is a whole different ball game.

Great strides are being made into removing the stigma of mental illness, but there’s still a big, big difference between the “socially acceptable” face of mental illness and the grim, twisted, life-shattering reality.

With one in four people suffering from mental health problems, there’s no longer any shame in admitting that you’re depressed, or have anxiety. Antidepressants are some of the most commonly prescribed medications and counseling is no longer a shameful secret.

But other mental illnesses seem different. It’s what I’ve lives with, and I feel there’s nothing “socially acceptable” about it. It’s ugly. It’s violent. It’s shocking. And it makes me “other.”

My otherness is marked out by the scars that draw the map of my illness across my body, scars put there by my own hand. When I go swimming with my children, or wear a sleeveless top on a hot day, I am “other.”

It’s marked out by the medication I take every day: not just antidepressants, but antipsychotics and, at times, benzodiazepines. When I’m out for the evening with friends and my speech is slurred and my eyelids droopy, I am “other.”

It’s in the psychology appointments that I go to every Thursday, to help me unpick the chaos that mental illness has wrought in my life. When I walk into the building from which the community mental health team operates, I am “other.”

When I can no longer help with the church work that I loved so much because of my mental health, and have to sit back and watch while everything carries on without me, I am “other.”

My otherness comes from the time I spent in an inpatient psychiatric unit. There’s no shame in being admitted to a medical hospital with a physical health issue. But my stint in the “loony bin” definitely makes me “other.”

When I stand in the school playground and fight to suppress the waves of panic rolling over me, instead of joining in with the daily chatter, I am “other.”

When people find out that I almost lost my life to suicide – a feeling you can only  understand if you’re truly desperate and truly lost, there’s no doubt that I am “other.”

And do you know what? I hate it. Because I’m not the threat, the danger, the scary “other” person everyone seems to think I am.

Yes, I have a mental illness, but I still love, care, work, play, pray. I raise my two beautiful children. I have a successful career as a freelance writer. I have a home that I take care of to the best of my ability. I have a husband who I try to look after. I have friends who mean the world to me.

I love swimming in cold lakes and rivers, and reading in the garden on sunny days. I love to sing in church. I love pulling on my pajamas at the end of the day and snuggling up to watch something trashy on TV. I love curling my hair and painting my nails for nights out. I love digging through the rails in charity shops, looking for a bargain. I love going to the cinema and for cocktails with friends. I love to bake cakes, and give them to people who’ll enjoy them. I love pasta, chocolate, cheese and good red wine.

I’m normal – except for my mental illness, that malfunction in my brain that makes me different. So please, please, before you raise your eyebrows at my scars, or ignore my text because you’re afraid of what I might ask, or pretend you haven’t seen me in the school playground, or worry about whether I’m safe to babysit your child, please just give me a chance.

Because I don’t want to be “other” any more.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via tommaso79

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