Hiding 'the Beast' of Mental Illness
About five years ago, I realized I was born with a debilitating mental illness. As a child, my family said I was “sensitive.” I was praised for my achievements in school, for keeping out of trouble, for occupying myself in my room for hours on end. The truth is, I was sad. I was lonely. I was teased and bullied. I didn’t get invited to parties. I never had boyfriends. I spent hours alone in my room with my dolls and when I got older, with homework and books.
With the advent of puberty, fed by hormones, the Beast within me grew. I experienced anxiety and panic attacks, some so severe that I had to be taken to the emergency room. I was always accused of taking drugs. I wasn’t, though I should have been. The Beast fed on every thought and emotion until it became so big, so powerful, that I could no longer see any light. Everything was darkness. The world was black. “It’s hormones,” they said. “You’re a teenager,” they said.
The Beast and I went off to college. I partied, made friends, had sex. I worked hard and got good grades, but the Beast was always there. It’d show up when I was drunk or rejected by a guy or didn’t score an “A” on an exam, it’s taunts bellowing in my head. So I worked harder, partied harder, added to the list of one-night stands. Then, I fell in love and subsequently went through a devastating breakup. The Beast consumed my emotions like a fire consumes oxygen, and soon I couldn’t breathe. It took over, screaming, crying, throwing things, and I watched, horrified.
You would think someone would have insisted I get help. The Beast went back into hiding so everything, once again, appeared normal. Hiding it became a daily focus. I hid it from my spouse, my family, my co-workers and my friends as best I could on a daily basis for years. It was exhausting work, hiding this Beast from the world, keeping its constant abuse to myself. With the exception of an occasional meltdown, I did it very well.
Life and circumstances change. There are events we can’t control, and often they snowball into a giant, tangled mess that, try as we might, we just can’t stuff down any longer. They feed the Beast that consumes us from the inside. We become simply a shell, a host for this monster that steals our joy with its constant abuse. We merely exist. There is hope, however. In my case, therapy and medication help me keep the Beast at bay, most of the time. There are days where it visits like an unwanted guest. My job is to make sure it doesn’t stay too long.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo by Electra-K-Vasileiadou