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My mental illness, after six years of struggling with it, has taught me many things. It has taught me strength, given me hope and allowed me to meet so many amazing people. Here are some of the most important things it has taught me and might have taught you too:

1. True friends are hard to come by and can be even harder to keep when you struggle with your mental health.

Sometimes it’s so exhausting and tough living inside your own mind that keeping friends is not the most important thing on your list of things to do. But when you do find them, they become the most precious people in your life, and sometimes the only people who truly understand you.

2. Getting rid of toxic elements in your life is of vital importance.

When you struggle with your mental health, you can become your worst enemy. There’s nothing or no one who can do you more harm than you. So ridding yourself of all toxic elements in your life, of everything that is doing you more harm than good, is one of the best things you can do.

3. Being strong does not mean not struggling.

In our society, we are often made to believe we must always be happy and that struggling makes us weak. That is absolutely not true. It’s how you deal with your struggles that makes or breaks you. Remember, you’ve survived 100 percent of your worst days — who says you can’t live through a couple more?

4. You are never alone.

Though it definitely sometimes feels like it, you are never truly alone. There will always be someone willing to listen, whether that be a family member, a friend, a psychologist or even someone at a call center.

5. Not being OK is 100 percent OK.

You are allowed to feel bad. You are allowed to have bad days. Your feelings are totally and utterly valid. Do not let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

6. It’s OK to ask for help.

You don’t always have to put on a smiling face. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. You don’t have to go through this alone, and the right people will always be there to support you.

7. Putting yourself first might be the best thing you do.

It is completely acceptable to put yourself first for once and to think about yourself. It is not selfish, and you are not a “bad” person for doing so. You’ve been putting others first for so long, so give yourself a break and take care of yourself for once.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via retrorocket


I know from personal experience, disconnecting from reality may seem like the answer when your life gets overwhelming. It seems like your only option. Hell, who wants to go through the emotional roller coaster of depression and anxiety on top of the crappy day you just had? I often was in the habit of just disconnecting from reality. I just imagined it was all happening to someone else and I could not feel a thing.

I. Could. Not. Feel. A. Thing.

I could not feel happiness. I could not feel sadness. I could not feel empathy, or love or anything. Just numb. And let me tell you something right here and now. When you get out of that numbness, there is nothing more terrifying than the though of reentering that phase. At the time it seems like the best solution, right? Why wouldn’t I want an easy get-out-of-emotion free card? The problem with disconnecting is that those emotions just simply become buried, to be brought up at another time. It is always healthier to face your emotions when they are presented to you. We all know what happens when emotions and issues get bottled up. Nothing good ever comes from that. Ever.

Ever since I have decided to try and deal with my emotions rather than just disconnect from reality, I will say I have grown stronger in my walk with this illness. I have learned things from this illness that I would have never learned had I decided to disconnect. I am finally beginning to learn how to deal with emotions better than I ever have been thanks to making the decision that I was going to fight like hell to face any of the emotions that cross my path. It is easy to disconnect or to self-medicate the pain away. It all is only temporary though. Right when you come back, your issues are right in your face just in a bigger way. I know first hand how tough major depression and anxiety can be. That is why I implore you to fight. Don’t stand down and look at the ground. No. You jump up to the challenge and confront the emotions and situation and do your damn best. You never go down without a fight! That is not who we are! We are fighters until the end! Never surrender what is yours in this life. Never disconnect to temporarily retreat from your situation. Never step down to depression and anxiety.

Always try your very best to fight back.

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Last night as I was sitting in my recliner watching a movie, all of my feelings welled up inside me. Feelings of sadness and guilt and anger and doubt. And then, like geyser, all of these feelings were released. All at once. And this certainly wasn’t the first time it’s ever happened to me. Chances are you’ve been in this situation before, too. I sat there and sobbed. And I mean ugly sobbed. Snot everywhere, all in my beard. It was gross. But I needed it. I needed to release those feelings. They’ve been bottled up for months now. I did everything I knew to do. I texted friends to find someone to talk to. I opened a book that gives me comfort. I put on music that always makes me feel better. My best friend that lives over 600 miles away called me and talked to me until I felt like I was calm enough to go to sleep. She reassured me that everything was going to be OK, and that I have people who love me and want me to be OK, and that I have a purpose for this world. This world is better with me in it, she said. Sometimes, it takes someone like that to make us realize that life is going to keep going. My story doesn’t end here. It’s still being written. I want to write down what I was feeling last night, and my response to them today.

I’m feeling too much, but I’m going to be OK.

I need help, so I’m going to start going to counseling again.

I wish I hadn’t messed up a relationship, but there are other girls out there.

I wish I had it together, but I know that I will figure things out eventually.

I’m lonely, but I have friends and family who care about me immensely.

I’m feeling too much, but I’m not done. I’m not leaving. I’m here to stay. I am loved. I am enough. I will find happiness again. I will make it through this. And so will you.

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A few nights ago, I lay in bed willfully trying to wish myself to sleep, just like I do every night. My brain was buzzing and would not allow me the blissful escape sleep can sometimes bring. That evening, I had just finished binge-watching the series “Stranger Things” on Netflix, and I was processing the images and storyline in my head. It was during this time I realized the TV show could serve as a metaphor for mental illness.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll try and explain how I came to this conclusion.

*Spoiler Alert*

In “Stranger Things,” a hideous monster is stalking the town, appearing rather human-like from afar but up close is in fact far from it. Instead of a face, this creature has only a giant mouth, amusingly resembling a walking venus fly trap (it’s basically just teeth-on-legs). It feeds on flesh, whether that be human or not. Nobody really knows where it came from, but all of a sudden it’s just there, and people start to go missing – including a young boy named Will.

The creature evidently doesn’t come from our world – it resides in a much darker realm. In the show, the children named this world the “Upside Down” or the “Other Side” because it appears to be a parallel universe. Only in this version of the universe it is dark, cold and overridden with decay. This is where Will had disappeared to, where he was hiding from the creature, constantly in fear of being found and eaten.

I see these two worlds as my mind: they exist in the same place, but they are very, very different. At the moment, I am stuck in the Upside Down. I have been here for a while, and I am constantly in hiding. I feel detached from people around me, and my surroundings, although familiar, are not the same. I feel an evil lurking in my mind. It stalks me, and I am terrified one day it will catch up and eat me. I am convinced this is how I will meet my end. There have been times when I have almost given up, lain myself bare, and waited for the demon to find me. Perhaps it is then that my cries have reached through, and people in the normal world have heard me. Or seen me. For I am still here, still alive. I might find a good hiding place for sometime, but the demon always reappears. I am so tired, tired of struggling to stay alive. I feel I will never find a way back to the normal world.

I’ve realized I cannot rely on a person to save me. But I cannot yet rely on myself; it is a balance of the two. I need help, but I know I also need to be able to accept that help. Will (the young boy) would not have been saved if it wasn’t for the people who loved him, but it was also down to himself – he had to bang against the walls and cry out to his mum to get messages through. He almost gave up. But he survived.

I am hoping to explain this scenario to my family, so they have relatable imagery to compare my illnesses to. I hope it won’t frighten them, because the Upside Down is such a terrible and lonely place. But that’s the reality for me.

Although it may seem bizarre to compare mental illnesses with “Stranger Things,” it might just help.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

To me, relationships and connections are the most valuable thing life can give you.  Unfortunately, mine quickly become toxic as I let them take over my life. When I get attached, the other person becomes the main character in my own story. The need to talk to them is like an addiction. It leads to an irrationally strong fear of abandonment, I feel like I can’t go on without them. The desperation makes me selfish and manipulative, completely losing touch with my values. The further I get into the attachment, the more I lose my self-worth and myself.

There is a sense of urgency to everything. It’s like my life is at a standstill until they are around. An unanswered text or unreturned phone call can leave me bedridden, in a wave of panic no matter how many times they reassurance me. It puts pressure on the relationship that is hard to cope with. I ask for more and more, so no matter how dedicated they are, they end up having to leave, as they can’t maintain their life while trying to meet my demands.

My expectations for them are too high, as they are for myself. I’m never grateful and it creates constant disappointment and a feeling of inadequacy in both of us. I become close-minded, don’t accept them for the person they are and try to shape them into something else, even though the person they are is the one I truly care about. I forget each person and each relationship is special for its own reasons.

The relationship becomes focused completely on whether they will leave and neither of us can truly enjoy the connection. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where I become the burden I’m so scared I am. I believe the only reason they are close to me is because I force them to be. Like somehow I am a toxic, brainwashing influence, which is something they cannot convince me out of. It’s still something I grapple with, even on reflection and something I need to convince myself out of. I wish they would be assertive but when they are, I become harsh and destructive, driven by my insecurities instead of my values.

This makes me extremely sensitive to everything they do or say, constantly analyzing and looking for signs I’m right. I discard any evidence that shows they want to be close and latch onto any doubt, using it as proof for my distorted beliefs. I constantly set tests to see if they “truly” care, but often the line between “giving up” and “accepting” is lost. My friends are put in an impossible position where they feel like they are disrespecting my boundaries by pushing me or they are abandoning me when they choose to accept my choices.

Due to the dependency, I don’t trust them. Instead, I try to control them and push to try and break all their barriers, hoping that it will help me understand them and prevent being hurt by betrayal or naivete. But as they become more vulnerable, I become more defensive and the friendship is not balanced. I switch between loving and hating them, seeing things only in black and white. There is an undertone of resentment and guilt on both sides that destroys a really pure and positive connection.

It is like a rubber band. The more I suffocate them, the more they pull away and the more I hate myself for doing it, until eventually it snaps. When they leave, it is debilitating, but there is also a twisted sense of relief. Realizing I can only control myself is something that took a large weight off my shoulders.

I do all this to avoid taking responsibility of my own life, putting my life responsibilities on them and taking theirs instead. I begin to think I know best and try to make decisions for them, not respecting their wants and needs. They matter so much to me that seeing them hurt is almost too painful to bear, making it impossible for them to show weakness around me. I decide they’re better off without me and push them away before begging them to become closer again.

In the end, I treat the relationships that mean the most to me, without respect or care. I add a lot to their lives but am also the cause of a lot of pain. My fears lead me to become someone I hate around the people I love the most. It becomes so important to me to keep the relationships that I end up losing them.  It’s a terrible and paradoxical cycle that thankfully can be broken.

I’ve found the best way to be able to nurture my relationships is taking space and nurturing my relationship with myself.  To take responsibility for my own life, put up boundaries and start changing my core beliefs. Learning to think myself capable of being self-sufficient and independent. Learning the value of who I am, something I couldn’t see before. Starting by consolidating my identity so it cannot be shaken or lost.

Respecting myself means I am able to respect those around me. Accepting their decisions, whether I understand them or not. Only when I start doing this can I be the loving, caring, giving friend I truly am and want to be.

Intimacy, connection and friendship will always be what I cherish the most. It becomes a daily struggle against the guilt and shame for hurting those around me and missing those who have left. Despite this, I’ve learnt to forgive and love myself, treating myself the way I want to treat others.

I’m not going to lose anyone else important to me due to unhealthy habits that make me just as unhappy as those around me. I thank those who have been there for me in the past and despite hurting them, I hope they know how much they helped me on the road to happiness.

As I build my strength, the dependency on others lessens, allowing for privacy, patience and flexibility in my relationships. When I am secure enough to be vulnerable and trust those around me, I can be close while still giving enough space to both them and myself so the relationship can breathe. I know only when I allow those around me to live their own lives can I truly appreciate being close to them and live my own.

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Thinkstock photo via AnkDesign.

For many people, mental illness is a daily challenge. Mental illness can be something that interferes with a person’s friendships, work, personal well-being, among many other things that affect quality of life. The daily challenges mental illness can pose are often made worse by the diagnosis a person receives. This can happen because of the stigma of a diagnosis. For many people, accepting a diagnosis of mental illness is a shaming experience.

Think for a second, if you learned someone you know has schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety or depression. Would this change how you view that person? People who receive a mental illness diagnosis may worry their friends, family and coworkers will view them differently. As if before the diagnosis they were viewed one way, but after receiving a diagnosis, they are viewed differently — often for the worse. Before a diagnosis, they may have been a person who struggled from time to time. But after a diagnosis, things seem to change and they are viewed only as “mentally ill.”

It’s a profound difference.

A diagnosis is a label. It’s an observation of certain behaviors and thought patterns that have been given a name. That’s it. But for some reason, that label holds so much power.

If you or someone you know are coping with mental illness, please know a diagnosis holds no power, that you are the same person you were before and the diagnosis just means maybe you can help yourself a little better now. Please know a diagnosis doesn’t define you and it never will.

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Thinkstock photo via Victor Tongdee.

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