a woman sitting on the floor, looking sad

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.

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Thinkstock photo via tommaso79


I sit there staring at you. Just staring. I don’t know what to say or how to react. I know you need me, but the truth is, I really need you too. You’re my rock, as I am yours. Together we can defeat this monster that lurks inside our brains. It’s tearing us apart from each other. We have to stay strong, because before we know it, I can’t come and see you. I want to see you, I really do. Living on my own is tough. No one there when you need a hug. I’ve needed to wake up and see you on the other side of the room snuggled up in bed too. Where are you now? You’re still at home, with Mum and Dad. I should have stayed. Believe me, I wish I had. Sometimes though, I think we are closer now. Now we have the space apart to breathe.

Being there for you, when I have a mental illness too, is the hardest thing I have ever had to face. I can’t even look after myself some days. You ring me up, shouting, crying. I can’t cope. I get upset back. I put the phone down. Then my anxiety kicks in and I’ve lost it. We are both having meltdowns but in totally different places. We need each other but it’s too hard to be there for the other person when you’re struggling yourself. Parents torn in two. Who do they look after first? Who needs their attention today?

It’s so hard being there for a loved one when you also need them to be there for you. On my bad days, all I can manage is a text. I can’t even get out of bed to get something to eat. So when you ask if we can hang out, like the old times, I feel guilty. I cry at the feeling I’m not a good enough person. I hate myself. I should put all my problems aside and be there. I know I should. I can’t cope, though. Watching you struggle just like me is heart-wrenching. My heart tears in two because all I want in the entire world is for you to get better. For you to go out and be happy. When you’re having a bad day, it makes me have a bad day. You’re my friend. I know you’re not well. Neither am I. Maybe we can fight this together?

I sit there staring at you. I take a minute to breathe. Then I say, “how are you feeling today?”

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Thinkstock photo via oneinchpunch

“But you’re smiling.”

“You look so happy.”

“I’m so glad that you’re better now.”

Like everybody else, I have good days and bad days. But what I also have are depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. What that means is that I spend a lot of time anxious, worrying and well, depressed.

I think there is a common misconception about depression. To those who haven’t experienced it first hand or witnessed it in real life, it’s hard to have an accurate representation of what it is when it is constantly being romanticized in the media we consume every day.

It’s not always self-harm. It’s not always laying on the floor, wide-eyed and pondering. It’s not always tears and being curled up. And it’s not always “being depressed.”

Depressive episodes happen, but having depression doesn’t mean I’m depressed all the time. I still have the ability to smile. I can appreciate the beauty of life around me. I can still love the people in my life, even if I can’t show it all the time.

Funny movies are still funny. I can appreciate when my sister tells me to smile. My favorite meal is still delicious.

But having a good day doesn’t mean I’m cured. Please do not dismiss or invalidate an illness that affects the everyday lives of millions of people. Whether it’s just putting on a brave face or trying to enjoy a precious happy moment, please understand my battle isn’t over.

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 fona2

I want to tell you a story: a story of a girl who was told she could do anything. And she could — she had the intellect, a loving and supportive family and the confidence that those two things bring. So she studied hard and generally followed the rules. She had good friends and she believed there was something that made her special, better than her peers. It was her armor. If you stay so far ahead that people cannot catch up, then you are safe. And the sound of footsteps and a competitor at your heels should encourage you work harder and be better. Right?

People admired her accomplishments; they were badges of honor that helped build a wall between herself and the rest of the world, a wall she could feel safe behind. A sanctuary or a prison? Can they be the same thing? You can do anything, we are told; we encourage our children to believe the world is your oyster. Not only did she believe them, but she took it to heart. It wasn’t enough to do what she wanted — she had “potential” and would “do great things.” She couldn’t waste those things, so she did what would help her be great and fulfill that promising potential. No one forced her to make the decisions she did, she was the one who held herself to the highest of expectations. She would not take back the decisions though. She gained knowledge and skills that would help her thrive in the “adult world.” She made many great friends and collected many interesting stories to share. She was good at putting on a smile.

But the potential weighed on her, demanding the price of perfection. There was a side to her that no one saw and that she was too ashamed to share. She could not cope under the weight of her own expectations, and to admit that truth to herself would challenge her belief that she was better than others, would lift the veil that helped her believe she was untouchable if only she was good enough. She believed she could do anything. But under the weight of her own expectations she could do nothing. How she coped for so long was almost a cliché, an eating disorder to help feel in control, the vicious cycle of binging that was the one chink in her armor, providing a place of safety built in her own head, the walls becoming fortified by fear, shame and dread. It became harder to re-enter the world, became harder to fake being the girl people thought she was. It was easier to hide what was wrong. She could do anything, so she did enough to avoid scrutiny and then would flee back into herself.

Until one day it became too hard to leave the sanctuary she had created in her own mind. The dread was too strong, gripping at her throat; she just wanted the struggle to end. But something inside her reached out for a lifeline. She had been flailing in the depths of the ocean, trying to breathe under the weight of crashing waves, her limbs too heavy to try to swim to safety. There was brief moments of calm, clinging to a buoy before she caught her breath and flung herself back into the ocean. No one forced her to do this — that is the most important thing to remember. She did it to herself, she believed she had no other choice. She believed she could do anything, so why couldn’t she do this? She was trying to swim when she could barely stay afloat.

This story is about me. I was within the top one percent of my school years. I went to law school and graduated with honors. I worked for a prestigious law firm and believed that it would the start of a glittering corporate career. I have amazing friends and family and am blessed with a love of creativity and history. But I have a secret. There are days I cannot do anything; I would drown if I was not on dry ground. Depression. Anxiety. Borderline personality disorder. Extreme Emotions. Unstable Relationships. A self-image so low that I cannot look at myself in the mirror without hating myself. Weight that keeps going up because food is my way of coping. A trail of failed relationships and the fear that I will never find love. I wake up and cannot get out of bed some days, I can sleep for 20 hours at a time and can crash after a good day into a depressive state that lasts a week. What is wrong with me, I ask myself, why can’t I do anything that other people can?

This story is not over — it has barely begun. But the saddest part is that there are many stories like mine that are never told, because they end too soon or people are afraid to reach out for help. I want you to know that you are not alone. We were all told we can do anything, but we were never told that the most important things for us to learn is to be kind to ourselves and know that anything doesn’t have to be everything.

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.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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

Thinkstock photo via fizkes

This piece was written by Natalia Siam, Forever 21 model, author and student.

A simple question like “are you OK?” can make such a big difference to someone who needs to hear it. Sometimes people just need to talk and open up to someone they trust. 

You don’t have to have all the answers. Just be there to listen, don’t judge them and check in again later.

As someone who experienced bullying as a child, I know how important it is to be there for other people. I had an experience a few years ago when someone I went to school with was in a really bad place. I could see she was upset and I wanted to help.

She wasn’t one of my closest friends but that didn’t matter, she really needed someone. I approached her and asked her if she wanted to talk about what was going on. She said no at first, but then slowly she started to open up to me. I ended up staying with her for three hours until she was feeling better about things and had decided to talk with her family about the problem.

Much later, she thanked me and told me that sitting with her and listening that day made a huge difference and had given her the courage to go and get help. I’m sharing this because even though just sitting with someone and listening to them doesn’t sound like such a big deal, it really can be to the other person. All I did was listen and give her my time. I am so glad I did.

Be sure to check in and ask R U OK? to the people in your world. If they don’t seem like themselves, ask them about it. And ask twice if you have to. Just be there for them.

I sometimes use the acronym “ALEC” to help me remember how to start a conversation:

A: Ask “are you ok?”

L: Listen without judgment

E: Encourage action

C: Check in with them later

R U OK? is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life. R U OK? Day is a national day of action, held on the second Thursday of September each year. But every day is the day to start a conversation. Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found at ruok.org.au.

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Screenshot via R U OK? Youtube channel.

Artwork by the contributor

Over the years I feel like I’ve been diagnosed with everything. The psychiatrists I’ve seen don’t seem able to decide which labels fit me best. The ones I currently have seem to fit – bipolar 1, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and dissociation. But over the years mental health professionals have told me I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), schizoaffective disorder, ADHD… Then they changed their minds.

As I see it, there are good and bad sides to diagnoses.

The Good:

1. We’re not “crazy,” we have an illness.

It’s so comforting to know that I’m not “crazy.” No, I have a legitimate medical illness. So the way I feel, it’s part of my illness. It’s OK.

2. We’re not alone.

It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels the things I feel. It’s great to go online and find a bipolar-centric message board. It’s great to go to a support group, say that I’ve been having dissociative problems, and have someone else raise a hand and say that he deals with the same thing.

3. We have a “shorthand” to explain what’s going on with us.

It takes forever to explain my symptoms. Explaining to someone about my changing mood states takes a while. Instead, I can just say “bipolar disorder” and then they have the basic idea, or could look up a definition if they want. It’s so much easier. If I’m having a rough week, I can tell a friend that I’m struggling with depression. When I leave somewhere unexpectedly, I can tell people later that I had a panic attack. The terms help.

4. We can raise awareness and be advocates for others like us.

It’s awesome that I can explain my own condition and help raise awareness for other people. So often, I have shared my story with someone and they thanked me, saying something like, “Now I understand my niece [or brother, or friend] better.” Or if I correct someone who is speaking hurtfully about mental illness, I am advocating and raising awareness for other people besides me.

5. It’s easier to separate ourselves from the disorder.

I am Anna. I have these problems. I’m not “crazy.” I have bipolar disorder.

The Bad:

1. Stereotypes.

There are so many stereotypes about different mental illnesses. When I tell someone my diagnosis, they often think of the stereotype. Then I have to fight the stereotype.

2. In my experience psychiatrists and counselors treat us the same as everyone else with the disorder.

I have gone to so many psychiatrists who say, “This is the med I put all my bipolar clients on,” while I grit my teeth and respond, “But it’s not working for me!” Too often they would shrug their shoulders and keep prescribing it.

3. Feeling like we’re sick.

Sometimes diagnoses make me feel like I’m sick, broken and not as good as other people. When actually, fighting my illnesses every day often means I’m stronger. It’s not that I’m sick, it’s just part of my everyday battle.

4. Always educating others.

I get tired of explaining to people how bipolar does not mean “moody” and hearing voices doesn’t mean I’m “crazy” or dangerous. Anxiety is not the same as stress.

5. Being hurt when people say offensive things about our disorder.

I’m in class and my professor says that “bipolar clients are high risk” and “mania is dangerous.” People make a joke about “multiple personalities” and I am silently hurt since I have dissociative problems. But I can’t always speak up.

The Ugly:

Wearing the disorder instead of our names.

Sometimes depression or anxiety overwhelm me, and I feel like I am depression instead of myself. I keep reminding myself: no matter how much my mental illness overwhelms me, the important thing is that I am Anna. No mental illness, no labels, are going to change that. I am Anna and I matter.

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

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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix

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