Mental health illnesses have a tendency of making people feel unwanted, unloved and a whole range of negative feelings and emotions. Personally, I can become buried in self-hatred and pity, feeling as though I am a huge burden on those around me who love me unconditionally. I become a shadow of my former self. Some days are better than others. I may struggle to get out of bed on some days and I may be able to brave the day on your better days. Either way, I am not weak because of my struggles and I am not defined by my illnesses. I must try my hardest to grow through what I go through.

Many hear the word “depression” and associate it with crying and all things dark. Well, I do anyway. I associate depression with sadness and vulnerability. Loneliness and numbness. A dark hole that seems endless. It’s like walking through a dark forest wandering aimlessly for a way out, but with no luck. Screaming for help in an isolated room with nobody around to hear my desperation.

Everybody has their own coping strategies and methods of getting through difficult times. For me, there is no better therapy than being surrounded with something I have an admiration and passion for. Something that puts joy in my heart and a sparkle in my eyes that enables me to feel something other than pain and distress. During my worst times, it’s important to surround myself with love and things that mean something to me. For example, some people get their source of happiness from art, others from sport or from baking.

There is something about animals that enables me, personally, to feel calm and at ease. When in the company of animals, I instantly feel relaxed and comforted which works wonders for my mood and my low self-esteem. In my opinion, it’s reassuring being amongst beings who don’t judge me for being me. Although I may have clouded views of myself, animals help me see myself and the world around me in a different light and from a brighter perspective.

With people, there is always my fear of being judged. Because lots of people fail to understand the difficulties people with mental illness are faced with due to our illnesses, animals detect the smallest of things and it is in their best interest to provide a sense of comfort and therapy. For instance, at home, there have been multiple times I have been very low in terms of my depression, and my cat (Tigga) has immediately picked up on it and has come to sit with me, letting me know I am not alone. Animals educate me on the importance of caring for myself and showing myself the same amount of love and compassion I show to them.

Similarly, I have been in college and have turned to two gorgeous pygmy goats (Poppy and Penny) for assistance and for an ear to listen. I believe goats have cheeky, unique and loving personalities and I can happily confirm a conversation with them, and an unlimited supply of hugs, works wonders for reducing the symptoms of my depression. I find expressing my thoughts, feelings and emotions to be near-impossible at times, but I have no problem whatsoever when it comes to interacting with animals.

There has been times I’ve struggled to get out of the house, not because I’m “lazy” like people could possibly assume, but because of the high levels of anxiety that debilitate me every single day. In addition to this, I have managed to take the bus on my own and have travelled distances to be with animals during my voluntary work. In my experience, anxiety is wanting to do things but being unable to do so because of the endless thoughts swimming around in my head, the doubt and the tight knot in my tummy. But knowing I have a reason to go out of the house and knowing there are animals awaiting me on the other side, provides me with a sense of worth, need and importance.

Animals have worked as therapy for me, and still continue to do so. I believe this will always be the case as I work hard to achieve a career within the animal care industry where I aim to save and rescue animals. I also wish to have a positive impact on their lives like they have for me.

Talking isn’t always the way around things — though it does help massively. I feel simply surrounding myself with animals helps me immensely. Talking can get to be too much sometimes for me. It can be very draining and tough letting people in, but when I am doing something I enjoy, I can work at it for hours on end, which helps to boost my mood and reduces the thoughts I’m experiencing.

I always feel motivated and enthusiastic when thinking of animals and being with them. I owe my life to them for assisting me in looking at the future and all I have to fight for. My motto is “save yourself, save the animals.”

Because when animals are involved, I am never alone. 

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Hey you, yes you. You are special. You are important. You matter.

This is to every man, woman and child who has ever dealt with mental illness, chronic illness or any trial in your life that left you feeling worthless and like you didn’t matter. I know mental illness, so that’s what I normally choose to write about, but this can go for all of you.

You matter. Any voice in your head that tells you different is bull. You are not your mental illness.

I know it seems like your life is made up of symptoms and doctor appointments and daily fights with your own mind. That’s not all you are.

You are the people you love and those who love you.

You are the quiet rise and fall of your chest as you sleep.

You are the slight smile on your lips that you can’t catch.

You are a part of everything you touch.

You impact the world every day of your life.

You are so much more than your mental illness.

You matter. Don’t ever forget that.

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My mental illness is like being stuck in a bottomless pit, but because there is so much more complexity to it, my metaphor has evolved over the years.

I had always counted on the bottomless pit metaphor; it does fit fairly well, after all. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression all feel as if I am stuck in a bottomless pit, desperately clinging to the side, hoping I can hang on — hoping someone can hear my screams. There are times I am able to climb my way to the top, and even make it out entirely. However, I can never get very far away from the pit; it’s always there, as is the ever-present fear I will fall back in at any moment. There are times in which I am so tired of holding on I consider just letting go, giving up and letting the pit take me. The bottom is most likely death.

I’ve managed my life with mental illness quite well, especially given the fact I have ended up with new diagnoses added on over the years: addiction, self-harm and an eating disorder. As you can imagine, this is a lot for one person to handle. I still keep the bottomless pit metaphor but as my illnesses have added up, so has my need to find a more fitting way to clearly describe how it feels to live with multiple mental illnesses.

When explaining my mental illnesses, I compare my life to living in a world in which everyone else has a protective bubble surrounding them, shielding them from all of the sadness, fear, and hopelessness in the world. They go about their daily lives without seeing, hearing or feeling any of these things. For me, however, I do not have this protective bubble. Everything gets in and hits me hard, penetrating my heart and soul. I cry at things most people wouldn’t even bat an eye at. My heart literally aches from the suffering I see and feel every day. As you can imagine, this only increases my mental health issues, causing extreme anxiety and depression. PTSD triggers are around every corner, making it more challenging to stay away from my unhealthy coping mechanisms (drugs, food restriction and self-injury). It’s a constant, daily battle.

However, I see a silver lining in missing my protective bubble, as it also allows me the opportunity to see the beauty that surrounds me. I think those who have that protective bubble may be missing out on the things I am able to see, hear and feel that make my life worth living. The smell of rain, the touch of the bark on a tree, the intricacy of moss, the vibrant colors of nature, the calming touch of my dogs, the sun shining in just the right way to amplify the light spreading across a deep blue sky. I am extremely sensitive to all of the bad and all of the good.

I can’t deny there are dangers in living near a bottomless pit without any kind of protection. It’s scary and unpredictable and I must stay mindful of how I manage my health every day. I also can’t deny there are benefits. I know that pit is always there, so I take extra care of myself to be sure I don’t get too close. Taking care of myself in healthy ways increases my ability to protect myself. My lack of a protective bubble allows me the opportunity to experience beauty despite the sadness and fear, and that is something I am immensely grateful for.

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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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’m sad again today. My mind convinced me I should be.

My mind convinces me of many things. For instance, when it says, “You are not loved, you are not enough.”

My mind is a terrible cave, consumed by darkness and destruction. I want to crawl out from the cave, but it keeps pulling me back — back to my bed, where my body hurts just as much as my head.

“Out of everyone’s way,” my mind says. “They don’t need you,” it shouts. When my mind starts yelling, I shout and I curse. I don’t mean to, I really don’t. I really want to stop shouting and cursing, but my mind becomes so loud I need to let it out. I want to be in charge of my own happiness because that’s what mom suggests, but my mind says: “How can you be in charge of happiness when you can’t even be in charge of your life?”

I think my mind is right. It convinced me. Now I barely want to get out of bed. I don’t want to go out. My mind has convinced me of so many things that could happen if I do. My mind doesn’t want me to leave the cave. My mind says, if I do, it will be lonely and I can’t do that. My mind is my friend. It has convinced me. Who am I without my mind?

Now I make up excuses surrounding why I can’t go out, because even if I do I’ll have to convince everyone I’m having fun when I’m not. I’m good at faking. My mind says I can’t make friends because no one likes me. I believe it’s true, even my family treats me like an outcast.

My mind’s favorite thing is insomnia. It never shuts down. “End your life by suicide,” it says. “The world doesn’t need you.” I tell it to shut up, I beg it to stop, but it never does. It never stops. It hurts — it’s like thousands of knives are being stabbed in my heart. The more I die, the more I’m being resuscitated, and I’m back to reliving it over and over every day.

“Leave me alone,” I shout. “I want to stop hurting. Why doesn’t it go away?” My mind says it will only go away once I go away. Now I am numb.

But mind, you are not the boss of me. I choose to live!

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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Your lungs are screaming and working tirelessly, desperately searching to find the accurate words, but you can’t. Your brain has its little party while your anxiety controls you within and says no. That’s the pain, the fear, anguish we can’t let out.

More and more people are opening up about their struggles, and believe me that’s good, but it’s the speaking that’s the real issue for me.

You try to remain calm, but that small room swallows you in your fear as you walk through the door. This is where it begins. This brings me to the surroundings. Every session you’re filled with the many issues that revolve in this never-ending world. They somewhat still linger through the air and make you  feel claustrophobic. This is where the struggle begins. You begin to shake, tremble, stutter with exhaustion as you’re grasping to pull your pain together. You stumble across your words.

You do all of this in the desperation and hope of being noticed, heard.

It seems like your pain inside you should be so easy to release and communicate about, but it’s been the same person, the same room for eight anguishing months, and you’ve still had to hide in your shell anonymously because talking is merely impossible. There is that vicious pounding in my brain, taunting me and beating me up as to why I can’t do the simplest things like talking to my counselor.

There may be a reason as to why we are like this, and there is no easy road to mental illnesses and recovery. The silence does not mean we don’t have anything going on; it’s just the frog in your throat waiting to jump out, but it can’t.

And that’s OK.

This is where it begins.

There is no easy road nor is there a “right way” to recovery, but once you find your support, believe me, you can see the light at the end of the road.

What I have learned over these past eight months is even by the end of the sessions you may feel exhausted, but every step of the way to recovery is worth it.
The first steps are terrifying, but you may be glad you were strong enough to go.

You may still struggle to communicate and that’s OK because the person you talk to will try to engage and understand you more as a person.

I believe recovery is a long process, but to whoever is reading this, there is someone who will listen, empathize and understand you. They’ll take your problems and listen, and all that anxiety you’ve gone through just to enter the room can, session by session, start to disappear.

There is hope out here, and there is love.

Everything can be OK.

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Sometimes, the only thing worse than bringing a guy home to meet your parents is bringing a guy home to meet your mental illness.

It’s a part of you that you’ve learned to handle, to treat gently, to get through the day with. Sometimes it’s a part of you that’s easy to love and stand up for, and sometimes it’s a part you wish you could get rid of. But you know how to manage. There’s safety in knowing.

Love is filled with unknowns. Will this person still want to be with me in a year? In a month? Will we grow in different directions? Will I just end up getting hurt? A particularly difficult unknown is how will this other person, this new, fantastic, wonderful human being, react when I get depressed or anxious or have a PTSD flashback? Will they be kind to this part of me? Will they get scared and run away?

The relationship between love and mental illness isn’t discussed enough, so I want to share some of my experiences in the hopes someone will be able to relate.

First, there was the boy who didn’t know what to do. I was just beginning to experience the symptoms of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I wasn’t yet able to articulate what was going on. When I had a flashback, breakdown or an anxiety attack, he would retreat. When this happens, I was tempted to blame myself. I felt like some sort of monster, scaring people away. I felt like I was too much to handle, and I did’t want to reach out anymore. Opening up to people is hard after someone has convinced you that you’re mental illness is an ugly part of you.

How do you deal with this? Remember you’re a mosaic window, and it’s not your fault if all he sees is broken glass. Remember everyone has something they struggle with, and that doesn’t make them ugly or scary. Remember that sometimes, people won’t be able to handle your vast emotions and if they have to leave, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

Then there was the one who did know what to do. This was the first time I had a boyfriend whose experience with mental illness was similar to my own. I felt something I had never fully felt before: acceptance. Here was someone who understood what I was going through. He stuck with me through my flashbacks. He was patient and kind through my anxiety attacks. He loved me for who I was, never making me feel like I was too much to handle. It was wonderful.

This experience was very healing for me, but there’s something else people don’t really talk about: what happens when people trigger each other. We had some conflicting symptoms that made healing hard at times. For example, we had mutually exclusive obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms —his mood swings would trigger my mood swings, or we would both get depressed at the same time and not be able to help each other. Sometimes, we would even make each other feel worse.

It’s important to know there are a million reasons for a relationship to not work out. If your respective mental healths are suffering in a relationship, it’s not fair to either of you to blame mental illness as leading reason for a breakup. The way your brain works doesn’t make you unloveable. Sometimes, two brains just don’t work together. And that’s OK.

It’s hard to be vulnerable when mental illness isn’t represented in mainstream love narratives. You might feel like you’ll never be able to achieve that “perfect Hollywood romance” because some nights you’re too depressed to go out on a date or some days you’re too anxious to relax. The truth is, no one has that “perfect Hollywood romance.” It doesn’t exist. Relationships are complicated and challenging and exciting, and mental illness is just another variable. Just another part of you for someone to love.

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