dog and cat

It’s no secret having a pet can be beneficial for your health. Cuddling with and walking your pet can be instant mood boosters for many. Whether a pet is an service animal or not, when you struggle with mental illness, having a pet as a companion and friend can often make recovery so much better.

This is definitely the case for me. I adopted my dog Apollo to help me manage my depression. He’s named for the Greek god Apollo, who was known for riding his fiery chariot across the sky to bring up the sun every day. For me, my golden pup is a reminder of the light when I am in the darkness of depression. Here’s a picture of my buddy.


But it’s not just furry friends who help those of us struggling with mental illness! We asked our community to share a picture and story of the pet that helps them manage mental illness.

Here are the furry, scaly and feathered friends they shared with us:

1.Gilbert has always helped me when I feel anxious or I’m fighting an episode of depression. He loves laying anywhere on or near me which has helped me through anxiety attacks. When I am fighting an episode of depression, he is always purring up next to me and refuses to leave until I get up out of bed. I am extremely grateful for his love, affection and sensitivity.” — Erin W.

erin and cat

2. “When I got Bear, he was ‘just’ a pet, but he turned into so much more. He’s around me all day, so when my anxiety or depression get to be too much, a long hug can release some of the intense symptoms and get me on the right track.” — Ashley K.

Bear- dog

3. “This is Bella, my loan horse. She’s given me so much confidence to the point my anxiety doesn’t affect me as much as it did. She reminds me if I can ride and control an unpredictable animal, I can conquer anything.” — Megan E.

bella horse

4. “This is Moe. He’s my best friend and my boy! He doesn’t judge me when I’m sobbing my eyes out. He’s always there for me, to comfort me. I don’t know what I’d do without him.” — Christa R.


5. “This is Khloe. She’s an incredibly intuitive dog and always seems to know when I need doggie snuggles. We’ve talked about having her certified as my support dog because she is exactly what I need beside me when I’m overwhelmed.” — Ashleigh E.

Khloe dog

6.Wooper will be two years old in May. I got him as a birthday present. And he’s helped me through a lot. Depression, breakups, post-operation, new beginnings, moving. And he is my grounding object when I need him to be.” — Mizheekay H.


7.Chronic pain, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are crayons compared to my Savanaha cuddles. I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for her.” — Jennifer C.


8. “[My guinea pigs] help me through everything, but mostly through my lonely days and managing my thoughts when they get out of hand.” — Selina S.

guinea pigs

9. “This is Sarge, my PTSD service dog. I was so anxious and symptomatic that I was homebound, withdrawn from my college following sexual assault. Then I got Sarge. Everything changed. He allowed me to get my life back. I re-enrolled in school, was able to have a social life again and had confidence walking out the door every day. Sarge was well-known on campus and loved by all. Here we are, graduating from Ohio State’s College of Social Work. He got an honorary degree for attending.” — Kerri S.

Sarge dog

10. “My cat is Sparky and he honestly helps me through everything! This picture was taken on one of my darkest days when I couldn’t get out of bed. Sparky laid by my side all day and we just cuddled, which immediately made me feel a little bit better.” — Chloe M.

cat and contributor

11. “Whenever I’m feeling depressed and worthless, I remember I have this sweet little ferret that loves me and needs me. If I feel like I can’t get out of bed, just remembering Ruby is relying on me to take care of her makes me feel like I’m needed and wanted. Also, playing with her and seeing her bounce around and have fun automatically makes me feel better when I’m anxious. Animals are the best companions period, but especially for those of us with mental illness!” — Olivia K.


12. “This is my corgi, Todd. He came into my life in December when I was going through a major depressive episode. He provides structure to my day. He’s my reason for getting up in the morning. Lots of people talk to him when I take him out and about, and he makes social contact easy. More than that, he brings so much joy and cuddles into my life and he has kept me living.” — Siobhan M.


13. “A big sweetheart Clydesdale named Millie has been a tremendous help in getting me through some of the grayer days when my depression would have previously kept me lying in bed all day.” — Erica M.

Millie horse

14.“These are my babies Coeur and Esprit. Having them to take care of is a reason to get out of bed and it’s nice to just talk to them and watch them swim.” — Kelsey M.


15. “Goldie has seen me through some very dark times. Living with PTSD, she is my constant companion and responds to my nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks, helping to ground me. She makes my daily struggle so much easier, gets me out of the house and is always keen to give me a hug. So blessed to have her in my life!” — Michael G.

goldie dog

16. “I’ve had my Senegal parrot named Zooks since I was 11 years old. I’ve struggled with depression and self-harm since I was 10, and Zooks has been there to comfort me. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) when I was 16, and Zooks was there for me during that struggle. He can recognize when I’m having a hard time. He is very sensitive to my emotions. I’ve had him since he hatched. When I feel like the world is too heavy and I’m ready to give up, I hold him close and my pain stops. He purrs, makes kissy sounds and is incredibly protective of me. He’s now 13 years old and is my companion for life.” — Carissa D.


17. “These two babies, Reznov and Tipsy-Mae, help me cope with my anger problems and help me control my anxiety attacks. These two have brought me [back] from a terrible anxiety attack before and I’m so thankful to have them.” — Kayla B.


18. “These are my guinea pigs Patch and Rolo. Ever since I got them two years ago, my life changed. I used to get so anxious and depressed and now I find life easier with them around. They maybe tiny, but they keep me calm and I love them to bits.” — Amy B.

Patch and rolo

19. “Not your typical pet. Cows have the biggest gentlest souls. They have always been calming to me. I’m anxiety-free when I’m with them. This is Desiree.” — Katina M.


20. “A bundle of joy and mercy I was blessed with for quite a short period of time. Unexpectedly appeared in my life for five months to give me all the support and love I needed while fighting treatment-resistant depression.” — Nahla A.

dog with community member

21. “This is Harley and she is a mini pig. Having her has been a blessing for my anxiety issues. She always puts a smile on my face and loves snuggling with me on the days I can’t even leave the house due to my anxiety. She definitely makes my days more enjoyable!” — Mary S.

mini pig

22. “This is Mr. Darcy. When I’m feeling super low and in the deepest parts of a depressive episode he never leaves my side. He gives kisses and hugs and won’t run off to play until he’s sure I’m going to be alright.” — Alexis O.

Alexis cat

23. “Roscoe is my baby boy and helps me significantly with my depression and PTSD. He can sense when I’m not doing so well, will snuggle with me and follow me around the house. On the days [when] I feel like I can’t get out of bed, he literally pulls me out.” — Alyssa S.


24. “This is my emotional support bearded dragon, Aldi. She’s always there to snuggle with me or chew on my hair when I’m having a bad day. She’s one of the best decisions I ever made for my health.” — Rachel G.

bearded dragon

25. “My baby is still in training, but he helps by alerting me before an episode or during dissociation and uses deep pressure therapy during anxiety or depressions attacks.” — Heather S.

service dog

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Photos via contributors.


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Marcela Sabiá, an artist based in São Paulo, Brazil, wants to help others living with mental illness feel better about themselves. For Sabiá, the best way to do this is through art, and her artwork – a mixture of body-positive and mental illness inspired creations – resonates in its focus on promoting self-love.

I have already talked about my treatment for depression and anxiety but I have never given much details about my depressive phase and I think I can help someone by sharing my story (at least I hope so). I was always very sensitive but soon after I was diagnosed with Panic Syndrome the depression that already existed became very deep. I felt absolutely nothing, just an emptiness and a permanent fatigue. I was lying all day and the things I liked to do before did not interest me anymore. I ate very little and did not feel like talking to anyone. When I had to socialize with other people who knew I was depressed I felt they looked at me differently and I became ashamed, as if they found me a unbalanced/crazy person. I also felt a lot of guilt because I had many things to be grateful for and yet I felt such great sadness within me. Over time the medication was helping me as well as the therapy sessions and today I am a much stronger person and that phase is behind. I still have to deal with depression and anxiety in certain ways but today I control my mind and not the other way around. What I mean is that it is possible to live well and overcome depression, no matter how severe it may be. The key is to seek help, share your feelings instead of trying to deal with it yourself. Thousands of people suffer quietly from mental illnesses thinking they are the only ones who feel that way and that is because there is still a great difficulty in talking about it.This stigma must end for us to be free and mentally healthy. It’s not your fault and it’s a disease like any other. There is solution for depression and there is no shame in assuming that you are not well. You are never alone ❤❤❤❤????#mentalhealth

A post shared by Marcela Sabiá ???? (@marcelailustra) on

“I think I am inspired by my own difficulties and experiences… It makes me want to create pieces that help us to be more positive about ourselves,” Sabiá, 26, who lives with depression and anxiety, told The Mighty. “I think all the pain we experience can result in incredible art. Having a mental illness made my creations very real and sensitive, I believe. With my mental disorders, I began to use my illustrations as support and [a] tool for my recovery and overcoming.”

This illustration shows self harm scars for one particular reason that I will explain next, but I am sending love to all kinds of scars – from accidents, surgeries, violence or whatever. The special reason I highlight self harm scars is because I know there is a great amount of prejudice towards them. Many people judge marks of self-mutilation because they feel that we should not empathize with someone who caused it to themselves. As if we were only allowed to have compassion for accidental scars but for these people only repudiation is allowed. This is not true at all. To reach this extreme a person needs to be in a deep state of pain and suffering, which is enough to empathize with them. These people need to have their mental health terribly shaken to get to that point and anyone who has ever had mental problems how intense this can become. What I mean is do not be ashamed of your scars, no matter what the reason for them. They are a story told in your body, a beautiful sign that you can heal and that you have survived. Show your scars to tell the world that life goes on and take pride in how strong you are. You are a beautiful warrior ❤ #bopo

A post shared by Marcela Sabiá ???? (@marcelailustra) on

In addition to creating relatable artwork, Sabiá pairs each image with her own experience or a message of hope. In her illustration of self-harm scars, Sabiá writes, “[D]o not be ashamed of your scars, no matter what the reason for them. They are a story told in your body, a beautiful sign that you can heal and that you have survived. Show your scars to tell the world that life goes on and take pride in how strong you are.”

SWIPE FOR MORE INFO ???? So I was watching 13 Reasons Why and I was thrilled with a few things. Leaving aside whether you liked the series or not, it tackles a theme that we need to talk about for sure. I’m very emotional and nervous talking about that – it is heavy, sad and horrible, but it happens all the time. People feel so much pain that they get to the point of taking their own lives. Mental illnesses and especially depression make us distort reality so severely that we feel like nobody cares about us and nothing matters anymore. I know because I had already felt that way. At one point in my life, I felt I had no purpose and that everyone would be better off without me. I felt such a void, an apathy where this idea of ​​vanishing did not frighten me. I was numb, lost and it seems like the only solution sometimes. Luckily, before anything else I managed to see a light in the darkness and I asked for help. I just put it out to my family and assumed that I could no longer handle it alone, I desperately needed guidance and support. And that’s what I got from many people that I’m now so grateful. So please, if you’re feeling like life does not make sense anymore, or are having any kind of suicidal thoughts, please get help right now. Do not isolate yourself, do not think that you should have to solve your problems yourself. You don’t, just breathe. Talk about it, say everything you are feeling, even the darkest thoughts on your mind. We are here to help each other and there is no shame in asking for help. I have been helped in the past to have the ability to help other people today as well. You are so important, so special and there is so much to do. I will leave lifelines numbers here from Brazil and the US, but if you know of any other support organizations, please tell it in the comments. And for those who know a depressive person, just be there. Pay attention, listen, watch them and never give up helping. One word could make all the difference. Be strong, be kind ❤ #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #youareloved #youarenotalone #life #art #inspiration #illustration

A post shared by Marcela Sabiá ???? (@marcelailustra) on

“In a culture where people want to show only the best of their lives, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person struggling while everyone is happy,” Sabiá shared. Writing about her own personal experience, is just one of the ways Sabiá hopes to dispel this mirage created by social media.

“I speak of things that people do not want to talk about precisely so that these people feel included and see that we are all equal and capable.”

I have been doing therapy for 3 years and today I went to the session feeling extremely distressed because of a problem that I just seem to be unable to get rid of. No matter how much I try I still find myself stuck in a situation I would like to leave behind and I said all of this to my therapist. She said: “You have a hard time accepting when things do not go the way you want to and that is why you can not let go. You have to accept what is not under your control and move on.” After she said it, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was desperately looking for a solution or something that I should do to break free and the answer was simple: just accept. Sometimes we end up idealizing too much a situation, creating expectations that do not materialize and we feel so frustrated because we think that our life should be different. We’re discontented and we can’t accept reality because it is not what we wanted. We need to be at peace with things that does not depend only on our will. Accept what has happened and have faith that the universe is working the best for your happiness. Let go of the idea of ​​how things should be and embrace them as they are right now. Let it hurt, let it heal and let it go. #mentalhealth

A post shared by Marcela Sabiá ???? (@marcelailustra) on

Sabiá’s posts have touched upon going to therapy, as well as her personal experience living with “panic syndrome” known as panic disorders in the U.S.

Describing her journey on Instagram, Sabiá writes:

I was always very sensitive but soon after I was diagnosed with Panic Syndrome the depression that already existed became very deep. I felt absolutely nothing, just an emptiness and a permanent fatigue. I was lying all day and the things I liked to do before did not interest me anymore. I ate very little and did not feel like talking to anyone. When I had to socialize with other people who knew I was depressed I felt they looked at me differently and I became ashamed, as if they found me a unbalanced/crazy person. I also felt a lot of guilt because I had many things to be grateful for and yet I felt such great sadness within me. Over time the medication was helping me as well as the therapy sessions and today I am a much stronger person and that phase is behind. I still have to deal with depression and anxiety in certain ways but today I control my mind and not the other way around.

Sabiá also hopes her artwork can help dispel some of the stigma surrounding mental illness. “There is also stigma with people who have mental illness, we are still seen as crazy or we are not taken seriously,” Sabiá said. “There is still a lot of ignorance. [O]ne of the hardest things is to know that we are going to deal with it for the rest of our lives and we can never consider ourselves totally healed, even if we are very well in the present.”

Sabiá hopes that those who see her art learn more about mental illness. People don’t choose to have a mental illness, she said, it’s a health problem like any other physical condition is. “Just as we have a sore throat and need medication, our minds can also become ill and need treatment. It is normal and happens with all kinds of people. I would like people to understand how serious and real this is.”

One of the worst habits we can have is to say negative things to or about ourselves. I know it’s not easy and I have to police myself not to do it. Often we do things like unleashing a compliment we receive from someone, pointing out our own “flaws” to other people, and saying/thinking bad things about us. Well, think of a dear friend you have in your life. Would you treat them so badly ? Do you point out their flaws and say they’re to blame for all the bad things that happen to them? Would you call them stupid, worthless, ugly or a looser? I do not think so, we wouldn’t do this to a friend. But unfortunately we are able to do this to ourselves. The good thing is that it’s up to us changing that! Start seeing yourself like a friend you love very much. Every time you are putting yourself down, think if this is how you would treat your friend. Be patient, kind and helpful with yourself, be your own friend at all times. Sometimes we need a new perspective to begin loving ourselves and friendship is a great way to do this ❤ #loveyourself

A post shared by Marcela Sabiá ???? (@marcelailustra) on

“I want my work to make people feel less alone,” she added. “May they be freed from the idea that they are strange, problematic, ugly and not deserving of love.”

For more of Sabiá’s artwork, follow her on Instagram.

I’ve been dealing with mental illness for a while now, and a lot of it has involved fear. Fear of trying and failing, of embarrassment, of quite a few day-to-day things, really. As a result, I ended up with very little trust in myself and others and lots of doubt in my abilities.

As I’ve been working on regaining my confidence, one of the things that has remained constant is my love for gymnastics. I’d never really thought much about why, but I had a realization that it’s much more than just liking it because I always had.

I’ve learnt some pretty important life lessons in the gym, so I thought I’d share them in the hopes that – whether you’re a “sports person” or not – they’ll resonate.

1. I will never know until I try.

Gymnastics basically involves doing things that aren’t exactly everyday activities. You don’t tend to see people walking down the street and suddenly jumping into a flip. Gymnastics isn’t easy, but what is easy is believing a move is too difficult to do.

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been preparing to do a move and stopped halfway, thinking, I can’t do it. But the funny thing is, I generally can.

Once I’ve got over the fear of failing or getting injured or of trying something new, I tend to find it’s easier than I think it’ll be. Most of the time, I can have at least a basic grasp of how to do whatever move it is by the end of the session, and more often than not, I really love doing it and can’t wait to try again next time.

Lesson learned: There’s no time in life for “can’t,” because saying I can’t do something a lot of time wasted that could be used for practicing once I know I can. I definitely won’t be able to do it if I never try.

2. Trust people to catch me if I fall (but recognize they’re human, too!)

As a gymnast, you have to put a lot of trust in your coaches. A lot. You’re throwing yourself into moves that have the potential to be pretty dangerous. You could break bones, tear ligaments and gain a whole host of other injuries. I have to believe if I go into a back somersault that isn’t quite high enough, they’ll push me up enough so I don’t land on my head. If I do a back handspring that goes wonky, I have to trust they’ll keep me straight enough to at least stay on the mat.

The same is true for life. I have to trust if I fall low or go off course there will be people to help me back. Coaches are people too though, and if there’s a move I’ve been able to do before, they may not necessarily ask straight away if I’ve lost confidence a bit and need some support. As soon as I ask, though, they’ll be there.

Sometimes they lose their grip and you fall, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be there for you the next time. Just because they didn’t manage to protect me once, doesn’t mean they didn’t try their absolute hardest to stop me from falling.

Lesson learned: I have to trust people to catch me when I fall. Even if they can’t always manage it, I’m less likely to fall if I have support than if I try to face something on my own.

3. If I get stuck, I need to take it back a few steps.

Recently, I lost the ability to do a move I’d been able to do for a while. It was a relatively simple move, but I fell once and got a mental block. I’d run towards the trampette, arms out, ready to launch myself over the vault, and stop. I physically couldn’t bring myself further than that. I got very frustrated. It was something I’d done many times before, my coaches were there to support me, everyone else was managing to do it, so why couldn’t I?

My coaches helped by getting me to first stand on the trampette and jump into handstand on the vault while they held my legs. Then I ran, jumped off the trampette into handstand on the vault, and eventually I completed the move (handspring over vault for any gymnasts out there).

Lesson learned: It’s OK to go back to basics if that’s what you need. A mental block doesn’t mean something’s lost forever.

4. If I can beat my fears, I can beat anything.

For a very long time, a back somersault was easily one of my biggest gymnastics fears. I hated the thought of going backwards with nothing to support me if I fell. With a back handspring, at least your arms are there to catch you if you fall, but with a back tuck, they’re holding your knees and can’t always reach the floor before your face does.

One day, I decided I wanted to do it. I just had to chuck myself backwards and trust my coach would catch me if I fell. I arrived at the gym and after warming up, I said to the coach I wanted to try it. So that’s what we did. He got ready to support and I got ready to jump. We did a countdown and I did everything needed for a back tuck… except jump. Because the coach was expecting me to go for it, he supported me as if I had jumped, and I ended up standing with my arms up and my coach was holding my leg up to my head. It gave us a good laugh at least.

So I tried again and again and again, and one day, I just threw it. I chucked myself backwards and landed it. It was the best feeling. Doing a back somersault is now one of my favorite things and I wouldn’t have this feeling if I hadn’t kept pushing to conquer my fear.

Lesson learned: I must keep pushing to fight my fears, because it’ll be worth it in the end.

5. If it’s something I want, I have to keep trying.

Very few things in life are easy, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having. In gymnastics, you have to do things again and again and again and again to finally be able to do even the relatively easy moves. You have to keep pushing and keep trying in order to achieve what you aim to, but it is so worth it in the end. The pride of finally achieving something I’ve been working on for ages is second to none. This can be applied to life so easily. Even if getting that grade/job/possession/feeling is hard, if you keep trying, you will get there eventually and it will feel amazing when you do.

Lesson learned: Practice really does make perfect. I need to keep trying for the things I really want. It’ll make me feel even more grateful for it in the end.

Basically, I will keep striving to be bold, brave, trust in both myself and others and keep going. I’ll get there eventually.

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Thinkstock photo via fizkes.

Mental illness is illness. It’s not a choice. Not a decision or a lifestyle. It’s an illness.

Like most illnesses, there are a variety of severities and types. Some people might have a depressive period for a short time. It doesn’t last forever, it doesn’t define the individual, but it sure as hell sucks while you’re going through it. Someone else might have a psychotic episode, then discover they have bipolar disorder. It may impact them for the rest of their lives. It will probably require medication and lifestyle adaptations. It’s not much fun, but it doesn’t define them and they can learn to accept it and live with it.

The difference between psychological and physical illnesses is people are misunderstood and judged for psychological disorders. This does not happen as often with physical maladies. There are many who would like to remedy this inequality — myself included. To that end, I have put together a little list of do’s and don’ts for your reading pleasure.

1. Do comment on my “emotional appearance.” If I look a bit down, ask me about it. If I look really happy after having a rough time, ask me about it. If I don’t want to share, I’ll tell you.

Don’t comment on my physical appearance. It’s none of your business. Even if you think it is. Don’t compliment my weight loss. Don’t say anything. It’s not OK!

2. Do listen. Properly. Really listen. Ears open, mouth shut. Then ask open-ended questions like “How does that make you feel?” or “What happened then?” Keep listening. It will be your turn to speak soon.

Don’t react to my problems by talking about yourself. If I said I’m bulimic, it’s not helpful to hear stories of other bulimics you met, or tell me about the time you ate so many tim tams you were sick.

3. Do remember I am not my disorder. It’s just a small bit of me. Maybe my mental illness is temporary. Maybe it’s permanent. Regardless, I am still a mother, wife, daughter, friend, colleague. I still have loves and losses, history and dreams. I’m still good at things and I still suck at things. I know stuff, but I have more to learn. I am not my disorder.

Don’t stop telling me about yourself. Yes I have issues. Yes I need to talk. But I also want to hear about you. Because I care. I don’t want to talk about me all the time. Maybe we could not talk about problems at all – just for an hour or two one day. Life can be sad, but it doesn’t have to be every minute of every day.

4. Do respect I am not unaware. I know more about my issues and stumbling blocks than you can ever possibly know. I have researched and sweated on this for decades. We are all experts on our own life issues.

Don’t tell me the answer is simple. Saying things like “Just eat slower!” or :Just make a plan!” are not helpful. If I could do these things, I wouldn’t be in this mess. I developed really poor coping mechanisms. It’s both a choice, and not a choice. Yes it’s confusing. I’m confused too.

5. Do accept my illness is real. I was diagnosed by medical professionals. I’m pretty sure they know what they’re talking about. I need you to support me in this journey, not dismiss it.

Don’t tell me about simple fixes. It won’t be gone by morning. Watching a comedy and eating ice cream won’t cure me. I don’t need a few vitamins, a healthy diet and more fresh air.

6. Do tell me I’m doing great and the best I can. Tell me you’ll be there for me and I’m not defined by my illness. Remind me I’m not a burden and you care. And remind me this could happen to anybody, it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Don’t tell me it couldn’t happen to you because you’re too strong or you’re just a positive thinker. Don’t tell me you know how I feel, you have no idea.

I have been so incredibly supported by so many beautiful people. Angels, every single one of them. But every now and then, I hear an ignorant, thoughtless, unintentional judgment. It’s not helpful. It makes me withdraw. When I’m tired all the time, I don’t have the energy to let thoughtless comments brush over me. We all need to practice empathy. It’s a beautiful gift. There is no greater friend than the one who supports me in my darkest hours.

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Photo via contributor.

How can the forces within work so directly against one another?

My mind runs and runs and runs, high on the desire to complete each task that fills the endless list of “should do’s” or “want to do’s.” It plans for it all. It plans for the daily and it plans for the future and it plans for the passions — the writing, the art classes, the singing, the reading, the cooking, the strengthening, the therapy, the traveling, the career chasing, the world changing.

And the obsession becomes world altering.

But it stops there because the body is numb to it all. If there is no feeling, there is no way to be shaken awake. There is no ear to hear the screams for something to happen, for anything to change.

And so you look up from the bottom of your life, willing your feet to step up. You look up at all of it and you know you should be sitting up there in confident control over the life you so desperately want to own. That throne sits empty because the queen of it all cannot will herself to care about the kingdom only she can help.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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

Thinkstock photo via domoyega

I’ve struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember, since before I had even heard the term.

I was told I was sensitive as a child. I was fidgety, I couldn’t sit still. I would sit for hours on end preoccupied by the tiniest of details. Some days it was what I’d be like as an adult. Some days it was over-thinking something someone has said to me. Some days it was nothing at all. But my brain kept me stuck, running circles around me while I looked at everyone around me moving as if nothing was wrong. But everything felt wrong to me.

 I had big fears. I had nightmares. While this isn’t “abnormal” for any child, the amount of time I spent obsessing and ruminating on any possible chance of those things occurring in a day, was.

One of my most vivid childhood memories involves my biggest fear as a child: needles. I was 6. My parents, two brothers and I had piled into our vehicle and headed off to get a new van at a used car dealership. For some reason, although to this day I don’t know why, the salesman made a joke about needing to draw our blood to make sure we could get the van. I remember instantly bawling, afraid of this jovial and probably charismatic used car salesman. The unpredictable nature of when my fears would come true, haunted me.

My battle with mental illness involves more than just my lifelong struggle with anxiety. My story involves eating disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more. While these things have caused me tremendous amounts of grief, many days I do not dwell on what these battles have cost me. I choose not to list everything my illnesses have taken from me. 

These battles have also given to me. No, “given me hardship” is not where I’m going with this. Struggling with mental illness has had its benefits, as strange as that might seem to say.

I have an immense amount of gratitude for the small things in life. My struggles have given me the opportunity to not take for granted. Things like the first sunny day after a long dreary winter, the unexpected text from someone who just wants to check how you’re doing, freshly washed sheets, the view of the city from work. All of these things — things that are often overlooked — these things my mental illness has robbed joy and appreciation of in the past. These things mean more to me because of my struggles.

My mental illnesses have made me more attuned to others. I am so often aware of other people, first because I think my temperament lends to that, but also because of others. In tough situations or hard conversations, I am always aware of how others experiencing the situation may be feeling. Even just day to day, I reach out to check on others, because I know I appreciate it myself. I know to listen after I ask, I learn what my friends appreciate when they’re struggling.

My mental illness has also has also helped foster something I’m coming to learn may be one of my biggest strengths: writing. I’ve always loved writing, especially as a kid. I wrote poems upon poems in journals, short stories, books for “Young Authors Day” in elementary school. We bound them as real books and I dreamed of having my own real book on a shelf someday. That dream faded for a while, drowned by my struggles. It reemerged however, in a new form when working in therapy and treatment for my eating disorders. Unable to fully process verbally, I turned to writing. And in recovery, I’ve let my writing flow outside of the confines of my journal. Sharing my words and experiences in the hopes of someone reading on the other end relating, and feeling less alone.

I’ve been given unique perspective because of my mental illness. Having endured and battled my own demons, I am able to offer a different view of the world than a lot of others. I am able to know dark parts of the world and my mind, able to speak to the dark and offer advice and encouragement to those who may still be stuck there. I have insights I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have arrived at conclusions about topics I may not have otherwise come into contact with. I know so much more about myself because I have had to inspect every inch of my mind in therapy.

I choose to focus on these things, I choose to cultivate this gratitude because I know what is at stake. I have learned focusing exclusively on the negatives of any situation will only lead me to dark places. I have learned yes, the cliché is true: there is light even in the darkest of stories. 

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Thinkstock photo via ARTQU.

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