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My life with mental illness is a series of ups and downs. During the downs, the very act of surviving takes every scrap of energy, courage and strength I can muster. But during the ups, I want to live — and more than that — I want to enjoy life.

The thing is, though, it’s rarely easy.

The phrase, “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” taken from the seminal self-help book of the same name, has become a mantra for encouraging us to grab the bull by the horns and face our anxieties and self-doubts head on. But when you struggle with mental illness, the fear can be so intense, so overwhelming, that “doing it anyway,” simply isn’t an option.

All too often, my self-esteem is so lacking that I just don’t believe I’m capable or worthy of doing whatever it is that I’d really like to do. I’m absolutely certain I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not “well” enough.

Take something simple, like going to church choir practice. I want to go, I really do. But my “messed up” mind starts telling me all the reasons I shouldn’t. What makes you think you’re a good enough singer? It goads me. Everyone will be secretly laughing at you. No one wants you there, they’re just too polite to tell you. You don’t fit in, remember? You’re crazy if you think you could ever be part of this.

Before I know it, I’ve talked myself out of going. But then, I chastise myself. You’re pathetic. What’s the big deal? Everyone else manages to go without having an existential crisis about it.

The result? I end up curled in my bed, lonely, sad, hating myself for my ineptitude, my lack of perseverance, my “weakness.” I curse myself for not being able to do something I really wanted to do. And it feeds the monsters that live in my mind and tell me I’m useless, worthless, good for nothing.

I know I “should” be able to feel the fear and do it anyway, but I can’t. The fear that comes with mental illness is not something that can be overcome by taking a couple of deep breaths and “growing a pair.” It takes on a life of its own, and convinces me this thing I’m facing, whatever it might be, is too much.

Sometimes, I let a friend in. I tell someone how scared I’m feeling, how overwhelmed. But often, their kind and gentle encouragement makes me feel worse. They mean to build me up and give me confidence. They tell me I can do it, tell me I’m strong enough, but I can’t and I’m not, and that adds to the sense of failure.

Occasionally — very occasionally — I do try to face my fears, bolstered by medication that helps suppress the all-consuming sense of terror. And invariably, it’s not as terrifying as I expected. In fact, I gain strength from the fact I did it, even if it was with the support of medication. Those times are few and far between, but they give me a sliver of hope that it won’t always be like this.

For now, though, I have to accept I’m not always able to face my fears. All of my efforts are channelled into keeping my head above the water, and adding extra strain can easily pull me under.

To outsiders, I know it must look as if I’m not trying, as if I’m giving in too easily. Please know I really am trying – but that I have to respect my limits, or I’m in danger of making myself more unwell. Please don’t stop encouraging me, but understand I’m not always going to be able to “man up” or “just get on with it.”

Because when you live with mental illness, it’s not always possible to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” no matter how much you want to.

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Thinkstock photo via ofkosnekras.

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I want to talk about the “evil twins” of mental illness: guilt and shame. Even though they are so incredibly strong and color our lives so much, they can be defeated.

Shame is a b*tch. It really is. Especially shame for having a mental illness. Why is that something to be ashamed of? Are people ashamed when they break their leg? No. It can happen to anyone, just like mental illness can. Any size, shape, creed, color, background, orientation, social class. It can happen to anyone. If you have a mental illness, there is nothing you did wrong, and there is nothing you did to “earn” or “deserve” it. It just happened. And there is absolutely no shame in that, no matter what society or your demons say. You didn’t choose this, and it isn’t your fault. I promise.

And that leads us to guilt. I find guilt and shame go hand in hand. You will rarely find one without the other. I believe guilt makes us believe we are everything our demons say we are, that this is our fault, that we deserve it. This is not true! We are so much more than what our demons say we are. We are so much more than what our minds may lead us to believe. We are worth so much more. Many of our lives are already not made easy by the presence of mental illness. We can’t give in to what the evil twins want us to believe.

We should not feel shame for being sick. We should not feel guilty for being sick. It is not our fault. We did not choose this. And we do not deserve this. If you hold true to these things, even when it’s dark and lonely and you’re surrounded by screaming demons, I believe you will have a foothold in the climb to recovery. I have faith in you.

I know you didn’t ask for this. I know you don’t deserve this. I know you don’t want to be sick. I don’t either. But I do know you have the inner strength, the endurance, the tenacity and the will to continue forward and reach recovery. You can do it. I can do it. We can, and will do it.

Give shame and guilt the bird. Remind myself of your strength, your beauty and your will to endure, and keep moving. We got this.

Stay strong.

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Thinkstock photo via Alvaro Cabrera jimenez. 


It’s pain. You feel it in your heart, looking at your loved one who’s struggling. You want to do anything to help them. You want to tell them how wonderful they are. You want to explain how much love you have for them. You’re not sure they’d hear it right now though.

Actually, you’re definitely sure they won’t.

You see them day in and day out, fighting the intangible demons in their soul and you just want to fight with them. You want to stand at their side and tell them you know how strong they are, that this is something temporary and this too shall pass. You’ve seen them come back from darker moments but you’re not sure if this is the one that breaks the camel’s back.

You want to be their strength in this time of weakness. You want to carry them on your back as their knees get weaker and weaker and standing becomes almost too much for them to bear. As life kicks them square in the jaw, you’re the one picking them up every time and reminding them they can do this. They can get through this.

How do I know about the pain you’re feeling while struggling to love your loved one? I see that same pain in the faces of the people who love me every time I feel like giving up. I hear the determination in their voice to try to save me when I’m at my lowest point in my depression.

I feel their love when the numbness takes over my entire body and getting out of bed isn’t going to happen that day.

I fully believe people with mental illnesses are warriors who are so strong, embracing their struggles and dealing with their shit. I also know that their loved ones, our loved ones, are heroes. Sometimes our loved ones are the only shining beacon of light in dark and painful times.

I know it’s hard for me to appreciate those people when I’m struggling. It’s hard for me to remember every single person who showers me with unconditional love when my heart is broken into millions of little pieces. Those people crouch beside me and help me pick up the pieces time and time again. They lie next to me when I can’t get out of bed and comfort me by just being there.

I know there’s things you wish you could do — a way to take the pain away that’s plaguing your loved one so bad right now. I know there’s a need to fix everything. I also know there’s a helplessness you feel when you realize that sometimes you can’t do something to help. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to do. No matter what, the love you give is enough. It’s enough to be just a phone call away. It’s enough to just give us a hug when things feel like they’re collapsing. It’s enough to just be there.

So this is an appreciation to all the loved ones out there who are loving the shit out of people with mental illnesses. This is also for the people who don’t turn their back when someone is struggling to deal with their own heartache. This is for the people who continuously love no matter what.

You are appreciated for being you and for loving us when we need it most. Thank you.

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Like many helping professionals, I started out in a master’s program with the goal of helping other people. I dreamed about holistically changing lives. I thought with the right training, I could truly help others. I thought it was my purpose in life.

Now I am a young therapist, two years in if you count my internships. I don’t even have a state license yet. I work in an emergency room, assessing patients with psychiatric needs. I help them get the treatment they need, provide resources, refer to outpatient providers. Sounds like a helpful thing, right? It is, some days. Until I feel like I have miserably failed my patients.

If I’ve learned anything in these two years, it’s that America’s mental health system is broken. When it comes to a disposition, i.e. where the patient is going to go next, we have few options in the ER. If a patient is cooperative and wants treatment and fits in these little boxes, everything works out. Except I work with people, and very few fit into a little box that a government agency or a CEO of a for-profit hospital system came up with. A lot more people fall through the cracks.

I have urged families to call the police on their own children because there’s no other way to get them to treatment. I have witnessed mentally ill patients be taken to jail, and there was nothing I could do. I have cared for patients who have been in the ER for days at a time, with minimal medical care, because they cannot function outside a facility. But no facility we try to get them to wants to care for them, so they just lie there until we can figure out some sort of plan or we can no longer legally hold them.

I have admitted people to a psychiatric facility knowing it probably wouldn’t help them but having to prioritize my hospital’s liability. I have hospitalized patients who truly needed it but who may lose their job due to “unexcused” absences. And they do lose their jobs every day, whether that’s “legal” or not. I have encouraged people that they will get better, when really I have no idea.

I have admitted transgender and gender nonconforming patients to facilities, unsure if their hormone regimen or even gender identity will be honored once they’re in the hospital. I’ve had to explain to them and their partners that their identity likely won’t be honored, in fact. I’ve attempted to give them autonomy in the decision but worry they’ll be traumatized no matter what.

I have advocated for patients, only to be shut down. I’ve watched as patients I knew went to the ICU after suicide attempts. I admit the same patients over and over again because nothing the system has to offer is really helping.

I’ve had good days too.

I have advocated for patients and actually succeeded. I let a patient smoke after I had to tell him he’d be admitted involuntarily. I volunteered to watch him myself. It significantly helped his anxiety in that really scary moment.

I made a patient smile after my usual joke of “hope I don’t see you again… in a good way” as he left the ER. I’ve had parents hug me, patients too. I’ve been told I’m the first person to actually help them. A patient I know really well told me how much her outpatient group was truly helping her gain insight. Some patients recover and live their lives and never see me again. That’s a good thing.

I know I help some days. But I can’t help but wonder what happens to my patients after they leave my ER. I worry for my patient when I send her to a hospital I know has a bad reputation. I do it anyway because I have to. My job is to get her out of the ER and get her to whatever facility accepts her first. Choice isn’t really part of the deal. I’ve called CPS on parents who simply didn’t want to pick up their child from the ER. I don’t know what happens to them.

I see a lot of people who shouldn’t have any diagnoses but do because we have to label them to bill their insurance and get them help. And that label could stick for decades until someone is brave enough to challenge it. I see others who have never been diagnosed, and just giving them an idea of what could be going on is life-changing because now they have a direction in which to go. They needed answers more than anything else.

I hear about horrific trauma and abuse. And I assess entitled people who want a magic pill to fix all their problems. I wish I could offer that. People ask me for more pain pills, even though I know they’ve gotten early refills for months. When I say no, they scream at me.

Sometimes, my best efforts fail. The reason I say this is because there are a lot of people out there who need to know that a bad experience with the mental health system doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Many of us really do care about each and every patient we see. We know what we’re up against with the resources we have, and we wish it were different. But right now, all we can do is fight for the best care we can give in the moment.

Working in mental health has taught me how little control I have. I only have control over what I say and how I treat people. So I hope to use that to empower people to take back their mental health and their lives, and to stand as their ally.

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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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.

We all have those “bad days” — days where the protection of sheets and blankets seems like the safest place to be, like nothing bad can happen if I remain ensconced among the soft cotton and feather quilt.

They are days where my neck and shoulders ache from tension and I feel like my jaw is going to explode right off the sides of my face. Days when every face seems like judgment day and every whisper sounds like an accusation, a guilty verdict. Days when every noise sounds like impending doom and destruction. Days when nothing seems to go right and I have to concentrate on breathing and taking it slow. One step at a time. One foot in front of the next.

On days like these, I find comfort and release in music … sometimes. When nothing else is there for me, these songs help pull me through.

1. “Break On Me” by Keith Urban

This song is an actual emotional release, perfectly describing “those days.” It feels like a hug.

2. “How Not To” by Dan + Shay


This song is about recovery and endurance through strength and love. It helps me to know all is not lost and better days are ahead.

3. “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer

This is a happy beat — just a small reminder to “keep your head up” through the tough days.

4. “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw


Just a reminder there a good people in the world.

5. “Why” by Rascal Flatts


This is a very emotional one and very close to my heart. Rascal Flatts sing about the tragedy of suicide and the terrible aftermath.

6. “Let It Hurt” by Rascal Flatts


Here is another emotional release. Take all that pain and “let it hurt, let it bleed.” I’ve cried through this song countless times and felt better afterward. Essentially about bullying but can really take on any meaning.

7. “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten


This one is a reminder you have your “people” and they won’t leave you. The music is uplifting and the words are inspiring.

8. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten


This song is empowering. Keep fighting!

9. “Gravity” by Sarah Bareille


I like this song because it can be interpreted in countless ways. It’s about whatever is pulling you into a negative gravity. The music is enchanting and I find it to be eye-opening and uplifting.

10. “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts


This last one is one of my favorites. It does have a bit of a morbid twist, but at the same time, it shows love and afterlife. There are sadness and comfort in the lyrics. The music is poignant and flows over you.

Music like this has saved me many times. I am not alone. Neither are you.

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.

Unsplash photo via Sai Kiran Anagani


I want to be the girl everyone thinks I am.

The one who’s taken on the world without any sort of issue. The one who stands up for everything she believes in. The girl who’s managed to change sceneries time and time again without even batting an eyelash. I want to be the girl in my photos who’s smiling or laughing with different people in different places.

I don’t want to be the girl who’s currently cowered under her duvet wondering when everything got to a point of no return. I don’t want to be the girl who’s been under such stress from her own depression and anxiety that she’s had to move back home. The girl who’s had trouble admitting to herself that things aren’t going well. That everything that’s been going on lately has been way too much for her to shoulder on her own.

I want to be the girl who used to have everything come so naturally and easy that it looked so effortless. Life doesn’t work that way, though. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last 26 years of being on this Earth is that at one point or another we’re all going to struggle. Some of us will struggle privately and manage to pull ourselves out of our darkest moments.

Some of us will realize there comes a time and point when we need to lean on all the people who love us wholeheartedly for extra love during times of despair.

The older I get the more I realize we’re so scared to talk about when we’re going through the really bad lows. That is largely due to the new normal of being flawless on social media. We look at everyone else’s lives that are going perfectly and compare them to our own. Comparison is natural, but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to such extreme points that it makes us question our own worth.

I find my default is comparing my older self to my younger self. I look back at 21 and think about how back then I was drinking way too much, dating really shitty guys and ignoring all of the mental health warning flags that kept appearing. I didn’t give a shit about being unhealthy because I didn’t have time to care about myself. I was too busy trying to find my worth at the bottom of a bottle or on the other side of some loser’s bed. To me though, in those moments of comparison, everything is idealized and romanticized. I only see the good.

I can logically look at those situations now and see the imperfections within them. I can see the damaging behavior I had allowed into my life daily.

I can see the fact that those decisions I made back then have made me who I am today.

While I wouldn’t change any experience I’ve had, I just wish I had been honest with myself back then. Maybe then I wouldn’t be the girl who’s holed up in her bedroom trying to figure out how to feel happiness again.

It’s scary to stand here with my chest open and all my feelings spilling out of me like I don’t have any time to catch them. It’s scary to admit my depression has hit such a low that my life has now been altered in major ways. It’s scary to think that from here on out I’m probably not going to be the same person anymore.

 We get caught up in the fact that there will be people who turn their backs on you when you start getting real about your mental illness. We start to worry that the judgments are going to be worse that silently struggling through the day. We don’t want to start being handled like we’re breakable. While I know the only thing that should matter is getting better, I also am well aware of how it feels to be belittled for having anxiety and depression.

So while you’re sitting at home, trying to figure out if you should keep on pretending that you’re OK, or if you should reach out to someone close to you to tell them that right now you’re not sure how to keep it together, my advice is this; it’s always better to deal with it head on than to let it fester. Fuck anyone who thinks you’re weak because of your mental illness.

You are brave. You are strong. You will find your happiness again. All you need to do is put yourself first and other’s opinions last.

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 JulJuli

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