What I Tell Myself When My Mental Illness Makes Me Feel 'Less Than' Others
Some days I feel like I am weaker than other people due to my mental illnesses. I feel like other people are resilient and able to deal with everyday stress. I feel like others can be transparent and open about themselves. I feel like other people are happier and more likable. I feel like they are stronger.
In contrast, I feel like I am weak. So many things trigger me. A crowded place can cause a panic attack. A topic of conversation can trigger a flashback. When someone asks me how I am doing, I always hesitate. Do I share the whole truth or just the safe parts? I am continually worried about how people will judge me since my life experiences and thoughts are different from “the norm.”
I look at my classmates and it seems like they all have it together. They seem more self-confident. They seem happier. They are able to talk about their lives without hesitation. I wish I could be stronger, like them.
But then I remind myself of a few other things that are true:
Everyone has struggles I know nothing about. We all work to seem like we have it all together. But everyone has stuff. I just have different stuff on my plate. Yes, my mental illnesses make me more vulnerable to stress, but I have grown so much as a person through my journey with mental illness. In many ways my illnesses have made me stronger. Someone who hasn’t had struggles like I have might have difficulty responding to a crisis. I have coping skills. And there isn’t much that can shock me at this point.
People often talk about survivors. We talk about someone surviving a fire or a hurricane. We talk about someone surviving heart surgery or a lung transplant. We talk about someone surviving other serious illnesses. We talk about people surviving the loss of a friend, relative or pet.
In all of these examples we focus on the strength of the survivor, not the vulnerability caused by the storm. So why is that when we talk about suicide, a mental health crisis, chronic mental illnesses or a mental breakdown, we often blame the person?
I want to tell people instead, “You are so strong. You survived mental health issues including a hospitalization and a suicide attempt. You are a survivor.”
I want to tell people, “You are so strong. You survived weeks of a depressive episode. You fought through it.”
I want to say, “You survived a manic episode. You survived a flashback. You survived a dissociative episode. You survived a battle with self-harm.”
I want to say, “You are battling addictions or thought patterns that are incredibly difficult. You are a fighter.”
My counselor tells me I am like someone with a heart condition. I have difficulty handling stress so I have to be careful not to push myself too hard. Like how someone with a heart condition can’t exert himself too much and put stress on his heart. But at the same time, he says I am a warrior who has fought through so much and not given up. I think someone can be vulnerable and strong at the same time.
I want to encourage you that you are not “less than” others due to having mental illnesses. Everyone has their own battles. Our struggles with mental illness can make us vulnerable at times, but also make us survivors.
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.
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Thinkstock photo via brickrena.