Secrets of People Who Aren't Working Because of Their Mental Illness

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A asked people who aren’t currently working in The Mighty’s mental health community to share one thing they wish others understood about being unemployed with a mental illness.

Read the full version of 16 Secrets of People Who Aren’t Working Because of Their Mental Illness.

Read the full transcript:

Secrets of People Who Aren’t Working Because of Their Mental Illness

“Just because I can’t hold a job doesn’t mean I’m lazy or a bad person.”

“I think a lot of people see depression as choice, like you choose to be like that, but honestly I’d rather anything but the debilitation of depression.”

“How hard it is to even live a day doing nothing but being at war with your mind and body.”

“I wish others understood that I am a very hard worker and that I want to work.”

“Working from home allows me to take breaks if I need to — I don’t have to hide in the toilets to have a panic attack, I don’t have to worry about phoning in sick and getting fired.”

“People seem to think it’s a special privilege to go to therapy once a week and get out of work. It isn’t.”

“I’m not ‘lucky’ to only be working a few days at my paying job. Every day is work for me and my mental illness is a 24/7 job in its own.”

“I wish they’d understand that being at home isn’t like having a day off. It’s constant and it’s crushing.”

“I’m not a bad worker and I’m not ‘asking for hand outs.’ I really want to do my best, but some days it’s really hard for me to put on a smile.”

“I wish people knew that my mental illness doesn’t define me. I wish people would understand I’m not damaged goods.”

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What I Want My Fellow Millennials to Know About Therapy

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Being in your 20s and 30s can be hard. Being in your 20s and 30s while struggling with mental illness can be even harder.

Millennials have a bad reputation. We’re often seen as being lazy, unmotivated, codependent and superficial. In reality, we’re coming of age during a time of incredible social and economic uncertainty, while being broadly expected to succeed more, complain less and lead lives that fit a social media-driven narrative of happiness. Combine the complex socioeconomic landscape with deeply rooted stigmas surrounding mental health care, and what you end up with is a generation of adults who probably need some support, but who are too often hesitant or unable to obtain it.

So much happens during this phase of your life — from starting first jobs to discovering new ways of understanding yourself — that coping with mental health issues can sometimes make this already confusing and stressful time feel almost unbearable.

Let’s take a moment — on this platform that already beautifully normalizes and validates the experiences of those with mental illness — to talk about a valuable, but sometimes complicated truth: it’s OK to not be OK, to need help. Whether you’re coping with a mood disorder, struggling with addiction or just feeling bogged down by the realities of your day-to-day life, it’s OK to seek professional support. Truthfully, it’s more than OK. It takes courage and strength to acknowledge — even to yourself — that you’re struggling, and to reach out for help.

Of course, we can’t discuss help-seeking attitudes or behaviors without also discussing culture and privilege. It’s important to recognize — and not become complacent about — the fact that access to quality mental health care remains strikingly limited for members of the LGBTQ community (particularly youths), people of color, immigrants and the uninsured. This conversation could never be exhaustive in this context, but my goal is to recognize that not everyone is able to address their mental health issues, even if they’re aware of them. Sometimes this is because of a lack of free time or spare funds for therapy, a scarcity of accessible, supportive or affirmative services or a lack of familial and cultural support.

If this sounds like what you’re going through, I know you’re probably doing your best right now. And if reading this site is the only support you can access, please know that’s valuable, too.

Maybe you’re thinking about seeking help, but you’ve never been to therapy before and don’t know how it works. You’re not alone! Use online search engines, insurance databases and friend referrals to find a therapist in your area, then ask them what you can expect. Keep in mind, though, not every therapist works the same way, and it can take some trial and error before you find a professional who you really click with. Finding a therapist is a lot like finding a good pair of shoes: you sometimes have to try a few on before you find the right fit.

Already seeing a therapist? I’ve got five words for you: Heck yes, you’re in therapy.

So many people have a hard enough time remembering to take care of their teeth two times a day (or is it supposed to be three?), let alone setting aside an hour each week to look after their mental health. Whatever it is that brought you there, and whatever it is that keeps you going back each week, is something worth applauding. Heck yes, you’re in therapy.

For many people coping with mental health issues, one of the greatest burdens they carry is that of the seemingly endless stigma surrounding seeking mental health care. Particularly in the United States, there is such an emphasis placed on being “strong,” “resilient” and “healthy.” We idolize people in the media who fit a mold that we’ve created in our shared subconscious. We elect officials who outwardly represent traits we deem “capable” and we shy away from or brush aside members of our society who remind us we’re all human and vulnerable.

I’m not saying we should all give two cheers for mental illness (though if you want to, that’s cool), but our generation has the opportunity to contribute to the destigmatization of these experiences in a meaningful way. Admittedly, I’m a little biased (alright, very biased), but I hope if you find yourself in need of help, you’ll think back to this post and remember that your feelings have value, and that you don’t have to go through difficult situations alone. Talk with a friend, call a crisis line, seek out a professional. It’s not always easy to take steps to feel better, but it is admirable.

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.

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

Thinkstock photo via umbertoleporini.

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5 Ways to Help Build Self-Respect When You Have a Mental Illness

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Resilience is based very much on the ability we have to respect ourselves and trust our instincts. But here is the thing; for many of us who have struggled through difficult lives, battling trauma, depressionanxiety or many other things that cause us to doubt ourselves, trying to build up self-respect is really difficult. Personally too, I find that the worry and distress that comes with mental health issues can make me feel really guilty and useless. Neither of those things is good for cultivating a feeling of respect for myself!

There are several things I am working on. It is hard, but I’m slowly getting there. These are basic principles that help me personally to have a calmer life and to be able to feel better about myself and others. I hope by sharing them, it might help others too. They are simple things really, but like most simple things when you are working on any kind of recovery from a chronic illness, “simple” does not mean “easy.”

1. Try to stop negative self-talk.

It is such a bad habit and kills any respect we may otherwise be able to cultivate for ourselves. It is hard to be confident when someone is constantly being mean to you, pointing out all the mistakes you make and all the ways you fall short. Make a list of your good qualities and refer back to it when you feel inclined to berate yourself about not being good enough.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others.

You are you. No one else in the world can be you; that also means it is pointless comparing yourself to others because you cannot be them. Comparison steals any joy and confidence we have in ourselves, so try to stop doing it right now. It is also incredibly destructive to compare your recovery and life to another person’s. We have all experienced unique things that have made us who we are; while many of us may have had similar experiences in life, they are not ever going to be exactly the same. In other words, I repeat — do not, do not compare yourself to others. Different people recover at different rates and in different ways.

3. Stick to your goals.

I find making plans or goals to be a really frightening thing. My anxiety is always challenging me and saying that if I make a plan I won’t be able to follow through. However, you can make small goals for yourself. Even if it is “brush your hair every morning,” or “brush your teeth,” then give yourself a pat on the back when you have accomplished them. It is OK to start small; sometimes it is the only way!

4. Keep your space clean.

A clean space really helps me to have a clear head. It’s difficult to keep a house clean when you are exhausted from battling through chronic illness, pain or the fatigue that depression brings with it, but I do find that when things are neat, I feel a little calmer. It also gives me permission to then rest, which leads me to the last but probably one of the most important points…

5. Take time for yourself.

Sometimes the thing you need most is to have some time alone or to do something you really want to do that might feel a little frivolous. Get your hair done, go for a walk, have a luxurious long bath, have a cup of tea and read a good book — the list is up to you and is endless. You cannot heal if your battery is flat and you have nothing left — take a few minutes each day to recharge yourself!

We all have to get through the best we can, in the way we find best. But having a fluid list of things that help you to have a little respect for yourself can make a big difference in how strong you can be. Build some self-respect and you build your resilience to the trials that you will face too.

Follow this journey on The Art of Broken

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Thinkstock photo via DariaZu

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21 Things People Who Experienced Childhood Emotional Abuse Want Their Friends to Know

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When you’ve experienced childhood emotional abuse, relating to your peers can often feel difficult. Whether you experienced it in childhood or adolescence, oftentimes finding friends who understand can be really challenging.

Sometimes, you find a kindred spirit who just “gets it.” Other times, it can be easy to feel isolated in the struggles you experience now as a result of emotional abuse in your past — especially if your friends have never experienced it themselves. And when you are struggling, it can be more than exhausting to teach people how to care for you.

We wanted to know how to support a friend who’s experienced emotional abuse in their past, so we asked our mental health community to share one thing they wish their friends knew about their experience with emotional abuse.

 

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “If I don’t hear from [my friends] for even a day, I start to spiral. I perceive it as the beginning of abandonment. I truly believe if I’m not on their mind, I don’t exist to them. My constant texting is my way of making sure they’re still a part of my life.”

2. “It affects me even still today at almost 30. My reaction when someone raises their voice has nothing to do with the person raising their voice, but just the fact that the voice was raised. It immediately makes me feel like a child again. I will apologize until I’m blue in the face, even when I’ve done nothing wrong, because I can’t stand feeling like someone is upset with me. I got the ‘silent treatment’ constantly when I did something ‘wrong’ so when someone goes quiet, I automatically feel like I’ve done something wrong and the person is mad at me.”

3. “Everyone I knew thought my mother was really lovely. I was called a liar many times when I tried to tell people what she was like and what she did to me — emotionally and physically… She was perfectly nice to everybody and played a vulnerable woman well… but with me, she was completely different and nobody believed me. It has left me [feeling like] even counselors don’t believe me when I’m talking to them. I always feel that people think I make stuff up all the time and disbelieve me.”

4. “I wish one thing people understood was how harmful family can be. I got abuse from all members of my family and because of that, I’ve kicked them out of my life. Most my friends don’t understand how I can do that to my immediate family. But it’s my only chance at happiness.”

5. “I might get clingy. I’ve been hurt by many people close to me and not so close, so when you treat me like a human being, I’m going to get attached… I don’t mean to get all obsessive and clingy, but you made me feel special for once.”

6. “Cutting family out of your life is OK and you shouldn’t be shamed for it. You need to do what is best for your health and happiness and if that means removing toxic people, then that is OK.”

7. “I’m not healed and probably never will be. I’m mourning a childhood I never got. And will probably be for the rest of my life. People like [me may be] a bit broken. We need a little extra care and understanding when it comes to friendships and relationships. We’ll have bad days that are filled with flashbacks or just bad memories. A lot of us have triggers that might not make sense. We just need compassion. Empathy. [Please] don’t try to ‘fix’ us because for the most part, we can’t. We can heal, we can get past it, come to terms with it. But we wont ever get back a childhood. We won’t ever not have those memories. We wont ever forget.”

8. “I am hypervigilant. When I ask five times, “Are you OK?” it’s because I’ve been trained to assess the situation over and over again to make sure myself and those around me are safe and happy. I was required to fix all of the problems, so I will constantly try to fix yours and will get scared when I can’t.”

9. “You never really ‘get over it.’ Any small comment or action (like forgetting to respond to a text) can trigger my core beliefs that I am a burden, unlovable and that they are better off without me in their life.”

10. “The scars never go away. The pain is as real today as it was when it happened. I don’t always stay focused during conversations because my mind has learned to dissociate to survive.”

 

11. “If you try to gently correct [or] critique me and I get defensive, it’s not because I can’t take constructive criticism. It’s because I had to grow up constantly prepared to defend myself against emotional blows.”

12. “I cannot accept compliments and will forever question your motives. I will always be worried and insecure and it is so deeply ingrained in me that it takes a long time to trust. Sometimes, I will also tell you a little bit too much to try and scare you away.”

13. “Being able to identify why I act or don’t act the way I do does not change the situation or my ability to trust and behave like ‘normal’ people, it just allows me to let you know what’s going on.”

14. “I never think I’m good enough. People can be talking about something or someone completely unrelated, but I always think they’re whispering about me. I constantly berate myself for being ‘stupid’ after saying something. I always anticipate the worst and expect friends to drop out of my life forever. Fights are even worse. I don’t know how to have an argument without thinking that friendship or relationship is over, no matter how small it is.”

15. “Raised voices immediately make me panic. Even if it’s raised voices for good things, it still gives me flashbacks.”

16. “If you make me feel guilty — intentionally or not — I’m likely to just do whatever it is you’re asking, but feel somewhat betrayed and possibly avoid you. Guilt trips will always work on me. Yes, I know I can say ‘no’ to people, but you wouldn’t believe how awful it makes me feel.”

17. “Please stop telling me other people have it ‘worse,’ or that I ‘should be grateful.’ If things are bad for me, they’re bad for me, period.”

18. “[For me,] it’s never over. It’s not the physical aspects. It’s not a bruise that goes away or a fracture that heals. Memories never leave [me] and they can strike in a unexpected flashback, bringing back sensations, fear, pain, smells and sounds. The emotional response that helped [me] get through it also lingers, it’s [my] defense mechanism.

19. “I was a complete loner because I couldn’t talk about what was going on at home… I desperately needed someone I could trust, someone who truly cared about me with real compassion, to talk to.”

20. “I wish my friends understood that my past doesn’t define me, but it does affect me. I wish they would treat me according to this, rather than labeling me as ‘clingy,’ ‘needy’ and having ’emotional hangups.’ I’m a work in progress.”

21. “Emotional abuse is still considered abuse.”

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.

Thinkstock photo via Purestock.

21 Things People Who Experienced Childhood Emotional Abuse Want Their Friends to Know
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8 Ways My Mental Illness Support Group Has Helped Me Grow

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I’m currently studying to become a counselor, and I keep feeling this pull between my professional and personal self. I have to seem composed and competent in my classes while struggling with mental issues on the inside.

A year ago, I decided that I needed to find a place where it was safe to just be myself. I nervously tried a peer support group through the National Alliance on Mental Illness(NAMI). I was surprised with how much I liked it. Going to NAMI support groups regularly really helped me. After a year of attendance, I have grown so much. That is why I encourage others to try a support group as part of their recovery.

Support groups have helped me in several ways:

1. They show me I’m not alone.

Before NAMI, I only had a few friends who struggle with mental illness. Often, I felt like I had “unusual” problems and no one understood me. After attending support groups, I’ve found people who understand me and who have been in the same position as me. It is so refreshing talking to people who “get me.” It makes me feel like I’m not alone.

2. They provide a safe space where I can be myself.

I usually feel like I have to censor parts of myself. I am usually on alert, deciding which parts of me are safe to share. I try to be positive so I am not the “depressing friend,” or try not to act “weird” so I don’t make things awkward. At support meetings, I can just be me. It is the most amazing feeling. I can let down my defenses. I can relax. I go to the meetings and tell the entire story about how I am doing right now and what is going on in my life. The people there just get me. And we are strict about confidentiality, what is said in group stays in group. I never worry about people talking about me outside of group.

3. I’ve learned how to talk about my mental illness.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to find the right words to talk about my feelings and experiences with mental illness. By going to support groups, I learn ways to better explain how I’m feeling. I am able to talk about my mental issues in a way other people can understand. We often talk about how to explain our mental illness to family members and how to be our own advocates in the workplace. I’ve learned how to talk about my illness in different situations.

4. They let me bounce find new ideas for different coping strategies.

It’s great to have people to talk to about coping skills. I have been having a lot of anxiety recently and members of my group have shared tips for how they handle anxiety. Sometimes it’s things they have developed on their own, but often it’s things they have learned in therapy or treatment.  Lately in group we were talking about which mental health apps help us. We’ve also talked about how to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts, among other things.

5. They give me a place to ask difficult questions related to my mental illness.

I’ve asked group members their opinions on having children when you struggle with mental illness. We’ve talked about alternative methods of treatment. We’ve talked about the benefits and downfalls of being on medication. And we’ve talked about how it is difficult to manage relationships along with our illnesses. It’s a place where it’s OK for me to talk about these hard questions and receive helpful feedback.

6. They help me be more gracious with myself.

I tend to be really hard on myself. I get easily frustrated with myself for not managing my illnesses as well as I would like. But at the support groups, people give me grace. They understand how hard things can be. When I come in angry with myself for having a panic attack, they offer me grace without judgment, letting me know that they understand how challenging anxiety and panic attacks are, and that it’s OK. Whatever state I am in that day, it’s OK.

7. They helps me learn about my growth.

It’s often hard for me to take a step back and see how I am changing. But the members of the support group notice how I am changing in the long-term. It’s really encouraging when a group member comments that I am doing much better than I was a few months ago. It’s incredibly helpful. And as I can see group members improving in their own mental health, it gives me hope that I’m improving as well. When I have a bad week, it helps me to have group members talk about how I have been doing really well but that it’s just a bad week and I will come out of it. I’ve come to group with many different problems, and later I’ve asked group members if I seem different. It helps to know how I appear to others while having different mental health issues.

8. They’ve allowed me to make good friends.

I have made some good friends through these support groups. It’s awesome to have friends who get me and who I can relate to. I’m grateful to NAMI support groups for bringing us together.

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

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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What to Consider Before Throwing a Surprise Party for Someone With a Mental Illness

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Surprise parties are fun for everyone, right?

Wrong!

While many people enjoy the surprise element, some can shy away from the practice. Coming home to a darkened house, only to be greeted by bright lights and loud noise, can be an alarming experience.

For a person with a mental illness, it can sometimes be a nightmare.

My husband once decided to throw me a small surprise party. We and another couple were cleaning up an old house while a few friends gathered back at home.

One of the people had actively discouraged him from having the party. My friend had experienced depression and dissociative identity disorder (DID), and knew how difficult such an event would be for him. He also knew about my depression and some of the incidents associated with birthday parties in my mind.

For instance, when I was a young teen, my “best friend” at the time and I were supervising a party of younger children. During the game of Pin the Tail On the Donkey, while I was blindfolded, she kicked me in the butt. Literally. In front of all the kids.

It was the occasion of my first major meltdown. For years afterward, I would not even admit to having a birthday, much less let anyone celebrate it.

My friend had experienced similar traumas involving groups of children, humiliation and abuse. He was not able to cope with surprise parties and thought I might freak out as well.

Fortunately, decades had gone by since my traumatic party experience. I had been diagnosed and properly medicated and counseled about my issues. My husband knew me well enough to realize I could tolerate a small, low key surprise party. And so I did.

Still, my friend was right to be concerned.

Common events at surprise parties are triggers for many people. Another friend of mine has panic attacks when there’s lightning. Would flash photography set her off? I don’t know, but I don’t want to be the one who finds out. If the party is held in a restaurant, a person who hates being singled out in a crowd of strangers may have problems. People hiding in one’s home could cause flashbacks of a home invasion. My startle reflex is hypersensitive and could easily be triggered by sudden, unexpected shouts of “Happy birthday!”

Even opening presents in front of others can be difficult if one has trouble with socializing, having the “appropriate” facial expressions or having spontaneous conversation.

So how do you give a surprise party for someone with certain types of mental illness?

I believe you shouldn’t.

If you think you must, ask the person what kind of party he or she would prefer, and abide by those wishes. You can suggest a surprise party, with the time and place being the surprises, but again, abide by the person’s wishes.

It can be helpful to prepare a small, low key surprise rather than a party. Give a present a day or two before the actual date. Pack a slice of cake in the person’s lunch. Or take the person out to lunch. (Warn the restaurant personnel not to march around singing and waving balloons, if you mention that it’s a birthday lunch at all.)

Another helpful tip is to not have party games, unless they are non-threatening ones like MadLibs or trivia. Forget ones involving physical contact like Twister or ones that involve sensory deprivation like “Blind Man’s Bluff.”

You may wish to avoid serving alcohol, especially if the honoree doesn’t drink because of psychiatric medication. Booze-fueled parties can become loud and rowdy.

Make it short. Personally, spending an hour with a group of four or more — even if they are all my friends — is about all I can take. And then I want to lie down afterward.

Personally, I could live my life happily without ever having another surprise party thrown for me (even though the one my husband threw would have to be called a success). Nor will I be upset if I never get invited to another surprise party. I’ll be too busy worrying what it might be doing to the honoree to enjoy myself.

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

Thinkstock photo via KutcherAV.

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