For people who don’t live with a mental illness, it can be difficult to know what someone struggling with one is “like.” If we aren’t careful, stigma can easily inform how we view these individuals, even though mental illness expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might may appear to be functioning well — it’s different for everyone.
To find out how mental illness shows itself in ways other people can’t see, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they have a mental illness.
Here’s what they had to say:
1.“[I] dodge phone calls. I’d much rather talk via text. I don’t know why, [but] there’s something about talking on the phone that makes my anxiety act up.” — Christa M.
2. “I sleep until noon, but it isn’t [just] sleeping. It’s hiding from the world. I still get my job done, but just getting out of bed and facing the world hurts.” — Ryan M.
3. “[I] let my room get messy. It sometimes gets to the point where in parts, you can’t see the floor. I hate looking at it every day but there is just no drive inside of me to clean it.” — Teigan M.
4. “I am the queen of being busy. I mean, I work full-time, but besides that, I don’t visit family because I’m ‘too busy.’ I keep to myself because I’m ‘too busy.’ I don’t clean one day because I’m ‘too busy’ and I just need a break.” — Tiff K.
5. “Putting my physical health at risk. I tell myself it’s in my head because that is what I have been told so many times before. I will avoid doctors until I develop unbearable symptoms or become [incredibly] paranoid.” — Charlotte U.
6. “It is something I’ve overcome, but driving! I was 23 before I got my driver’s license. I still don’t drive on the freeway, and I’m 26. It’s been a [debilitating] thing I’ve always had to fight.” — Krystal M.
7. “People don’t realize why I miss work so much. I can barely get out of bed anymore. It’s painful to always be told how ‘lazy’ I am when I’m trying to stay alive.” — Alicia F.
8. “Doing nothing and not having an explanation for being disconnected from society in a way and being consumed in isolation and silence. Alternatively, doing certain actions based on impulse that don’t really have an explanation, as well occurring seemingly at random. I believe both are induced by my mental illnesses, the former being from depression, and the latter being from anxiety.” — John C.
9. “People think I don’t listen because I can’t remember things. The brain fog sucks.” — Laura G.
10. “I sleep way too much. I hide from people. I avoid talking to people, which damages relationships. I chew on the inside of my lips and cheeks and the sides of my tongue. I have permanent blisters. I do everything myself because I cannot ask for help. I stay exhausted.” — Kaity O.
11. “I have to ask for clarification on directions or instructions multiple times. I know what to do, but I get so worried I’m going to forget so I have to make sure I know every step. It’s the same with when I meet people places, especially if I am going by myself. I have to triple check the time and place before I feel comfortable enough to go. Both of these scenarios become extremely frustrating to those around me. I always feel like they think I’m ‘dim’ or unable to understand anything, but I am just trying to calm the voices in my head.” — Emily H.
12. “[I] forget important events. Such as final exams and important projects. At first I thought it was just my memory, but after making three schedules, I still forget everything.” — Briar P.
13. “When I’m out and about I always [have] my headphones in. Even if it’s to the shop across the road. [There is] too much going on outside for me to focus. Also [if] I’m in a busy area, I need someone with me and I wear my sunglasses. I wear the sunglasses to trick my mind [into thinking] it’s darker outside. Whoever is with me has to stay beside me at all times so I don’t feel overpowered by all the other people around me.” — Michael D.
14. “People don’t realize I feed off of their mood. One minute I will be having a great day and then someone comes along with negativity and drama and my whole day is ruined and they are over it in five minutes.” — Jennifer F.
15. “[I] sit staring into space, even when in a social situation. Or [I] just lie in my room in bed not moving. Sometimes you just have no drive to do anything, stuck in the ‘in between’ stage [when] you aren’t dead, but you don’t feel alive. It’s like you’re drifting halfway between.” — Georgia C.
16. “[I find myself] picking my skin. When I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I pick at my arms.” — Mikehla D.
17. “I have a bad habit of keeping things bottled up when I really want to talk, although I can’t convince myself to just talk to someone because I feel a burden. Then I go quiet and say I’m alright when I’m really not.” — Robbie M.
18. “My friends don’t understand when I just disappear for a while and ignore everyone. I come off as rude to them but they don’t know that I just need some time to gather myself occasionally.” — Nathan D.
19. “My impulsivity and intensity are not because I am mean, ignorant or reckless — they are due to my bipolar disorder. I feel way too many emotions at once or I feel one emotion strongly and no others. I cannot control certain urges sometimes, such as impulsive raising of my voice, going on dangerous shopping sprees, starting arguments with people because my emotions are more powerful than my logic in the moment, etc. [I] think of my brain as a scale like the sign of Libra. The emotion side is far heavier than the logic side. The right system of medication and therapy help me to realize and work on this.” —Betsi L.
20. “[I] act perfectly normal. Usually I’m smiling, laughing and talking as I normally would, appearing functional. The reality is I’m exhausted, sad and empty. In fact someone said to me today it’s so hard to tell I have a mental illness because I cover it up so well in front of others.” — Amy B.
What would you add?
Thinkstock photo via bruniewska.