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Dear Mental Illness Warriors, Your Story Is Gold

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Living with a mental illness is hard. For those of us who struggle, we are painfully aware of the hardship. Dealing with thoughts, countless appointments, soul searching, vulnerability, emotion work, trauma work, medication side effects — the list goes on. A lot of these become second nature — we don’t even notice anymore.

But one thing I always notice is the shame surrounding mental illness.

For the longest time, I told myself I wasn’t ashamed of my illness. I knew it didn’t define me and I was accepting of the fact that it was a big part of my life. But I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. At least, not really.

I didn’t want them to know that when I say I spent six months in treatment for an eating disorder, I don’t mean that I’m recovered now. I don’t want them to know that at the beginning of treatment, I didn’t even want to get better — I knew I was slowly killing myself and I didn’t care. I didn’t want them to know that I take antidepressants, or that I have trouble sleeping and I’ve had panic attacks while driving on the interstate. Because when I put it like that, I can’t help but feel like I’m “crazy.” I often feel like too much for people to accept. Surely they’ll stop talking to me or shy away because I’m too much for them to swallow.

What I didn’t realize is that these experiences I had, the struggles I continue to deal with, they have power. Sure, they have power over me, but moreover, they have power to define who I am and what I choose to do with that. I spent a hell of a long time learning that I am not my illness. And I’m not. But I do have an illness, and I continue to fight it every day.

Instead of being ashamed of my experiences, I can own them. Hell, I’m proud of myself for overcoming all that I have. The progress I’ve made is remarkable, and I shouldn’t demean that by trying to shove it away. It isn’t a hastily written chapter in a book that I want to shut tight and put away, never to be read.

I’m proud of every pound I gained, every time I chose not to harm myself, every day I woke up and dragged myself out of bed and sat in therapy groups and meal supports and weekly physicals for hours on end. Every bite I took, every tear I shed, every panic attack I survived — those were battles I won. There is power in strength I once saw as weakness.

Recently, I got an opportunity to work with a nonprofit organization that supports eating disorder awareness and prevention. I’ll be assisting in organizing events and, much to my surprise, I was asked to be a recovery speaker. I was taken back. “We think your story is really powerful,” they said. I paused for a moment, completely struck by the words I had just read.

I’d spent the last few months adjusting to living at home and trying to figure out who I was now that I was outpatient. I wanted to make friends, but I was so scared of people knowing my story. I felt weary and weathered and broken compared to my peers. But when I read that one sentence, something clicked. A fundamental piece of recovery fell into place the moment I realized that owning my story and sharing it publicly could help people — a lot of people. Myself included.

This was a several days ago, and since then, I’ve made it a point not to hide my past. I’ve been talking openly about my illnesses, my struggles, my triumphs and all the real recovery moments that have come and gone, and I’m amazed at how much better I feel. I’d always been terrified of dwelling on the past and getting stuck there. I’m not dwelling on it though. By taking ownership of the power of my story, I’ve given it permission to exist as just that. I’m ready to leave those feelings of fear and inadequacy and shame in the past and use my experiences as tools to build my future — not as chains that hold me down.

I encourage anyone struggling to take a moment and realize how your experiences have helped you. It’s a strange concept, I know. But has your past made you kinder? Wiser? More introspective, self-compassionate, spontaneous, careful, bold or social? Maybe it’s a person, a place or an experience. That doesn’t discount all the suffering or the pain you’ve endured, but hopefully it makes you a little more accepting of this part of you. You have a story and your words are power. They are liberating and inspiring and heart-wrenching, but most of all, they tell a story that deserves to be told.

Warrior, your story is gold.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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

Thinkstock photo via ipopba

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The 'Ugly' Side of Self-Care We Don't Talk About

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No one talks about the “ugly side” of self-care. Self-care isn’t always candle lit bubble baths or reading a book by the pool or sipping hot drinks while watching reruns of old school sitcoms. Most of the time self care is forcing yourself to get up in the morning to go to work because otherwise you can’t afford food and calling in sick isn’t an option. Often, it’s taking a shower even though you would rather be in bed. It’s taking your medication and pushing on with the day. It’s forcing yourself to engage with your friends even though you’d rather be crying alone in your room. It’s feeding the cat every morning even though you would rather die than move out of your bed which has become your haven. It’s going to countless psychiatry appointments and taking in their advice. It’s using coping methods rather than drowning yourself in self-destruction. It’s forcing yourself to eat your dinner and smile in the mirror. Self-care isn’t always beautiful — most of the time self-care sucks, but it’s what has to be done.

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 Natalia_flurno.

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Chris Grady's 'Lunar Baboon' Comic Spreads Positivity While Depicting Mental Health Struggles

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Chris Grady, a teacher from Toronto and the artist behind the Instagram account “Lunar Baboon,” wants to bring small moments of happiness to people’s days with his creative family-centered comics.

Each comic follows a father and his wife and children, based on Grady and his own family, through their daily adventures, often offering a glimpse into the introspective, relatable monologue of Grady’s father character. While the comics are often sweet and lighthearted, they’re also powerful and honest in depicting a character’s struggle with mental illness.

young boy teaching father and son about planets in a comic

Wife comforting her husband who is depressed

When asked what inspired the account, Grady told The Mighty:

After the birth of my first son, I was going through a really hard time. I wasn’t sleeping and started getting really depressed and found myself in a dark place. I needed something different, I was having a lot of negative thoughts and I needed a place to put them so I started drawing in a moleskin notebook and it’s taken off from there.

Since Lunar Baboon launched, its Instagram account has garnered more than 219,000 followers, and you can often see Grady’s illustrations making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Each comic contains a moment of wholesome humor, sweetness, a lesson for kids or heartrending, relatable honesty about mental health. Grady manages to capture all these complexities in a few short panels through simple, iconic illustrations.

He says inspiration for his comics also comes from having been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “I didn’t really know anything about it,” he said. “To me it was always being afraid of germs but it so much more than that. It’s getting caught on ideas and it bothers you so you’ll think about it over and over again.”

He applies this to his comics: “Whatever I’m obsessing about that day or week, I’ll say, ‘This is really bothering me, how can I turn this into something positive or funny?’”

Some of Grady’s most recognizable pieces feature his character and his son interacting in adorable moments that prove poignant and relatable. One of personal favorites is entitled “Powers.” The comic shows Grady and his son at a bus stop watching a superhero fight a monster. When the son wishes he had powers, Grady compliments a nearby man on his hat. When the man smiles, Grady explains to his son that in this way everyone has powers.

Lunar Baboon Comic "Powers" Father and son watch a superhero and when the son wishes he has powers, teh father compliments a nearby man on his hat. When the man smiles, the father explains that everyone has powers

“You may not have the amazing superpower to fight the monster,” Grady says, “but you do have the power to change someone’s day, and I try to be a good person as much as I can and be nice to everyone I meet.”

With feedback being hugely positive, Grady feels a sense of connectedness with his followers. He gets messages on a daily basis from people who truly relate. “The best thing that comes out of it,” he says, “is that you don’t feel so alone in your struggles.” Grady likes that Lunar Baboon has become a way for people to connect and share ideas. “While it wasn’t the original purpose, it’s great that something I created in a notebook is something that helps people positively,” he told The Mighty.

The Lunar Baboon comics, while short, are memorable. When people see it Grady hopes “for a brief moment it makes them happy or makes them think. Maybe they’re reading it and it’s improving their day. I want them to look and enjoy and to share it and for it to mean something.”

Grady is often asked how he has the time to balance a full-time job, spending time with family, a web comic and more. “I made the choice a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better, I couldn’t just sit around and watch TV,” he told The Mighty. His advice to anyone looking for ways of catharsis or creative expression is “you just have to do it, you have to try.” Grady says he often has to work on comics late at night and push himself to finish them. “If you want to do something, do it,” he says. “Don’t say you don’t have time, there’s always time.”

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My Footprints Next Yours: A Poem of Encouragement for When You Feel Defeated

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I was inspired to write the following poem when I reflected upon the life-changing quality of an encouraging message upon a heart in need. I know that when I feel overwhelmed and vulnerable because of my anxiety, a gentle and kind reminder that I am loved, accepted and appreciated comforts me and diminishes the rising tide of doubt washing over me. I dedicate this poem to you, my fellow Mighty warriors. I am wholeheartedly inspired by your respective journeys and the inner strength that you exemplify as you bravely face each day. May you always remember that you are never alone.

“My Footprints Next to Yours”

When an ocean stands within your eyes,

ready to pour like rain from cloudy skies,
let each tear fall down your face.

Your feelings aren’t something you should erase.

You’re not “less than.” You’re not “just.”
You are “more than.” In this, please trust.
When the darkness overwhelms you by its size
that you valiantly try to minimize,
making you wonder if the sun will ever rise.
I will shine a light as a guide
upon the path that the darkness made difficult to see.
So when you are unsure of where to start,

begin with me.

If you lose your footing
because of unsteady ground,
you don’t have to be ashamed.
I will always be around,
because you matter and have purpose
and are worthy of love.
So, if any doubt comes to mind,
I’ll help you see that you’re enough.
I see beauty in every part of you,
especially where you find it not,
because your inner strength is reflected there,
showing how you give life everything you’ve got.
The journey may not always be easy,
causing you to stumble from time to time,
but I know that if you fall,
you won’t give up on the climb,
because I’ll be right there beside you,
my footprints next to yours.
So amidst any uncertainties or fears,
know that my belief in you unconditionally endures.

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

Unsplash photo via Dino Reichmuth

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How I Support Pride as a Queer Woman With Anxiety and Depression

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As a queer cis woman diagnosed with mood disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), I am so happy to see the increase in online support for both mental health and LGBTQA+ issues over the last few years. June is here and many folks posting statuses, images of support, pride flags and babadooks to capture the spirit of LGBTQA+ pride.

However, I can’t help but feel disheartened when I think about the intersection between my mental health and my ability to show support for my community. It makes sense to attend at least one pride parade as a person who is an “out and proud” part of the community, right? Or at the very least: an outreach group, club, protest or something that shows my true colors. Unfortunately, that can’t always be the case. This is especially true if you’re at the intersection of being queer and depressed, like me. It’s easy for me to feel like a bad activist and insecure about my true support or place in the community because of my mental health.

The idea of planning for a large event or being in a big crowd is intimidating, and I generally avoid unknown or uncertain situations if I can help it. While some people might make plans and change their decisions, adjust last-minute or go wherever they want that day — I can’t.

Because of my depression, I struggle to plan out a morning and follow a normal schedule. Because of my anxiety, I hate the idea of not knowing exactly where I’m going or what I’m doing.

I am usually “that person” on Facebook who replies as “attending” to fun events and doesn’t show up the day of. But the truth is, I fully intend to go — but last minute, I realize I physically and mentally can’t. Sometimes I plan to go somewhere with the best of intentions, only to have the sudden, extreme fear of something going wrong. Or I just can’t get myself out of bed because of my depression.

I often feel a knot in my stomach and a wave of nausea that continues until I decide to stay home — disappearing almost magically after I decide to stay. When I was younger, I thought that I had a cold or flu some mornings before school because I didn’t realize it was a physical manifestation of the anxiety I felt every morning.

So what can I, and others like me, do to show support?

There are a lot of ways online to help a cause: sharing articles, events, petitions or fundraisers for charity. Sometimes online support for a cause can be seen as “less than,” or “armchair activism.” This doesn’t take into consideration people struggling with mental illness, chronic pain and disabilities who are passionate but unable to follow the traditional means of activism.

It’s also possible to join a forum, a Facebook group or start a blog. Part of why I’m writing this today is to reach out and contribute to Pride month in my own way, and hopefully help anyone who feels lost because they can’t show support in a way that seems obvious. For years, I told myself I couldn’t participate in obvious ways or felt that my support was unwanted. Only now am I breaking through that mindset. Even small things like pride profile pictures, pride flags or rainbow accessories help.

I find that keeping up to date and being knowledgeable about current issues is also a great way to help. It presents opportunities for education and discussion among friends and relatives, even if it isn’t the most outgoing way to show support.

Another option is to join a pride event in a different way. Many events require volunteers, either before or during the event. You can do something more people-oriented, such as a greeter, or more independent, such as social media posting or office work.

In the past, I’ve contributed to causes by volunteering from home. Usually these events have flexible volunteer schedules and offer accommodation for people with disabilities, allowing you to choose what types of tasks you’re comfortable with. During this years Pride month, I am actively volunteering at a local pride event and joining the cause in whatever capacity I can. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a start at building my identity and place within the LGBTQA+ community.

Finally, I’m making sure to take care of myself, as “activist burnout” can hit me even stronger because of my depression — prompting feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. To everyone reading this, as a member or supporter of the LGBTQA+ community, your happiness and your comfort matters. You matter. And just because this is Pride month, doesn’t mean you should endure unnecessary stress or discomfort. You are not alone.

Happy Pride month to everyone and much love to the LGBTQA+ community.

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

Thinkstock photo via Kosamtu

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I Am Not My Mental Illness

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I am not a mental illness.
I am a human being.
The words you use matter.

I am not a monster.
I am not freaky, evil, toxic, scary or dangerous.
I am not the deranged villain in a horror movie.
I am not the unhinged killer in your local news.
I am not the escapee of an insane asylum.
I am not your crazy ex.

I am not abnormal.
I am not embarrassing, unattractive, stubborn, weird or impossible to deal with.
I am not your wacky uncle.
I am not your testy child.
I am not your pesky neighbor.

 

I am not lazy.
I am not stupid, useless, selfish, needy or uncaring.
I am not your rowdy student.
I am not a “freeloader scamming the system.”
I am not your pessimistic friend.
I can’t just “move on” and “get over it.” It’s not that simple. You can’t see the effort that I’m making.

I am not pathetic.
I am not weak, broken, fragile, feeble or defeated.
I am not an advertising slogan.
I am not a campaign talking point.
I am not a hashtag.
I don’t need pity. I need understanding.

I am not your entertainment.
I am not a silly t-shirt.
I am not a Halloween costume.
My life is not a reality show.
And while I can be funny — my life isn’t a joke.

I will heal at my own pace.
I am not an example in a textbook.
I am not a lesson in class.
I am not a case file.
I am not a statistic.

Some things I deal with I may be able to completely heal from; others I may have to learn to manage and live with.

Some may resolve rather quickly; others can take years to work through.
My pace will be different from someone else’s.

I am not making it up.

Just because you can’t see some of my symptoms doesn’t mean they’re not real. They exist inside of me, and I am real.

And just because you can see some of my symptoms, that doesn’t mean I should be treated differently than anybody else.

I have my good days and my bad days, just like you.

Sometimes I need help, just like you.
Sometimes I screw up, just like you.

Sometimes I just need a break, just like you.
Sometimes I just want to be able to live my life, just like you.

I am not a mental illness. I am a human being.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. For many of us it’s just part of being human.

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

Lead image via contributor

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