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3 Reasons My Mental Illness Is Like a Storm

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I struggle with mental illness and have always been attracted to storms for some reason.

Yes, you read that right.

Storms.

I know it sounds kind of weird, but I feel like I identify with them in a way. Somehow their chaos reflects the chaos in my head. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but I can remember feeling this way ever since my symptoms started appearing. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

I have read countless articles and stories and listened to songs and seen paintings where people use storms to relate to their mental illness, and I can’t help but ask myself, “Why?” Why would so many people, including myself, identify with such a powerful force of nature, and what does it have to do with mental illness? I’ve thought about it for years and have never been able to put it into words, but I’m going to try my best.

So here are just a few reasons why I think people compare their mental illnesses to storms:

1. They’re unpredictable and chaotic.

Mental illness strikes when you least expect it, just like storms. It comes completely out of the blue and turns your skies to grey until all you can see are the negatives. But just as quickly as the storm comes, it leaves again, and you’re left with sun on your face and a light breeze on your skin. You never know what’s going to happen, and that can cause a lot of anxiety. Some get addicted to the unpredictability and the chaos of it all and that’s when recovery becomes difficult. I like people who think like this “storm chasers” because they follow the storm. Some just get so used to stormy weather that they are scared of blue skies, because happiness and stability have become “the unknown.” I am not a stranger to this feeling.

2. The effects can be disastrous and overwhelming.

Storms are incredibly powerful, just like mental illness. It can destroy everything from relationships to the individual themselves and can seem to drown everything good in their lives. Mental illness can often seem out of control, which can be true if the correct treatment isn’t available. It can be catastrophic in some cases and forces you to put your whole life on hold, but things always get better. While it lasts, though, it feels like it is all around you and there is nowhere to hide, and I think storms are similar in a way. They’re out of your control and are all-consuming in the same way that mental illnesses can sometimes feel. It feels as though you are enveloped with emotion and caught in the rain, in a sense, which I believe is why people identify so much with them.

3. They don’t last forever.

Storms don’t last forever and neither do the effects of mental illnesses. There is always hope and there are always blue skies ahead, you’ve just got to survive the storm. And the more storms you survive, the easier it becomes, because you become better equipped to deal with the rain and the thunder and the lightning the next time.

Just make sure you have the support you need and don’t forget to carry an umbrella.

You’ll be OK.

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Thinkstock image via va103

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What It's Like to Experience the Storm of Mental Illness

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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.

You’re floating in a massive expanse of water. It’s like the ocean, but the water is still and calm. It’s a nice day. The water is warm and comfortable, until suddenly it’s not. The water is noticeably cooler.

You start swimming and quickly find the warmth again. The cool water chills you again. You keep swimming, but the water only gets colder. It feels like something is gently pulling you back as you try to escape this freezing cold water.

The current gets stronger. You know what’s happening because you’ve been here before. The clouds cover the sun as you keep swimming, trying to get away. The waves come. They threaten to pull you down but you keep fighting.

You’re fighting, but you’re tired. You’ve been swimming for ages and the storm is only getting worse. It’s tempting to give in, but you don’t want to. Every time you come close to letting go, the darkness below becomes too real and too scary so you swim back to the surface again.

You can’t do it anymore. You can’t. You’re too tired to swim, and too scared to drown alone. You scream for help, hoping someone might hear your desperate cries through the raging storm.

A boat in the distance brings some relief. They won’t save you. You know that’s not their job. The only way to get rid of a storm is to face it. You know that’s what you need to do.

You grab onto the rope your friend has thrown to you and you dive. The air in your lungs is replaced by water. The pressure builds and the darkness grows. You can’t breathe and the water feels more like ice. The currents throw you around like a dead fish, not caring what happens to you.

You hear the sounds of monsters as they cry out to you in angry moans. You can’t make out what they look like because their blackness blends in with the darkness of the ocean. You know they are there because you sometimes see flashes of light reflected off their eyes

You feel a little bit of warmth come back to the water. The currents weaken a little as you cling to the rope as tightly as ever. You slowly pull yourself towards the surface and away from the monsters of the deep. You see sunlight shimmering on the surface of the water for the first time in days. You make it to the surface and feel the air fill lungs once again.

You make your way towards your friend’s boat and they help you to get onboard. You crumple into an exhausted heap as they wrap a blanket around you and hold you close. Their warmth helps you to relax a little and catch your breath.

You look out at the water. It is still and calm. You dip your hand in the water and feel its warmth. You want to stay on the boat where it’s safe and comfortable, but you know you have to get back in the water again. You slowly and carefully step back into the water. The lack of support beneath you is unsettling, but soon you’re floating again. The monsters still lurk below you, and the storms will inevitably come back, but for now, you’re back to being OK.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Unsplash photo via John Towner

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The Important Thing to Remember If You Love Someone With a Mental Illness

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There are many articles online about how to love someone with a mental illness. I do not want to say those are unimportant; they are very, very important. But something I have not seen in any article is the message that they need to care for themselves as well.

It’s hard to love someone in the middle of the storm. It’s hard to give so much of yourself up for someone who may not appreciate you at the time. It’s hard to know when to stop giving, and it’s even harder to “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” (Prov 4:23)

So, today I am here to talk to the children, the best friends, the partners of those with mental illness. From someone who both experiences depression and anxiety and has family and friends with various mental illness, I’m here to say: take care of yourself, too.

You are not supposed to fix them.

You can’t. As I posted on my blog recently, “you don’t ‘cure’ mental illness; you treat it through an everyday, long-term combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, social support and often medication, and everyone’s journey is different as we all have different strides.”

The best thing you can do for them is support. Listen, encourage, drive them to therapy, remind them to practice good self-care. Do not become their doctor. You are their friend, not a medical professional. (Unless you are, in which case I would say keep doing your thing.)

If you’re their child, you are not responsible for their mental health, especially if you’re a minor. Parents take care of kids, young kids shouldn’t have to take care of their parents. It’s OK to step away. It’s OK to tell them you can’t help them. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them; it means you respect yourself.

Your mental health is as important as theirs.

Just because you don’t have a mental illness doesn’t mean your mental health doesn’t matter. You need to practice good self-care as well. You matter too.

I would encourage you to start conversations with others who find themselves in a similar position as you. We are not meant to live life alone. “No man is an island.” Mental health is like physical health; you don’t go to the doctor only when you’re sick, you also get checkups to make sure everything is OK.

Let yourself get help when you need it. Don’t carry their weight on top of yours; that’s too much for anyone. Share your burdens, get help and step back when you need to. It’s like how mothers need to put the oxygen mask on themselves before they put it on their babies in the event of a plane malfunction.

You can’t help someone effectively when you’re helpless. Don’t drown in someone else’s ocean. To rescue someone who is drowning, you need to be buoyant, sure, calm.

But you also need to remember that you’re fallible. You won’t be perfect. Your own strength won’t be enough for both of you. And that’s when I personally turn to God. “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)

You matter.

Keep on loving. Keep on being someone’s anchor. And don’t forget to love yourself, too. You are just as important as your loved ones. You are their loved one.

Follow this journey on The Casual Existentialist.

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Thinkstock photo via jacoblund

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How I Discovered I Have a Mental Illness

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I didn’t know I was mentally ill. I just thought I was a bad person.

I met my husband when I was 18 years old. He proposed to me on my 19th birthday. We married in June. I gave birth to my first son a few weeks after I turned 20.

Then began hell.

House cleaning issues to the point of (among other things) hoarding. I thought I was a lazy, poor housekeeper.

Personal hygiene issues of which I am still too embarrassed to really tell anyone about in detail. I thought I was a gross, unclean person.

Rage (including blackouts). I thought I was evil.

Internal “hallucinations,” mainly what I call “demons scratching” inside of my body, and talking like an ocean – like the Legion mentioned in the New Testament. I thought I was possessed.

Disassociation including multiple personality creation (although I consider that a functional rather than a dysfunctional aspect.) I thought I was “crazy.”

Catastrophic levels of brutal self-talk. I thought I was supposed to condemn myself for what I’d become.

Manic and depressive episodes. Each lasted for a few days; I “swung” like clockwork. But when I was manic I couldn’t remember the depressive and when I was depressive I couldn’t remember the manic. I thought life had “always” been like the episode I was in. The only way I eventually figured it out was reading my journal and reading the lives of two different people.

Anxiety, which is not “nervousness” (just as depression isn’t sadness) but includes a whole bunch of lies broadcasted to you about choice-making and some compulsion about what actions you can and cannot take or absolutely must take (like counting to a certain number before doing something else, etc). I thought I just needed to improve my confidence. I thought I could just talk myself out of it.

Fatigue and “crashing” (by early in the day). The inability of my body to move, and I mean that in the most literal sense. I remember when I was pregnant with baby number four (six years into the marriage), I sat in my chair all day long and thought about what I wanted and needed to do, but I could not get up. I thought I was a failure and a horrible mother.

“My heart hurts,” I would say a lot. The emotional heart pain was constant and endless and seemed to be through all my bones — “bleeding” and “crying.” In response to the daily pain, I was stoning myself (addiction) in order to get numb (not with drugs or alcohol but every other way possible: food, music, gaming, and more). I was also trying to kill myself in what I call the slow kill. I had made a decision in my life to never attempt suicide because of how it felt when my father did, and I didn’t want to do that to my kids. But that didn’t stop me from unconsciously trying to constantly annihilate myself in less intense and less visible ways.

When I was a child, I had thought I was a good person and was excited to make a life. After a few years as an adult living through these day-in, day-out, minute-by-minute personal horrors, I felt I was evil.

I didn’t know I was sick.

I wasn’t unaware there were massive problems — I lived them every day — but I had a belief that today was the day I was going to get my act together and get things in gear. Things were going to change. I could change. I could fix it. I would do it differently and meet my goals. I believed my issues were laziness, lack of patience, bad mothering, negative thinking, etc. I just had to keep “trying.” I would improve today, this time! I could and should “get a new attitude,” “repent,” “pray more,” “set goals,” “manage my time better,” “choose differently” and “just stop.”

After many years of these deep, daily struggles, at some point, a little light bulb went on in my head that whispered to me, “Something is really wrong.” Even the worst person who wanted to be good (as I so desperately wanted to be) would have figured life out by now, right? If it was simply a matter of choosing and changing? I would have done that by now if I had had the capacity to do so.

“Something is really wrong.”

Up to that point, I had had no framework that would have allowed me to understand I was mentally ill. I was not surrounded by anyone who was prepared to be aware for me, either. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s and started my family in the 90s. The open dialogue we now enjoy regarding mental challenges and mental health hadn’t quite begun (although culturally we still have far to go on that dialogue). No one in my family culture was aware when it came to mental illness. It wasn’t a real thing. If you had a problem, you prayed, cheered up, worked harder, got more sleep. The Lord would help you. Mental health medication was for faithless people.

Oddly enough, my biological father also struggled with mental illness. (He and my mother were divorced, and he didn’t live with us.) Over the years of my childhood, from a naïve distance, I saw him be homeless, jobless, relationshipless, but I didn’t know how to assign that to anything but a “tough life.” It wasn’t until much later that I understood he had diagnosed illnesses he constantly wrestled with.

But I finally realized something was really wrong with my body and mind. Yes, people got angry; but like this? All the time? Yes, people got tired. But like this? Unmovable for hours and days? Yes, people had bad hair days. But like this? Unable to brush my hair for days and weeks?

I finally understood that most of what I was experiencing was out of my control. There was something happening to me I hadn’t chosen and hadn’t created. I didn’t immediately name it “mental illness,” but I now knew I had a serious journey of healing ahead of me, with different sort of questions and different sort of answers than most people might have to deal with.

Today, many years after that first “a ha” — after many more years of struggle, reaching for understanding, receiving support from health professionals, personal research and many avenues of healing and self-care — after a long journey, I have been blessed to have healed a great deal. I am again functional, and even thriving.

However, I am not cured and I don’t expect to be. The challenges I described are still my issues and as far as I know, they always will be. The symptoms do not present as constantly as they used to, nor to as great a degree. But I always have to cultivate awareness and be ready to deal with my mental health experience as it comes. I know that at any given time, I may become triggered; also then whenever I am triggered, I know to care for myself with the coping tools I now have.

And I know now I’m not a bad person. I never was.

I’m a precious human being who got handed a big mountain to move in this lifetime.

Follow this journey on How to Move the Universe

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Thinkstock photo via James Peragine

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Why We Must Treat Ourselves as 'Loved Ones' in Mental Illness Recovery

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We all know that a house cannot remain standing on an unsound foundation. The same principle applies to our own well-being. As a chronically and mentally ill person, I have cultivated many relationships with people who struggle in similar ways. Naturally, I am a people-pleaser. I desperately want to save my friends and I put my own needs on the back burner to ensure theirs are met. This is not healthy. I repeat, this is not healthy and only hurts both people involved.

When we keep applying more weight to our already unstable foundation, it leads to cracks. As we progressively gain even more weight atop our crumbling structure, our health plummets. We begin disintegrating. Because of this, we are most likely not helpful to our loved ones, and most importantly, ourselves. Instead, we find ourselves slipping back into habits that are detrimental to our health. Panic attacks may increase, depressive episodes may arise and we lose ourselves trying to fight others’ battles.

Please keep in mind I would never say to withdraw support. We are asking for the same thing in return after all. What I mean here is that you need to ensure your own needs are met first. If you find yourself sliding backwards, I recommend stopping for some self-care. It’s OK to request space, even when it’s difficult. Remember, you are not up to your most helpful potential to another being if you’re relapsing or reducing yourself to rubble. I know how hard it is to take care of yourself already, and while I adore being a great friend above all else, it only hurts me if I become submerged in an ocean of another person’s problems while trying to keep my own boat afloat.

This may offend some people, because naturally, we want to be there for loved ones no matter what. As do I. I just want to express the importance of seeking professional help for someone when necessary, and knowing when to preserve your own well-being. It is not our job to provide someone else with a life boat we don’t possess. It is not our job to be someone’s savior. We can help, we can intervene, we can try to help them help themselves, but ultimately, it is up to the individual how they decide to react. Should a friend be in crisis, it is vital to contact a crisis help line or 911. Help your loved ones the best you can, but never forget to treat yourself as a loved one, too. You deserve the same love you’d extend to someone else.

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 Ola-ola.

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Is There Such a Thing as 'Too Much' Self-Care?

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I am a huge fan of self-care. Ninety percent of my life is spent practicing self-care. I am a self-care queen.

Self-care has been a huge player in improving my mood while dealing with depression and anxiety over the past two years. But over time, I’ve come to question my decisions when it comes to self-care. When I am feeling down, I attempt to make myself feel better by watching some Netflix, eating a food I really love, staying home to relax or listening to music. But I tend to do this a lot.

For example, in college, there is so much to do. There is studying to get done, people to hang out with and places to go. When I get overwhelmed, I practice self-care. I pick a night in over going out with friends. I order a pizza instead of making myself dinner. I binge watch Netflix shows instead of do my work.

These are great ways to keep my stress levels down, but I feel like there is a threshold. There is a point when it stops being self-care and starts becoming self-destructive. One night at home instead of going out with friends turns into every night at home. One night of ordering pizza instead of making myself dinner turns into a diet of takeout and fast food. One day of binge watching instead of doing work turns into missing assignments and poor grades on exams.

I feel like I’m in this constant argument with myself. Part of me is saying, “This is good. Your mind is healing and your body needs rest. Relax, stay in, don’t worry about anything.” But another part of me is saying, “What are you doing?! You need to live your life, get out of bed, go hang out with people and cook your own damn food.”

Maybe what I’m doing isn’t self-care at all, but just me poorly coping with my depression and anxiety. Regardless, all of those behaviors started off as a form of self-care. I question my self-care behaviors because I feel like I have missed out on so much these past two years in college. I stopped hanging out with my friends or doing my work because I felt like I needed to control my depression and anxiety before I did anything else. I felt like I needed to focus on myself before I could focus on others. It turned into an excuse to stay away from people and from responsibilities. In the end, I missed out. I stopped living my life to the fullest.

I know I shouldn’t live my life dwelling on the past and what I should or should not have done. I can only move forward. I will continue to practice self-care as long as it serves me positively and learn to be aware when it starts to turn into a bad habit.

Self-care is necessary when dealing with mental illness, in my opinion. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you be expected to take care of friends, family, responsibilities or anything at all? Taking time for self-care is not selfish. It is admirable, smart and one of the best things you can do for yourself during a time of need.

So, is there such a thing as “too much” self-care? I’m genuinely not sure. I know that’s not very helpful, but I think each individual has to find their own balance. I believe people should balance taking time for self-reflection and taking time to go out of their comfort zone.

While I question some of my self-care behaviors, I am a strong advocate for self-care because I believe too much self-care is always better than no self-care at all.

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Thinkstock photo via  Anna_Om.

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