Why Mental Illness Looks Different for Everyone


When it comes to my depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, I often see many people, especially psychiatrists and therapists, neglect the fact that all people deal with mental illnesses differently. 

Here are two different scenarios of individuals struggling with mental illness. Can you tell if they’re struggling with the same illnesses or different illnesses?

1. Somedays when I wake up in the morning, I ache, even when I lay still and breath. However, I know I must get ready for work. I sit up, waiting for the thoughts screaming inside my eardrums to lay back down, because I know I won’t make it through the day without giving in to the venomous snake that slithers up my legs and forces my body to shut down all social interaction with the rest of the world. Not long after I shut down, I hear these voices inside my head saying short phrases such as, “You know you want to do it. All it will take is one bullet to be free of me. You hate living like this; people will get over your absence. What are you waiting for?” I sluggishly walk up my driveway to unlock the door to my house. My only thoughts are to saunter over to my bed, slip off my shoes and, if possible, take off my tie and dress shirt. I fall into the safety of my blankets and slowly move my body into a fetal position. After a few minutes of laying, wishing I could escape this tragedy by any means, I feel a new sensation that slides across my face. More sensations follow the first one until the floodgates are opened and I eventually find my pillow soaked in tears. I lay there. Helpless. Waiting for this phase to pass. Why am I sobbing? I don’t have a clue. The only reason I can think of is that all of my emotions besides sadness have disappeared and the one emotion that is left is forced to control my actions. I remain in a fetal position until I fall into a deep slumber, only to be woken by my alarm the next day.

2. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and after I turn off my alarm, I stare up at the ceiling for no particular reason at all. I sluggishly get dressed and think about if I have forgotten anything before I leave my establishment. I arrive to work on time and as I sit down to my desk, my office neighbor asks if I’m OK. I respond in a melancholy tone, “I’m fine, just a little tired is all. Thank you for asking.” I chuckle and give him a grin to assure him I’m alright. As I pull into my driveway after work, I grab my things from my car and look around to see if anyone is outside. Down the street, I spot an elderly man watering his garden that contains an abundance of roses, tulips and other flowers. Knowing someone could potentially watch me as I take the few steps from my car to my door, I merrily skip toward my oak door and unlock it. Quickly closing the door behind me, I drop my things and lean against the wooden wall and breathe for a few minutes. Once I feel like I can continue to function, I cross over to the living room and watch some mind-numbing TV show to distract my brain for the rest of the night.

The first scenario is a person who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. The second scenario is a person who struggles with depression and anxiety. Each of these individuals day is very different, yet they both struggle with depression. Mental illnesses are not something that can be put into a box and categorized — much like people.

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 reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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

Unsplash photo via Marta Esteban Fernan


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

Greeting each other. Close up of a handshake of two people while greeting each other

How Silencing Your Voice Can Impact Your Mental Health

In my practice, one of my specialties is working with people who struggle with various types of anxiety. One of the themes I see almost across the board with anxiety is the comfort zone with silencing one’s own voice — whether it’s out of fear of rejection, judgment or otherwise. This has a far-reaching impact on [...]
woman standing in field looking away from camera

How to Make Self-Care a Priority Without Feeling Guilty

Self-care doesn’t have to make you feel guilty or selfish. When you put yourself last for the sake of others, resentment always follows. Relationships become an obligation instead of a joy and that creates problems. For instance, do you skimp on sleep because you’re doing way too much? Or, you don’t have time to yourself [...]
beautiful lady with rose in her hair

When You Feel Hypocritical for Still Struggling With Your Mental Health

Recovery is beautiful, complicated and terrifying. It hides the fact that your struggles did not suddenly cease to exist – rather, they were just forced into the back of the mind, maybe temporarily, maybe for the long run. When I told others about my struggles with mental illness, their responses were, “You’re better now, right? [...]
shadow of child swinging

24 Signs You Experienced Dissociation as a Child

As children, we often don’t quite understand what’s happening as it happens. It’s hard to find the words to describe that feeling — a deep lack of connection, an extreme disconnect with the world, a distance from our sense of self. When we’re older, we may realize these seemingly indescribable feelings might have been signs [...]