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To the Person Who Expected My Mental Illness to Be Visible

“You don’t look like someone with mental health issues,” he said. I stared at the screen for a moment, slightly lost in those words. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “Well, you look pretty, you look cheerful, you look confident. How can you be ‘one of them?’”

How does one look like they’ve been battling?

Our scars of this battle aren’t visible on our skin. We don’t have black and blue eyes, a limping limb or scars on our faces.

We have puffy eyes layered with concealer and mascara. Scarlet-painted lips to give some hue to the dull grey skin. Some nail imprints on our palms from the fists we held too tight. Some of us do carry scars on our skin but we do not flaunt it like the warriors do because these scars weren’t caused while saving someone’s life. Rather, these were formed while trying to take our own. We hide those scars under long sleeves. We’re really good at hiding because after all, who likes broken, damaged people around?
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So tell me: how do you expect someone to look when they’re battling their inner demons? Do you expect an expressionless face sulking on the bar counter, faded in the smoke, or a pair of puffy red eyes and scarred wrists? Do you expect a careless person or an under-confident person who’s eating away his words? Tell me what a mental health warrior is supposed to look like and I’ll paint that picture for them to see. I’ll ask them to mimic that look because unless they don’t look troubled, no one is going to believe us, no one is going to help and they’ll be constantly mocked for “faking it,” taunted for “making it up.”

Look at this face and tell me what you see. Can you look at those lips and the smile and tell what a person is feeling? Look into those dark, dead eyes and tell me: is this one broken? I give you the empty faceless canvas. Paint it and tell me what they’re supposed to look like.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.

Image via contributor