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5 Absolutely False Things I Hear Too Often About Mental Illness

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1. “You can decide to be happy. Just get over it.” Happiness isn’t a choice. While doing things that make you happy is a choice, existing in a permanent state of happiness isn’t. It also isn’t realistic. Everyone feels emotions besides happiness. Everyone has also experienced things they would rather forget. Sometimes it is impossible not to dwell on something that has hurt you. Perhaps you haven’t dealt with the emotions with an event triggering you, therefore putting you in a bad frame of mind. Perhaps you haven’t talked through what has happened, so you shove it deep down hoping it never surfaces. Spoiler alert: it will always surface. Getting over something isn’t easy. This can be a break-up, a trauma, a car crash, or even getting a bad grade. Sometimes that instance stays with you until you learn how to cope with it. Until then, happiness may seem like an illusion.

2. “Mental illness is a choice.” Wow. Just wow. It’s sad how many times I’ve heard this in my life. “Just choose to be better!” “Just choose a whole new life!” That’s like saying, while a Honda Accord sits in your driveway, to just go out and buy a Porsche. Can you afford the Porsche? Absolutely not. Would you lose your house if you bought that Porsche? Absolutely. Don’t do it. While I can choose to do things that make me happy, that doesn’t mean I exist in that state. I can choose things that bring me joy, but that doesn’t mean I’m always joyous. Saying mental illness is a choice is absolute nonsense. I don’t wake up enjoying these negative thoughts. I may be used to them, but I don’t enjoy them. I just haven’t figured out a way to shut them up yet. Also, just because I want to be happy, doesn’t mean my body is built for that. There are building blocks that go into not being mentally ill, and I’m not done putting mine together yet. So if you’re not here to teach me how to build, then please exit stage right.

3. “Other people are worse off than you, so you should be grateful for what you have.” Pain is relative, my friends. Just because there are starving children in Africa, doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to my own pain. What has happened in my past is valid. What I feel is valid. How I think is valid, and how I respond is valid. I am who I am because of what has happened to me, and I am entitled to that. These worries, fears and wants allow you to get through the day. It allows you to focus on what you want and keep what you have. Never feel shame over that.

4. “Doesn’t your medication make you happy?” Ha! What a laugh, what a riot. Medication doesn’t make you happy! All my antidepressant does is start me at a bit of a higher level than I’m used to. Meaning that by myself, I usually start off at a negative 10. You may think I’m exaggerating, but trust me I’m not. Then my antidepressant kicks into overdrive and voila, I start at a negative three. While some may think that is incredibly silly, those seven points can be the make-or-break to my day. Those seven points are the difference of me getting out of bed versus me calling in sick. My medication gives me a bit of extra pep in my step. It by no means makes me energetic. It’s not this magical source of endless energy I can tap into whenever I please. It just gives me a little extra from what I didn’t have before, and it is much appreciated. Without these medications, my levels of functionality and productivity plummet. How do I know? I compare the before and after. Before when I was in college without the meds, I struggled hard. It was easy for me to skip class, skip a meal, or skip my workout. It was easy for me to just call it a day at 10 a.m. Now with my meds, I’m able to function. Not well but it’s better than before. It’s incredibly insulting when people ask why I’m still not happy, though.

5. “It’s just a phase.” Calling mental illness a phase is like calling depression or anxiety a choice. It boggles my mind how people think your state of being is just a pinpoint in your life. While yes, people evolve, grow, and eventually improve their mental well-being, that does not mean their bout of depression or mental illness was a stand-alone event. Even if you do not have a recurring illness or issue, that does not make it a phase. Chances are once you have something like a personality or mood disorder, you’re going to struggle with it for a while. When things get better, a question will always be in the back of your head. Will it come back? You make daily choices that will hopefully prevent it from returning, but you can’t be sure. You can only hope and pray what you’ve done is enough to keep it at bay.

Getty image by Voyagerix.

Originally published: July 4, 2019
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