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You Can't Guilt Me Into 'Getting Over' My Mental Illness

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Sam: Do you know what this has been like for me?! We thought you were dead! After 10 years we had a funeral! Your name is on a headstone!

Corinne: It’s not about you.

Sam: How could it be? It’s always been about you!

Sam: Hey… look can I talk to you for a minute? I just wanted to apologize for this morning. I didn’t mean to yell.

Corinne: But you did. Because you are the selfish one. For the last 20 years everything in my head… it’s been big and bold. No whispers, just screams… and I tried to deal with it. I felt responsible. I thought it was me… but you know what Sam, I’m sick. I’m the one with bipolar disorder. So you can complain all you want about how worried you were and how worried mom was, and I feel bad about that, I really do, but I was living it. And I protected you from the worst of it. While you were in med school, I did my first stent in jail. And while you were off being a big fancy doctor, I was eating garbage so I could have enough money for drugs because that was the only way to escape the pain. And while you were having a family and living in Malibu, I was selling my body just to survive. So… you missed me. Poor you. This isn’t your journey. It’s mine. It is my pathetic life, and you might hate me but guess what Sam, I hate me more. And I could tell you to go to hell, but having lived there the past 20 years, I’m pretty sure you can’t handle it. So screw you.

When I first watched this scene from “Private Practice” (S5 E15), this exchange between the recently reunited siblings really resonated with me. When someone very close to me said, “I don’t want us to be on this roller coaster for the rest of our lives,” I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s no secret that I struggle with mental illness. While I don’t deal with bipolar disorder specifically, my combo of anorexia, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) makes for quite a cocktail of hell inside my head.

I know that my struggles affect those around me. I know it’s hard for my family; like Corinne, I feel bad about that. But at the end of the day, this is my hell. I am so sorry I worry the people I love. I’m sure it’s hard to watch from the outside.

But it’s harder living it.

No matter how much you sympathize, you don’t know what it’s like to spend nights alone, praying to fall asleep so that the voice in your head telling you the world would be a better place without you might finally shut up, at least until tomorrow. It’s never quiet for long. You’re not the one who has to force herself into the shower only to force yourself back out because the thought of getting dressed again seems like a lot of work and it feels better under the spray of hot water.

No matter how much you try to understand why it’s so hard for me to look in the mirror and see a body my brain tells me is all wrong, you can’t. You don’t really know what it’s like to feel guilty for every calorie that enters your body or how loud the thoughts are, one voice arguing that I should allow myself what I need to keep living, another screaming I made a huge mistake thinking I deserve that bite. How I feel like a failure if I gain weight and still feel like a failure if I don’t. How this internal war never stops.

You don’t live the pain of desperately wanting to be a different person because you feel like no one around you deserves your negativity, your drama, your issues. The pain of finally convincing yourself to get out and spend time with other humans, but feeling guilty for not being normal and happy, as if your pain is contagious. You can’t feel the exhaustion I feel, but lack the ability to fall asleep.

You can’t imagine the shame of being my age, seeing your peers starting careers and families, yet being trapped in your own mind with no way out. You haven’t experienced the embarrassment of trying so hard to do the normal things, like get a degree or a job, and failing over and over.

You don’t live in the despair of looking at your future and seeing absolutely nothing, seeing a vast, empty, void that leaves you wondering if there will ever be a day you don’t feel this way; knowing that if history is any indication, this is just your life. You don’t know how terrifying it is to ask for help because, while your brain is obviously not well, there is still a competent side to you that knows once you’re labeled a “psych case,” everything else becomes irrelevant; the chances of getting help for any physical problem plummets from slim to minuscule because all physical symptoms from then on will be filed under “Anxiety“.

Your lack of understanding isn’t your fault.

In fact, I thank God every day that you’re not on this roller coaster with me. I don’t wish this hell on anyone.

But the reality is, even though my illness hurts you, you can’t guilt me into getting better. 

There is no shortage of guilt here to begin with. If a switch existed that would allow me to look at external factors and reboot everything internally, making things easier on everyone else, I would have flipped it ages ago. Please remember that as painful as this is for you, it is exponentially more painful for me. It’s not my intention to drag you through this mess, so please take care of yourself; I can assure you, I am trying my damnedest to keep fighting.

Getty image via Anna Ismagilova

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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