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What I Want Instead of Pity When I Tell You About My Mental Illness

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A commonly expressed opinion I’ve heard is those who talk about mental health problems are doing so for pity or attention. It seems to be assumed that only these things could be a solid enough reason for speaking about something so taboo and uncomfortable.

Please let me speak for myself so I can attempt to clear up this misconception.

I do not want your pity. I do not long for your attention. What I hope for is empathy — I dare to dream you will stop and try to place yourself in my shoes. I wish for understanding, kindness and tolerance. I crave your acceptance and support, your friendship.

Please do not judge me when you notice the scars that color my wrists. They might seem ugly to some, but they are a part of me now and I cannot change them.

Instead understand I was in a great deal of emotional distress and it was how I managed to survive. Express your gratitude you are glad I am here, alive.

Please do not avoid me if you notice at a social gathering that I seem distracted or I am wringing my hands and seem jittery. I am likely struggling to control a panic attack. I’m not dangerous to you and I’m still the same person you know — I’m just frightened.

Instead come and ask if I’d like to walk with you. Help me escape with my dignity before the panic takes hold and give me a chance to remove myself from a scary situation without causing embarrassment to myself or others.

Please do not make thoughtless comments about “thinking positively” or “remembering to pray” or any motivational speeches about “choosing happiness” for that matter. I do not wish to be depressed.

Instead ask me how I am and then really listen. If you don’t know what to say just say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m sorry you are experiencing this.”

Please do not stop talking, keep telling me what is happening in your life. I am depressed and anxious, but I am still interested in what you are doing and feeling, the good things and the bad things.

Instead share your highs and lows with me. Trust my friendship and know I love to have a chance to escape into someone else’s life for a while and feel useful, so don’t hesitate to ask me to do things for you or with you.

Please do not be angry with me if I need to postpone our plans. My physical health is unstable because of my mental illnesses, but I really do want to hang out with you when I can.

Instead recognize I’m feeling guilty about letting you down and assure me you are not angry with me. If you are angry, please express it kindly and try to understand I did not upset you on purpose. Know I am already trying to figure out how to make it up to you as soon as I am well and able.

Please do not stop including me in your plans. I know I am often unable to attend but it really hurts me when I feel invisible and discarded.

Instead invite me and let me know you understand if I can not attend, but that you would love to see me there if possible. This truly means the world to me and I feel loved and cared for.

No, I do not talk about mental health for attention, pity or sympathy. I do it so I can be open and honest and help others to come to understand what those of us who struggle with these illnesses are going through. I hope you will find insight and be able to better know what to do to show your support to those you love.

Often mental illness is called “invisible,” but it is not invisible. The symptoms can easily be unseen, but trust me when I tell you they become all too visible to the person struggling, including his or her close family and friends eventually.

All any of us want is to be understood and accepted for who we are through the good and the bad times. Please do not pity me, just love me.

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.

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Photo via contributor.

Originally published: April 7, 2017
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