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Why You Should Remember That Everyone's Battle With Mental Illness Is Different

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I’ve heard so many times lately — from friends and casual acquaintances — that since they were able to do X, Y or Z, I can do it too. This has been in regards to a lot of different areas in my life, but especially in regards to my battle with multiple mental illnesses. And in all honesty, that argument is getting old. It has no real logical standing.

What is possible for one person is not always possible for someone else, for a variety of complex reasons. Humans are complicated — so are mental illnesses. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but I think what often gets forgotten is that we all are fighting our own battles, we are all living our own stories and we are all doing the best we can to survive. What looks like self-destruction to one person may be the only thing holding someone else together. Recovery from any mental illness does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. What might be extremely beneficial for one person living with a mental illness might not be beneficial, might possibly even be harmful, for another.

Mental illnesses are biologically-based, genetically-influenced, family-influenced and society-influenced. Many people have gone through some kind of trauma which only adds to the complexity. Not everyone has a supportive and understanding family or has found the right combination of medication. Not everyone has found a reason to live. Not everyone has the same access to treatment options. Not all treatment options work for everyone. A lot of people have to deal with a whole pile of different diagnoses. There are so many factors, so many variables. Two people with the same diagnoses are not automatically both guaranteed to recover because of the same sort of treatment.

Mental illness affects people in so many different ways. It can be completely debilitating, making the smallest task seem insurmountable. The message I hear — even if it’s not what is intended — when someone tells me if they can recover then I can too, is that they are saying I’m not trying hard enough; if I was truly trying then I too could be recovered. I hear I must not have it as bad as they did. I hear that my repeated attempts at recovery haven’t been good enough. And that’s just not the reality. I have tried so many different things at so many different points in time. I have fought with everything I had in me and I still hear it was not good enough because I’m not recovered. Not every story ends in “they lived happily ever.” That just isn’t life, especially with mental illness. The truth is many people with mental illness do recover, but there are also some who don’t. And it’s not for lack of trying or some kind of weakness. It just is what it is, especially when it comes to eating disorders.

I’m not saying the answer is to give up, to stop fighting and to just admit defeat, although I know some days all I feel is defeated. And I don’t really have an answer — more just a plea for compassion, for empathy and for people to stop assuming we are all going to recover. The statistics say otherwise. Please know that, when it doesn’t look like I’m fighting, I am truly fighting my hardest just to hang on. I don’t need you to tell me everything is going to be OK, that I’m going to be OK and one day I’ll be able to say “I made it.” I just need you to love me and have compassion for me as I am, right now.

Please know, I am so glad you are making it to the other side, or have fought your way there because I know you have fought incredibly hard to get to where you are. Please know too though, that I am also fighting incredibly hard. My fight may not look like yours did but I’m still fighting with everything I have in me left to fight with.

I am trying; I really need you to believe me when I say I am trying.

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 text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via DragonImages

Originally published: April 21, 2017
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