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Defying the Picture Society Paints of People With Mental Illness

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I have been recently discovering a lot of snails in my garden. I, in my tendency to succumb to the seduction of a silent reverie, found myself wondering about snails, their purpose and why they are the way they are. Why a shell? Why have they their houses on their back?

Then, I thought, “Snails are independent in a weird way.”

They rely on themselves for their shelter and their security, unattached to anything but themselves. They travel leaving only a trail of glittering experience of the path they’ve taken, despite how long it has taken them.

A snail didn’t choose to be a snail. It didn’t choose to be slow and burdened with its shell, but despite its wavering purpose in nature, it still carries itself. It still travels to a new place, independent of all that surrounds it and irrespective of what humanity thinks of it.

With its beautifully grotesque shell, intricately designed by the hand of nature, the snail climbs up walls, unaware of what is before it, never questioning. It goes on, until a bird comes and ends its insignificant life, fulfilling its purpose as a meal for its avian predecessor on the food-chain, and the world goes on.

I think, perhaps, I’m like this snail. I, too, am burdened by an unreckonable force upon my back, my mental health. With such a heavy burden, I’m tempted to wait in hope of a winged figure to pluck me from the perils of my physical encasement on this Earth. Despite the weight and the fear of an ominous shadow, I have become accustomed to it. I, too, can keep going despite what humanity thinks of me. It’s only with my “beautifully grotesque” mind, my perseverance and struggle that I can leave my glittering trail of experience.

Perhaps, my purpose is to show that despite the weight of my mental illness, I can still travel to new places, explore new grounds and live, unattached to the stigma and social “impressions” of what it means to have a mental illness. To show, that despite all the odds, I can still live.

I have come out of my shell and accepted who I am. My mental illness has conditioned me to be strong, to persevere through everything life offers. I chose to turn something negative into something positive. Going to therapy, taking medication and working on myself holistically has taught me to realize I can have control over how I feel.

I consider what I thought was a curse to be a blessing. I feel blessed because what was once a burden is now a monument that signifies my success through the toughest struggle I’ve ever endured, and I’m leaving my glittering trail of experience.

Living with a mental illness doesn’t define who I am as a person. Having a mental illness does not make me any less a dreamer, any less a daughter, sister or girlfriend. Being a snail doesn’t mean it’s any less an insect. Having a mental illness means I just have something extra to deal with in my daily life.

There was a time when I considered myself “cursed,” questioning why I was given such a struggle, convincing myself I was being punished. How I perceived my mental health is indicative of how society can penalize and ostracize anything or anyone who is considered “abnormal” or “taboo.” In the daylight hours, society doesn’t blatantly outlaw those who have mental health issues. In fact, it encourages inclusion and well-being of everyone.

It’s only in the dark corners of quiet moments, when the day has yawned and the tie is pulled off, that the other face of society looks warily from the corner of its eye upon us and wonders if we are actually monsters like the people in those horror movies.

Society paints a sloppy picture using only limited colors to portray those with mental illness. We deserve to be painted by our own experienced hands. We, who have experienced the inner turmoil that mental illness can cause. If each of us could choose to contribute to what mental health looks like using our own artistic technique, our own stroke of the brush, our own unique color upon the canvas of society, then perhaps the art depicting mental health wouldn’t be abstract art but instead naturalism, a reflection of our minds and our struggles, beautiful dashes of color with trails of glittering experience.

We owe it to ourselves to keep going and to make our own purpose despite what nature has given us.

This post originally appeared on The Red Dutchess.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 10, 2017
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