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I'm a Mental Health Advocate, But I Still Struggle Too

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This morning, I woke up and was pleasantly surprised to discover a message from the girl who happened to be my roommate during my previous hospital stay.

She reached out to me and wrote, “You’ve inspired me to start reaching out and to become a mental health advocate too.”

She told me I was an inspiration. She told me that my honesty empowered her to be open about her mental heath struggles too.

But even though her words dripped with admiration, I couldn’t process the compliments. All I felt was a knot in my stomach,and all I could hear was the voice inside my head, whispering that I was a fraud and fake and had no business writing about mental health.

You see, ever since I started being open about my mental health on platforms such as social media, I’ve received more than a fair amount of praise and compliments. Once, someone told me she was grateful for my posts because they helped her put things in her life into perspective.

Another person said that my words were encouraging and that I was brave for sharing my story so publicly.

Today, I’m writing this to remind people of my reality, so that next time they glance at my life, they’ll also be aware of what goes on behind closed doors.

Here’s the truth:

I’m open about my mental health struggles on social media. Most people who know me also know some of my medical history. My family, friends, coworkers and even some strangers are aware that I’ve been in the hospital before because of my mental illness. I write about my struggles on The Mighty and I’ve published articles for Thought Catalog before. I write a wellness column for my university’s student-run newspaper. I’m also a peer facilitator, which means I attend several mental health support groups on a weekly basis and support other people who might be going through similar struggles.

I don’t consider myself to be “inspirational.” I don’t feel comfortable being a person others might look up to. I don’t think of myself as someone who has much to say. Receiving any kind of attention is stressful for me and I avoid the spotlight at all costs.

Behind closed doors, I am not fine. So when someone sends me a nice message and reaches out to me, telling me I am wise and inspirational, here’s what I really want to reply:

“You are talking to the girl who still cuts herself daily. You are talking to the girl who can’t sleep at night, who wakes up screaming from vivid, awful nightmares. You are talking to the girl who can’t feed herself three meals a day, who relies on frozen pizza and french fries to fuel her body. You are talking to the girl who engages in self-destructive behaviors, over and over again. You are talking to the girl who, after all these years, still has a hard time getting out of bed.”

I’m just like you. We’re in the same boat. We aren’t that different.

I want people to understand that I’m a mental health advocate, but I also still struggle a lot. I’m a good wellness writer precisely because I am an expert at being unwell. I am a good self-help writer because I know what it’s like to feel helpless and powerless. I am “inspirational” because I know what it’s like to be suicidal and how much effort it sometimes takes to stay alive.

I still use unhealthy coping mechanisms. I still mess up, a lot. Yes, I write articles on self-care and how to cope with anxiety. But sometimes I feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m entitled and have no right to write about wellness. Why should I? I tell myself, “How dare you write about self-care when you can’t even take care of yourself!”

It’s hard for me to believe this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that people can be both an inspiration and still struggle with their own demons. I know that for me personally, the people who I admire the most are the ones who have been there. The most inspirational people to me are the ones who have fallen down a cliff, and more than once. These people are more real to me. They don’t write inspirational stuff from the top of the mountain where they sit and watch the sunset, soaking in the pink tones and soft orange. No, these people are stuck at the bottom of a dark hole with the rest of us. And against all odds, they make it back up. With gritty teeth, fierce determination and a brave spirit, they manage to climb back up, one baby step at a time.

Overall, I’d say that I’m a mental health advocate, and proud to be one. But I also consider myself to be someone who doesn’t have her shit together most of the time. I don’t want people to think that I’ve got it all figured out. That I somehow managed to overcome my illness and that now my life is filled with rainbows, bunnies and butterflies. The truth is that every day is still a struggle for me. I am 20. I am trying the best I can and I am striving to be better.  I make mistakes, a lot of them. I am willing to share my mountain gear and help others carry their backpacks when they get too heavy. I am only human, just like the rest of my fellow climbers.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock image via Strekalova

Originally published: November 3, 2017
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