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What These 16 Mental Illnesses 'Look' Like

Slowly people are starting to understand how important mental health is, but in some parts of the world, there is a lack of awareness, lack of sensitivity and huge indifference towards people who are going through a rough mental patch. There is a taboo attached to mental illness, whether one comes from a conservative culture or a liberal country.

I have been a freelance illustrator and artist for a while, and try to use my time illustrating for causes that are relevant and in need of our immediate attention. I thought mental health fell into that category, so I started collecting stories and illustrating them. Many people have told me this project helped them in some way, and some feel that initiatives like these will make people more aware and sensitive about the topic. Some have thanked me for being a voice for them. This has certainly made me happy, and I look forward to work more with this topic. 

For now, here are the illustrations I made for mental health awareness, based on the stories real people told me:

1. Claustrophobia

“I love getting suited up for any occasion. It could be a small occasion like ‘giving talks,’ which I frequently do, or the bigger events like my best friend’s wedding. I like the look of it, but not the feeling it gives me around my neck. I feel a weird strangulation and that’s the love and hate relationship I have with my suit. I appreciate the skyscrapers and its elevators that lead to you to its many magnificent floors. The elevators obstruct my breathing and hence I haven’t taken it in a long while; I walk the stairs instead. To look at the bright side, it’s good exercise for me. I want to explore the abandoned mines and swim inside the underwater caves. So far, the ‘outcomes’ of venturing into these have been purely disastrous. I can’t help but wonder, why is this ‘feeling of suffocation’ suffocating my normal life?”

2. Agoraphobia

“When I feel like going out, I instead paint my lips red, wear a beautiful gown, do my hair and keep looking at myself in the mirror for hours. I only trust my room, my mirror, my dolls and my parents. I have trust issues going to the places ‘I don’t know of.’ I never go out unless it’s absolutely necessary and I am accompanied by someone.”

3. Trypanophobia (fear of needles)

“I was always afraid of the syringes and vaccination sessions were such a nightmare. Even a general tetanus shot would make me feel like strangulating myself, which I feel is far lesser of a pain than getting my skin poked with that painful needle. Recently I was diagnosed with the type 1 diabetes onset and blood tests have become common ever since. The very look of the ‘unsmiling doctors,’ the ‘screaming nurses’ and the ‘pale and the lost faces’ of people at the diagnostic center makes my panic attacks worse. Even a few days before my appointment, I get restless, which mercilessly hampers my day to day activities. I sometimes say to myself like a small boy, “If I am ever blessed with Aladdin’s lamp, I would sure ask the genie to destroy all the needles and sharp objects in the world.” Then I say to myself again, ‘If only life was a fairytale like that.’”

4. Kleptomania

“I don’t deliberately steal; I don’t really have to ‘gain’ anything from what I ‘steal.’ I am not a ‘thief’ who deserves social segregation. All I feel is a strong and impulsive urge to steal things, which I can’t subjugate… Most of the times I personally go and return the things I have stolen, though I sometimes like to hoard them for reasons unknown to me.”

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

“I have always been ‘religious’ and ‘God fearing,’ but recurrent forbidden thoughts about God and religion — thereby me committing ‘blasphemy’ in my mind — make me anxious. I keep thinking about the hell I may slip into for this sin after my death… I also have an extreme obsession of arranging things in a particular format. For instance, the way I keep my books and clothes in the cupboard; if for any reason they are misplaced I get extremely anxious and spend hours in putting it back to the ‘original way.’ I also check things for safety, not less than 10 times; for instance, checking if I have switched off the stove, locked the door and all that… In all honesty, I wish to get rid of these obsessions and compulsions and lead a normal life but I know I just can’t.”

6. Bipolar Disorder

“During my teenage years, though I never got addicted to any, I tried almost every drug on earth. My best friends fondly call me ‘Miss Cocaine-Marijuana,’ comparing my ‘fluctuating mood’ to the high you get from these completely opposite drugs. During my mania, I have grandiose delusions. I feel I am the queen of universe. I set so many unrealistic goals for myself and I am also convinced that I would surely achieve them… Then, everything feels fragile and is on the verge of destruction. I wonder who would understand me, for which I don’t understand myself. I don’t even know what I am and what I want.”

7. Insomnia

“I am now 35. At 30, I broke up with my boyfriend of 10 years. We knew every single detail about each other and even had planned to marry and grow old together. We even had planned the number of sons and daughters we were going to have, the dream house and car we were going to buy. Looking back in time that seems so naive of us. As a famous saying goes, ‘Life isn’t the bed of roses.’ Things didn’t work out with our relationship and after multiple episodes of breaking up and reconciling, we finally decided to call it off… Now, when I try to sleep, all these issues of my life bombard me. I try to shut my eyes hard and sleep but sleep is a distant memory for me now. I roll all over the bed without the goddess of sleep showing mercy to me. I now know if I could trade my life for anything, it would have to be a good night sleep and nothing else…

8. Clinical Depression

When I hang out with my best friends, which happens very rarely, they say how much I have changed. While they are busy talking, I am so lost, as though I am watching a movie in a language that I don’t understand. I don’t want the night to fall because insomnia haunts me. People say I should go out, have some fun and live my life and I will be alright, but I want to simply sit and stare at the ceiling and not do anything else. I am so tired physically even when I don’t do any work. Mentally, I am so exhausted that I sometimes feel that this mind should somehow detach from my body and ‘free me’ from all the pain. I only see my entire life falling apart right in front of me and I can’t help but look at it with grim. This gloom and melancholy is consuming every inch of me and I don’t know what to do.”

9. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“Nobody understands the gravity of wars till you are a ‘part of it’; you can either choose to fight or stay indifferent, and it will still affect your life in the worst ways you can imagine… I get flashbacks of these events over and over again giving me panic attacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts which curtails my ability to sleep. I am always stressed and angry and cry for no reason. When will I have ‘freedom’ from this PTSD like I eventually did with the war?”

10. Anorexia

“People used to tell me that I am not fat, rather ‘healthy’ and ‘voluptuous,’ but whenever I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt I was fat and didn’t fit into the ‘body standards’ the media has set for girls. I felt inferior to the toned women who routinely appeared on media. I fell prey to the ‘lectures’ on ‘how to eat healthy.’ I literally starved myself to death. I stopped ‘menstruating’ at 20. Terrific anxiety took over.”

11. Trichotillomania 

“Having been blessed with Mediterranean genes, standing tall at 197 cm, with the well built body and an optimum amount of body hair, I have for a long time remained a ‘desirable male’ almost everywhere I went… Lately though, my OCD and hair-pulling episodes have made my life a living hell. What it started as mindless hair pulling has brought me to a situation where I count the number of hairs I pull off every day. In my mind, I set certain numbers (generally in hundreds) for a day and I pull those number of hairs one by one from all places one can imagine. From scalp to chest to beard to pubes. Now, I have strange looking bald patches… I confine myself to my room now and rarely come out to avoid all the awkward questions from people about my changed looks.”

12. Schizophrenia

They say I appear withdrawn and unresponsive; apparently I don’t express normal emotions like I used to. People say I may be a ‘threat’ to them and perhaps I ‘suffer’ from a ‘split personality disorder’ — and that is so mean of them. But I don’t really see my behavior as changing… I hear soothing musical notes sometimes and I lose myself in them. Other times, I hear noisy, unbearable ones. I am convinced that I am constantly being watched, though I still can’t garner enough evidence as to why I am so important.”

13. Social Anxiety 

“Social interactions, from small things like going to a party or talking to a stranger, to ‘big things’ like going on a date or attending an interview causes enormous ‘distress’ in me, leading to an ‘impaired ability’ to function normally. Though I avoid most of these social situations sometimes there is no possible escape… I feel like I’m a caged bird who is trapped by my own mind, where I can’t conduct normal social interaction without any intoxication. I always wonder, will I ever be able to ‘free my mind’ from captivity? Will people around me be considerate enough to make the environment conducive to it?”

14. Capgras Delusion

“Impostors, impostors everywhere. Somebody is hell bent on replacing the people I know with the doubles. My entire life is being controlled by a secret entity and I am a mere experimental animal here. They make me appreciate and fall in love with someone and they sometimes replace that someone with the copy, and sometimes replace them entirely by someone who I don’t know. Who do I trust, who do I tell my story, who is empathetic to listen? I don’t want sympathy, I don’t want my ‘truth’ to fall on the deaf ears. I want someone who listens to me with patience and believe the truth which I am going to tell them and help me get rid of these ‘impostors.’ I am afraid for my loved ones, who are being replaced by their ‘doubles.’ I have a feeling that they are being ‘tortured’ or ‘killed’ or being used for experiments after being replaced by the doubles.”

15. Depersonalization Disorder

“If you carefully look around, nature has a ‘fixed protocol.’ The protocols ‘repeat’ over and over again but we don’t really see or pay attention to it. A sliced carrot resembles human eye, a sliced tomato possessing the color of blood and looks like a heart with its four chambers. A walnut like a human brain with its similar halves and folds, and all of these eatables ’embody’ the ‘nutrients’ best suited for these organs. The way DNA replication occurs, my ‘depersonalization’ occurs too; I see a striking resemblance to it. The way the strands of the ‘double helix’ separate forming a ‘replication fork,’ I see myself being detached slowly. I feel as though I am observing my body from the outside, as a third person, watching a movie or a video or perceiving a dream. This does impede my day-to-day activities, but I do love it; I do consider it a blessing as well as a curse. Do I want to stop having these sessions? Perhaps not…”

16. Dissociative Identity Disorder:

“I have always loved physics. As a child, I did wonder about a lot of physical phenomena around me and I was seeking the answers to them; it was always during physics classes I found the answers to a majority of these queries. Newton’s experiment on ‘dispersion and recombination of white light’ has always been my favorite. It not only explains the ‘spectrum colors,’ but also my own ‘personality spectrum.’ Depending on the situation, which acts as prism to my mind, different personalities emerge out of me; impulsive actions and strong emotions I have no control whatsoever. When the situation gets back to normal, I become ‘normal,’ like a dispersed light flowing through the inverted prism to undergo recombination.”

What does your mental illness look like? Let us know in the comments below.

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