What It’s Like to Struggle With Mental Illnesses and a Learning Disability
“Everyone has a unique way they fall and catch themselves,” my mother said to me one night.
I heard this sentence and felt it applied to more than just the physical, but also to our mental state.
Every single day, I fall from my stability — my happiness . No matter what I do, how hard I try, regardless of my optimistic attitude, I know I will eventually fall. Then I catch myself, get myself back on my knees, stand back up and try to keep going once more.
The struggles with mental illness are silent until they no longer can be. The scars are invisible until they can’t be hidden.
Typically, the eyes of those who love me see through what others don’t. For at some point, the symptoms I’ve tried to keep hidden become exposed in the rawest and most real of ways. With those rare people I trust the most will I let my cloak of positivity come off, letting them see my scars, my wounds and struggles in clear view.
Vulnerability is a risk I learned to not always give away so freely — it’s given me regrets I never want to relive. Not everyone understands, not everyone is kind and not everyone is respectful with how they handle that knowledge.
The first mental struggle I came into was attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), followed by bipolar disorder, bipolar depression, anxiety, PTSD and a handful of learning disorders.
Prescriptions and orange bottles became a normal part of my life before I was even a teen.
From how I spoke, how I wrote/typed, how I listened/heard or absorbed what people would tell me or message me, it was and is a constant processing struggle from my colorful combination of mental illnesses.
I was delayed in my processing. I would misunderstand frequently what was said to me. Even worse, sometimes I would forget entirely. I spent many nights crying from my inability to concentrate or even understand what was in front of me. Going to school was like constantly studying Egyptian hieroglyphics.
I mistype and misspell so often and so badly that I’ve had to learn to laugh it off instead of cry at my constant or rushed shortcomings. My writing, even as an adult, is iffy on readability, legibility and clarity.
To put it in short terms, with my learning disorders, it was a struggle for my teachers, who assumed I was being rebellious. It was humorous for my friends and was a gold mine for my bullies (at school and at home), while creating confusion and frustration for my family. For me, specifically my learning disability, I carry a silent shame I never speak about, along with my other invisible mental struggles. I will be seen laughing them off most of the time in front of everyone, but at night I silently feel “dumb” or less than because of them — constantly.
Struggling with not just one but many mental disorders is something no one sees until you break — until you reveal to them and let them see. Until the struggles affect your normal life or how you act. Until the depression becomes so dark that without another hand, the light at the end of my optimistic tunnel is gone from my eyes. Or… more like I’m tired of looking at it when everything feels too hard. My brain slips into suicidal thinking from feeling it all — often.
I fall. I fall a lot. In so many unique ways, from little trips to falling down a manhole. I find new ways I might stumble or fall every single day. Truly I am clumsy in every way. The things that keep me going are the love I have from those closest to me; who make things feel more lighthearted.
It has honestly saved my life, more than once, just knowing I’m not alone. That I matter. That there are people who remind me of my worth when I can’t see or feel it anymore. People who love me; that give me things to look forward to; things that make me smile. That encourage me to not isolate myself or be alone.
That’s how I catch myself — from my own tools for my illnesses to holding on to another hand until I can stand on my own and keep going independently once more. The struggles with mental illness are never-ending for me; I will endure them for the rest of my life, as I have come to accept. But I’m not alone.
Over time, I’ve added an emotional helmet, some mental elbow pads and a buddy system to help me along the way.
So, I fall uniquely. But I will always catch myself from my falls in my own unique ways, too.
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