What I Want Others to Know Who Question My Mental Illness
Whenever my ex and I used to fight, one of his favorite go-to mudslings was always that “it must be nice to…” followed by something like “sit home and do nothing but wallow in your own misery,” or “sit on your ass feeling sorry for yourself while others actually work for a living,” or a hundred other potshots that minimized my struggles with mental illness.
Sadly, it’s not an uncommon sentiment when it comes to mental illness.
“Boo hoo. You’re sad? Lots of people have problems. Guess what? Everyone does. You know what everyone else does when they have problems? They get off their ass, deal with them and keep going.”
“You think you have it bad? What do you even have to be depressed about? Plenty of people have it worse than you do. You need to stop making excuses and get your shit together.”
“Everyone has shit they’re dealing with. What makes your problems and your feelings so special that you get to sit at home while everyone else has to bust their ass?”
I have heard those words, and many other sentiments like them, for years. I have struggled with mental illness — more specifically depression, anxiety and PTSD — my entire life. A good portion of my diagnosis is based upon a genetic mutation which has, in essence, been starving my brain for the chemicals it needs to moderate my moods. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t struggle with severe bouts of anxiety and depression. My mental illness does not come and go. It is a battle every single day.
I fought for years to be semi-functional, collapsing again and again into mental breakdowns as the compounding stress of trying to keep myself together proved time and again to be too much to bear. I became a pro at wearing a smiling mask so that everyone else wouldn’t worry even though I felt like I was dying inside.
“Must be nice…” I can tell you, without a doubt, that no it is not. I would not wish this on anyone.
I spend my life smiling through the tears, lying to everyone I love, telling them I’m OK because I don’t want anyone to worry, because I know there’s nothing they could do even if they wanted to. I’ve learned it’s just easier to pretend I’m OK than try to explain things I know they could never understand.
I spend my life going through cycles of numbness where I feel immobilized, incapable of functioning at all, and downward spirals where my own brain urges me to destroy myself — to tear myself apart because it says I am useless, worthless, a good-for-nothing waste of space.
I spend my life struggling to find joy in anything. Food often tastes bland; music is nothing more than background noise. Things that make others smile and laugh are often met with apathy because I am so mentally and emotionally drained just from existing that the pleasure centers in my brain often don’t even respond to happy stimuli. I am not being a Debbie Downer – I honestly often am so numb I feel nothing at all.
I spend my life fighting with myself, with my own brain, because when even the slightest thing goes wrong, I blame myself and my brain begins another tirade about how worthless I am, how I am a burden to everyone in my life and the world would be better without me in it. No matter how many times I’ve told myself that it’s all lies, that voice never shuts up — never goes away. It began as other people’s voices, but over the years, it has become my own.
I spend my life teetering on the edge of not wanting to die, but not exactly wanting to keep living like this, either. Everything feels too hard, too much, too overwhelming, too agonizing. All I want most days is for the pain and the pressure to just stop long enough for me to catch my breath. I often curl up in a ball and cry because I just can’t take anymore. Through my tears, I beg “no more.”
I spend my life worrying constantly about everything that has gone wrong and every scenario in the future that might go wrong because they all feel not only plausible and possible, but probable. My mind is always racing, always thinking, always calculating, always warning me of everything bad that could ever happen. It never shuts off, never shuts up, going on and on for hours. It’s the reason I have so much trouble sleeping.
I spend my life taking everything personally because I honestly believe it all must somehow be my fault. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe I am fundamentally broken, so I always seek out my blame in everything, even when my common sense reassures me that I am blameless. I apologize constantly, even when I’m unsure what I may have done wrong, or if I know it was something I had no control over, because there always has to be something or someone to blame and it might as well be me.
I spend my life in fear of every dark corner, every raised voice or hand, because my past has shown me nothing is safe, so I wander through life like a deer caught in the headlights, jumping at every little thing and withdrawing at the first sign of danger — real or imaginary. I’m obsessive about many things, like locking doors and keeping my shower curtain slightly open because I never feel safe, not even in my own home where nothing bad has ever happened.
I spend my life struggling to love myself enough to do basic things like eating and showering because there’s a constant booming voice in my head that asks, “Why bother?” and tells me I’m not even worth the effort. Though I would bend over backwards for others or give them the shirt off my back if they needed it, I have trouble some days even justifying “wasting food on myself” because someone else might enjoy it more.
I spend my life feeling alone no matter how many other people are around. My illness isolates me, convincing me that no one else could possibly understand, nor would they even truly care. I feel like a constant burden, a bother, that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed away. Even in a room full of people, I feel alone in all the world.
I spend my life afraid to open up about what I am going through to anyone I care about because I do not want to scare them away. I do not want them to see me as “too broken” or “too damaged,” not worthy of their time or their love. Whenever any of my mental illness surfaces around others, I am sure it will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the reason why they, too, go away. The worst part is that I wouldn’t blame them if they did.
I spend my life going through cycles of physical ailments because my mental illness keeps presenting itself in physical ways. I’m honestly not sure whether I might have other digestive or heart issues because they’ve been so often linked to my anxiety in the past that I don’t even bring them up to the doctor anymore.
I spend every single day of my life in a constant battle with my own mind, a battle nobody else can even see that I am fighting.
I can thoroughly assure you, it is not nice at all.
There is a reason my doctors say I cannot work. They are among a very few people who I have been completely honest with about my struggles because I opened up to them knowing they were trained to deal with cases like mine. Admittedly though, there have been times I have minimized some of my struggles even with them because seeing their eyes water at my pain is heart-wrenching for me.
I have no physical signs to point to that would illustrate my disorder to those around me. That doesn’t mean I am not still struggling, that I do not need help.
I am not being “lazy,” nor am I sitting at home taking it easy. I wish I didn’t have a mental illness. I wish I could do more, contribute more. I wish I could even take better care of myself. I wish a lot of things. But I would not wish this diagnosis or this struggle on anyone. I am trying my best to take care of myself, trying to keep living, trying to make it to each new day. I am fighting to survive, whether anyone else can see it or not.
I am not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me because of my diagnosis. It is what it is. Pity won’t take away mental illness. All I truly hope for is compassion and understanding. Acknowledgment that, even though you might not be able to see it, it still exists and deserves treatment.
And please don’t say “it must be nice that I am at home dealing with my mental illness,” because I can assure you, it isn’t nice at all.
Follow this journey here.
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 reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Getty image via mheim3011