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Mental Illness Is Not a Costume

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I dig fashion. My motto has always been, “Dress to express, not impress.” I have many outfits I wear that express who I am on the outside as well as the inside. Some I choose and some I don’t. Most of these choices are thanks to Target and my husband’s credit card! Some are courtesy of my mental illness. Instead of hanging in my closet, they are engrained in my body chemistry. They showcase as facial expressions, body language and attitude changes. Sometimes I wear my anxieties on my body as it ticks, stammers and gets stuck on those “bad days.”

Mental illness is not a costume. It is not something we can take off whenever we feel like it. It is not a piece of clothing that is hanging up for us to willingly choose to wear. And it should never be OK to consider mental illness a good choice for a Halloween costume. Mental illness is not a punch line. It should not be a scare tactic. It should not be used for entertainment value. This is not about being too sensitive or politically correct. It is about being empathic and respectful.

Some days I am the girl with the smeared mascara down her face from a night of not sleeping and a morning of not caring. Some days I appear to be overly joyous girl at a party who just rambles on. Some days I am the girl in the corner of the room with her head held low and arms crossed. Some days my nails never leave my mouth as I try and release all my anxieties through my fingertips. Some days I scratch my scalp to relieve my tension. I can go on and on.

woman wearing shirt that says i am not a monday person

More days than not, I am perfectly content with wearing my mental illness for all to see. I am not afraid. You should not be afraid. Even on my worst days, I am still me. I still love cats more than dogs. I have a donut every morning for breakfast as usual. I still parent my child as best I can. I still practice (and preach) self-love. I’ll always be obsessed with football. And I will always fall victim to a good Lifetime movie. I just happen to be wearing a different outfit while doing so.

While living with mental illness can be scary, we shouldn’t be made to feel as though we have something to fear. “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” — Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fear has a funny way of masquerading itself as something positive. Once we fall victim to the thought that we should be feared for being who we are, the road gets a lot darker. The path gets longer and we can get lost.

We are who we are, even in the face of our mental illness. It is not our costume. It is our life. We live each day with the uncertainty of how we might feel, react or appear to others. Some may call this a burden. If you must call it that, then so be it. It is a burden I wear proudly. I am proud of who I am in my mental illness. No matter if you have a mental illness, you should wear your best self — every day. I do. That is the best costume in town!

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Originally published: October 30, 2016
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