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How This Photo Shows the Hidden Side of My Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

Many people struggle silently with mental illnesses that are invisible to the naked eye. They are able to hide their symptoms at school, work, with friends and family, etc., only letting the deepest parts of their psyche become visible when there is an element of privacy and secrecy. I often feel that this is the case for me and my mental illness. I’ve become an expert at hiding some of the difficulties that accompany a life with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); if you didn’t know my diagnosis or know what to look for, you probably wouldn’t notice that I’m doing anything out of the ordinary.

But if you look closely at my right hand, it tells a very different story. Years and years of anxiety, obsessions, compulsions and intrusive thoughts have led to me picking at the skin on my middle-finger knuckle on my right hand, compulsively. I do it all day long, often without conscious awareness, but always in times of high stress and anxiety (which is the majority of the time). My finger is deformed, there is skin missing off the top, and it might never go back to “normal” even if I were able to stop this habit cold turkey, right now. And this picture was taken on a “good” day; there have been days where my finger is bleeding and there is skin missing all the way down the side. 

This is, arguably, the only visible part of my mental illness. If you didn’t know to specifically look at my hand, you probably wouldn’t even notice. But that one finger tells a much deeper, darker, more complicated story. It tells a story that spans years in the making. It tells a story that doesn’t always make sense. It tells a story that is very real.

You can’t always see what people are struggling with. People often don’t “look” mentally ill. Even beyond mental illness, people are often very good at hiding everyday feelings, such as sadness or fear. Try not to judge based solely on what you can see on the outside because chances are, there will be close to nothing to see.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new No Shame group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Struggling with self-judgment? The No Shame group is a safe space to talk about the things that tend to make us feel bad about ourselves and how to overcome those challenges. Click to join.

My finger is something that I’m embarrassed about. I cover it up with a Band-Aid when I get a manicure. I try not to let my clients see it. It’s something that causes me shame and guilt, and it’s incredibly frustrating that I can’t stop. But it’s also a story of hope. This photo shows one of my weaknesses, but it does not mean I am weak. My finger represents a war inside of me that is raging, but one in which I refuse to surrender. It represents life. It is a battle scar, and I will keep fighting.

Image via contributor

Originally published: August 22, 2020
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