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'What You See' and 'How I Actually Feel' Are Two Very Different Things

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I’ve been battling my mental health since I was in my early teens. Some of my closest friends and family have yet to see me during an episode. Last night was one of those episodes.

One night, I cried for what felt like hours. I had a tightness in my chest that made me feel like my heart and lungs were being squeezed together with a rubber band. I broke a drinking glass because my hands were so shaky I couldn’t hold on to it when I tried to get a drink of water. I only fell asleep when my body couldn’t handle the attack anymore. My body finally needed a break.

And then the next day, I went to work like nothing happened.

You see a smile, you see a laugh. You see life and color. You feel energy radiating off my body like heat. A look and a demeanor I had to pull from the depths of my inner being just to make sure you don’t lose interest in having a conversation with me. Or feel as if I didn’t have an interest in talking to you.

You see an “effortless” look I spent 40 minutes creating after fighting with myself for two hours to get out of bed.

You might see tired eyes or hear a force in my voice when I say “good morning” at the start of our day. But you’ll brush it off thinking I had a long night or I might be slightly hungover.

The truth is, I didn’t drink last night. To be quite honest, I was in bed before 9 p.m. I even had a nap in the afternoon.

You don’t see me take my medication in the morning — the medication that regulates a lot of my behavior. It helps me sleep, it helps me perform daily activities and I even keep it across from me in my bedroom so I have to get out of bed in the morning to take it.

You don’t see me come home and change into my pajamas after only being out of the house for a few hours. I climb back into bed almost immediately because being out even just to grab lunch or groceries is exhausting and I need a break.

I have scars from the times I hurt myself just to fight through the pain I felt inside and you ask about them when you see me at work, but I tell you they’re from a long time ago. You don’t know the most recent one only happened two weeks ago. You hug me and tell me you’re happy I fought through it and I’m still here.

I’ve hidden the fact someone I loved dearly had to talk me out of killing myself just a month before Christmas, even after he broke my heart. I had to call in sick to work as I sat in the emergency room parking lot on several different occasions, too afraid to go in and admit I need help. The bravest thing I ever did for myself was walk into my doctor’s office and tell him I’m scared as he set up an appointment with his referencing psychiatrist. I go back in two weeks for a “feedback” appointment to find out what’s next for me and where to go from there. It’s hard to believe one person can learn so much about you from only two hours. But I feel like he opened up a door no one’s opened before, asking questions  no one has been able to ask me in the past.

Every day I tell myself it’s OK to have bad days and it is OK for others to know I’m having a bad day, even if they don’t completely understand. But some days it’s OK to hide how you’re feeling, just to avoid questions or what might come with showing how you really feel. It can be overwhelming at times. You don’t see everything I do to hide my mental illness, but you also don’t see everything I’m currently doing to keep my mental illness from controlling my life and my relationships. And that’s completely OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via Ralwel.

Originally published: March 7, 2017
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