10 “Harmless Things” You Say That Hurt Me
letting my heart spill out through my keyboard… metaphorically, of course, and
I’m offering it all to you. Today, I’m going to talk about my #MentalHealth.
This is something that I’ve worked to conceal for a long time, mostly because
of the negative stigma attached to mental illness. I’m sharing for two main
reasons; (1) to educate people, and (2) to show people like me that they are
For the record: I’m living
sharing 10 “harmless things” that people have said to me that actually
cause me a great deal of pain. I’m also sharing how they make me feel, and why,
while giving you an inside look at my life.
So, these are the things I
wish you wouldn’t say to me;
“You don’t look like you have a mental illness.”
More commonly stated as; “you don’t look depressed” or “but, you look so
Please, tell me, what is a
bipolar person supposed to look like? What is a depressed person supposed to
Yes, you see me standing in
the grocery store, politely smiling and nodding at people… and you think to
yourself “she looks completely normal”… What you don’t see is the conflict
inside me, and how painful my smile sometimes is.
You see a smiling woman. You
didn’t see me last night, when I had a panic attack while making my shopping
list. You didn’t see me 30 minutes ago, when I prayed and gave myself a pep
talk in the car. You didn’t see me 10 minutes ago, when I put my earbuds in and
turned on music to avoid an embarrassing public #Anxiety attack.
No, you just see a happy woman shopping for avocado and white onion… You see no
indication of the chaos and panic going on inside my mind, because I work super
hard to keep it all inside.
Compulsive Disorder, and #SocialAnxiety Disorder are all invisible illnesses.
So, what am I supposed to look like?
“I wish I was manic; I’d get so much done.”
With all due respect, no. If you understood what mania was you would never wish
for it. Seriously, I wouldn’t wish a manic episode on my worst enemy.
Being stuck inside of a
manic episode can be an emotionally debilitating experience; it’s painful,
exhausting, and completely illogical. Imagine having a swarm of rabid
bumblebees trapped inside your head. There are hundreds of buzzing bees, and
every single bee has its own project to do. Every bumblebee project is emergent
and needs to be completed, in its entirety, immediately. So you spend hours,
days, or maybe even weeks aimlessly running around in an unrealistic fashion
trying to complete all the bizarre bumblebee tasks.
It’s not efficient. It’s
stressful and it can cause major life impairment, so stop wishing for it.
mania is an illness.
You wouldn’t tell someone with #Cancer “I wish I could have chemo, I’d lose so
much weight” would you? No. You wouldn’t. Because it would be rude and
insensitive. So stop it.
“You just need a hobby.”
I wish it could be that simple. I’ve had enough hobbies for 5 lifetimes, and
guess what: I’m still , I still have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and
I’m still a prisoner to social anxiety. I’ve tried painting, biking, yoga,
running, weight lifting, hiking, fishing, spectator sports, journaling,
photography, coloring, you name it… and, sure, sometimes a hobby can be a nice
distraction, but more often than not a hobby can cause additional anxiety.
For example, a few months
ago I tried to join a comic book reading group. I mean, I absolutely love comic
books, so it seemed perfect. I bought the comic books, read them, re-read them,
wrote detailed notes, researched the comics, developed questions, and talking
points for the group discussion. On the day of the group I got dressed (in a
t-shirt that matched the comic), put the comics in my backpack, and proceeded
to have an absolute meltdown because of unknowns: how many people would be at
the group, what if I didn’t know anyone, or (even worse) what if I did know
someone and they didn’t like me, what if my talking points weren’t good enough?
My anxiety became an endless thought spiral that I couldn’t control. Thus
turning my hobby into an additional cause of , which ultimately resulted
in a full-blown attack, hours of crying, and me not leaving the house
The “you just need a hobby”
comment is particularly hurtful because it invalidates the seriousness of my
illness. Like, my will be miraculously cured if I
take up knitting? No.
“Have you tried praying about it?”
Yes. The answer is yes. I pray constantly.
I pray that God will give me the strength to get out of bed to feed and care
for my dogs when I’m having an episode of #Depression.
I pray that God will steady my voice, so I won’t constantly over talk others
when I’m stuck in an episode of .
I pray that God will strengthen my resolve when I have racing thoughts of
worthlessness that could lead to #Selfharm.
I pray that God will help me be strong, and learn to control my emotions, so I
can be a mother someday.
I also pray about hundreds of things that have nothing to do with my mental
So, yes, I pray.
These “prayer” comments
hurt, they really hurt. For example, a few weeks ago I posted a blog about my
struggle with depression, someone who read it said to me; “that’s you letting
the devil in, you have to pray harder.” That comment hit me like a punch
directly to the gut; upon hearing it I immediately got dizzy, nauseous, and frantic.
I know, I know, their comment probably came from a good place… But it made me
feel so empty.
My is not caused by the absence of God, or
presence of the devil… it’s a chemical imbalance that I’ll have to live with
during my time on Earth, regardless of my relationship with God. Sure, a strong
relationship with God makes everything more bearable, but praying won’t make my
go away. Praying, will, however, help me become stronger in
facing the adversity that life has given me. So I pray.
“Everybody gets sad/stressed sometimes, it doesn’t mean you have a
This is important, so pay attention: sadness is not the same as depression, and
stress is not the same as . Additionally, this statement is hurtful because
it means that you don’t take my illness seriously. For example: you wouldn’t
say to a person with #Lupus; “everyone get sunburn, that doesn’t mean you have
Lupus” would you? No, hopefully you wouldn’t, because that statement is both
senseless and uneducated.
Sadness is a normal human
emotion. , on the other hand, is an abnormal emotional state caused
by a .
Sad people are sad because something happened that caused their sadness; it
could be something huge (like the loss of a loved one), or something small
(like a bad first date), and sadness normally lasts a reasonable amount of
time. Whereas needs no cause or invitation, it just happens,
completely unsolicited… and there is no logic or rational thought behind how long
it sticks around. Sure, can be triggered by a sad event, and severe
sadness can lead to a form or , but that’s an entirely different
Sad people are sad. People with experience deep feelings of
worthlessness, difficulty in concentration and connectivity, decreased pleasure
in things that are normally pleasurable, a lack in concern for personal
hygiene, and even thoughts of #Suicide or self-harm.
Example: If I was simply sad (from a breakup, or whatever) I’d eat a pint of
ice cream with my friends, cry a little, maybe get a haircut, and binge-watch a
TV show. If I was experiencing , I would let the ice cream melt on
the countertop, ignore my friends calls (for days, or even weeks), forget to
shower or brush my hair (for days, or even weeks), and I wouldn’t be able to
binge-watch, because TV shows probably wouldn’t bring me joy… I’d just sit, or
lay, numb to the world, in a worthless state of “blah”. See the difference?
I guess you could put it this way: Sadness is feeling sad. is
feeling nothing, at all.
Stress originates from the
pressures that a person feels in their everyday life; you have a deadline
approaching, your child has two bake sales and a school dance this week, you
got a flat tire on the way to work, etc… With stress, once the obstacle is
achieved the emotion (stress) disappears, until it reappears because of another
stressful obstacle; the bake sale is over, so the “bake sale stress” leaves,
and on-and-on-and-so-forth. , however, doesn’t work so conveniently:
true will continue after the stressor is gone, or will originate
out of nowhere when it doesn’t even seem like there is a stressor around.
When you’re stressed you can feel overwhelmed for a short or extended period of
time. When you’re having you can experience a debilitating state of
emotions. I normally call these emotions “crippling vertigo spirals” [patent
pending]; I get faint, dizzy, and nauseous, I feel an intense amount of terror,
followed quickly by chest pains, and cold sweats, my mind begins racing wildly,
and I can’t calm down. If I’m in a private place (like my home) I immediately
sit down and begin my calming techniques, but if I’m in a public place (like a
movie theater or shopping mall) my small attack can turn into an
episode, and it’s a horrible and helpless, situation – “crippling vertigo
spiral” is really the only words I can find to describe it.
Back to the comment: by
saying “everyone gets sad” or “everyone gets stressed” you are erasing the
validity of my illness. You are basically saying that my illness doesn’t exist
to you. I have a real illness, please don’t belittle or invalidate it in such a
casual way. It’s real. I live with it every day.
“But your life is perfect, you have nothing to be depressed about.”
This statement is just ridiculous.
Carrie Fisher had
Melissa Benoist struggles with .
Lady Gaga has #Fibromyalgia.
Chrissy Teigen struggled with Postpartum .
Michael Phelps has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Daniel Radcliffe has .
My Favorite Advisor from College has Lupus.
All of those amazing people
live seemingly normal lives. All of those people inspire happiness in others.
All of those people seem like they live perfect lives; Princess Leia,
Supergirl, an Olympian, Harry Potter… All of those people, including me, have
an invisible illness. We live with it. We look normal. But the illness is
there, and it is the illness inside us that causes our symptoms, not the life
around us. So, we look normal. So what?
“You must be manic right now.”
I normally hear this when I’m excited about something. Sometimes people confuse
genuine excitement for a . For example, I’ll start talking, passionately,
about a book or movie release and someone will stop me and say, “calm down,
you’re a little too right now.” No, I’m just excited. I’m allowed to be
excited about things, just like everyone else.
This is one of the biggest
“At least there’s nothing physically wrong with you.”
This statement makes me want to scream. It’s just awful. I don’t even know how
to explain how awful this is.
First off, I don’t like the latter part of the statement; “wrong with you”.
There is nothing “wrong with me”, I’m just me. I have an illness, it’s there,
and I’m fine with it.
Second, what do you mean by “physically wrong”? Because there are MANY physical
symptoms of my illness.
My Physical Stuff:
Obsessive Skin Picking: A few years ago my #Dermatillomania got so bad that I
almost lost a finger due to a really bad infection. My obsessive compulsion, at
the time, was skin picking, and I couldn’t stop picking at my hands… and I
don’t mean picking a hangnail; I mean digging relentlessly at gaping wounds on
my hands. It was painful, bloody, and awful. It took therapy, trials with many
medications, and years of practice to calm the compulsion down. Now I get fake
nails put on bi-monthly because it’s more difficult to pick with acrylic nails.
The obsession is still there. I carry Band-Aids and gloves in my purse, so I
can put them on when I start picking. Mainly so I won’t get blood all over
everything. Is that physical enough for you?
Obsessive Teeth Grinding: My causes such bad night terrors that I’ve
actually cracked my teeth in my sleep. I often wake up with a bloody mouth. I
recently got a mouth guard to wear at night, so I don’t break all my teeth.
Related Hives: They look a lot like poison ivy. Actually, once in
college I had a really bad attack and broke out in hives. I thought it
was poison ivy, so I covered myself in calamine lotion. Then, I fell asleep
because I was so exhausted from the attack. When I woke up I realized
that I was late for volleyball practice, so I rushed to practice – still
covered in the calamine lotion… I told my teammates that I had poison ivy, but
to my amazement the hives were gone… my teammates got mad, and thought I was
making an excuse for being late. It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered
they were hives. I get them all the time, they are huge, ugly, and they
itch like crazy, but they go away after an hour-or-so. I never told my
teammates, or my coach the truth (because I was so embarrassed about my
disorder)… they will find out, now, if they are reading this.
Post-Mania Pain: When I’m it’s like I’m trapped underwater, holding my
breath. It causes all my bones and muscles to tense up. So, when my
finally goes away I’m left with the aftermath of my own body, and it’s often
excruciating. Joint pain. Muscle pain. Headaches from teeth grinding.
Dehydration from panicked breathing. Post-Mania body pain is one of my absolute
least favorite parts of life. I don’t wanna put into words how painful it can
I’m gonna stop there, because I’m not mentally ready to share other physical
side-effects with you… maybe someday.
But, for the record: sure, I
don’t have the stereotypical characteristics of someone with an obvious
physical impairment or #Disability… But that still isn’t a fair comparison. It
isn’t fair to me, and it isn’t fair to people who live with a physical
impairment. So, STOP USING THE WORD “WRONG”. Just stop.
“Have you tried herbal remedies?”
More commonly stated as; “I sell _______, and I bet it could help you with your
These conversations are always super awkward. Someone will say; “oh, my cousin
was super stressed too, then she tried lavender essential oils, and she’s all
good now. I can sell you some essential oils for your stress.”
First, I’ll say it again:
stress is not the same as a social anxiety disorder. Second, I believe that
herbal remedies can, indeed, help people with mental illnesses… But, with that
being said, people try to heal my disorders with stuff they are selling WAY TOO
OFTEN… and it’s reached an insensitive level.
What am I supposed to say in
reply to these “door-to-door experts”? Let’s take a look at my
Option 1: “I’m glad oils helped your stressed cousin, but I’m not stressed, I
have a severe disorder, it’s an actual chemical imbalance in my
Why Option 1 Doesn’t Work: It almost always results in someone, with no medical
training, explaining my medical condition to me… normally in a belittling
voice. Followed by “lavender essential oils will fix you right up”.
Option 2: “I would like to consult my physician before I start a treatment.”
Why Option 2 Doesn’t Work: When I use Option 2 I normally receive a reply like
this “My product is recommended by doctors, my friend is a PA, and he
recommends it to everyone. I’ll get you set up with a discounted sample trial.
You’ll love it.”
You wouldn’t tell someone
with to “just use sunscreen”, would you? So stop assuming my
Disorder or can be cured by a yearly supply of
whatever product you’re selling… its insensitive, and hurtful.
Public Service Announcement:
If you wanna sell something to me, just pitch it, you don’t have to bring up my
illness… I like the smell of pumpkin… so run with that. I’ll probably end up
buying something from you.
“At least you don’t have kids, then you’d be really stressed.” or “Good thing you’re not a
mother, you wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
This is the worst type of comment. By far. I want to be a mother more than
anything in the entire world… and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why
people think this statement is appropriate. It’s not appropriate, in the
slightest. It’s cruel and awful. I’m a capable human. A very capable human,
actually. I share my struggles so other people can see that they are not alone.
I share my insecurities so other people can find strength in them. I don’t
share my illness so “Susan at the bake sale” can tell me that I would be an
If God blesses me with a
baby someday I’ll be a fit mother. I’ll put that child’s needs before my own
every single day. I will be a wonderful and capable mother. A mother that just
so happens to be living with and obsessive compulsive
disorder. If God gives my husband and I a child we will be amazing parents… and
shame on you, “Susan”, for lumping my in a ball with parental
I know stressors will come
with parenthood, but I will conquer them all, in stride.
*“Susan” represents a
wide-variety of people who have told me not to become a mother because of my
. None of those people are actually named Susan, and none of the
conversations happened at a bake sale.
Curtain Call: In Conclusion
If you’ve ever said one of these things to me, there is absolutely no need to
apologize. You didn’t understand then, but now you do. Also, if you feel
offended because I “called you out”, I’m sorry… But, I’m advocating for myself.
My intention was never to offend or hurt anyone, ever. I just want kindness,
awareness, and acceptance.
If you’re living with
, , Disorder, or
anything outside of that, or in between, always remember that you have survived
100% of your toughest days, and there is an entire world full of people who are
on your team. Never, ever, ever, give up. You matter.
Sincerely, Elizabeth (the