Mental illness . . . That thing people skirt around. That thing that “doesn’t really exist” because “it’s just in your head.” No. That’s not the thing. It’s real. And it’s a stigma. And unless you’ve lived with it, you have no idea the battles this invisible thing does. It is real. It is not easy, for anyone involved.
Mental illness is not easy to explain, partly because it puts a huge, painfully bright spotlight on us when the last thing we really want is the focus on us for something we can’t usually put into words.
I’ve been working on this post for a while (over a year in the making), but finally decided to go forward with it during the anniversary of a good friend’s life taken from this world too soon. So here goes.
Here are some things about mental illness, mostly geared toward depression and anxiety/panic disorders. Maybe they’ll help you understand what you’re going through or what someone you love is going through. Please note, I’m not a medical professional. I am only speaking from experience, firsthand and secondhand.
- Mental illness is an “invisible illness” as it can’t typically be seen just by looking at someone. Our battles are on the inside, though they can be brought on by or cause additional visible issues. Invisible illnesses are real. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and isn’t as serious as something you can see.
We aren’t making it up. We aren’t looking for attention. We aren’t trying to be sad or standoffish or brash or distant or broken or whatever else we may be.
- We* know we aren’t easy to live with, and we are sorry for that. If we could change it, we absolutely would.
- Life gets overwhelming sometimes. Not necessarily specific things in life, but the whole of it. Breathing, living, each day. It can be exhausting to people.
- Night time is usually the worst for a lot of us.
- Sometimes tears, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks come out of the blue. This happens a lot of the time for really no reason at all. A person can be smiling and laughing one moment, then sobbing and hyperventilating the next. There isn’t always a reason or a trigger for this. Anxiety and depression can be there for literally no reason at all, which means these panic attacks or long-living anxiety attacks build and explode without any reason. Sometimes a person just needs to cry to release the pain of their mental illness. Or sob. Or hit a pillow or a wall (not encouraged, but common, sadly.)
- Sometimes we’ve unintentionally spent days or weeks holding it all together, pretending or believing we are better or ok. Then, for no reason at all, or maybe the tiniest trigger, we go back into that place.
- It helps us to have outlets – sports, reading, singing, dancing, art, gaming – something that takes us completely out of the day-to-day. The goal is for these outlets to be healthy.
- We are trying. Each and every day. To survive. To not disappoint the people who love us. To be what everyone else needs us to be.
- Sometimes we lose sight of who we need to be for ourselves.
- There is no shame in needing medication to help along the way, but it’s important to remember that medication is not always a miracle fix. If one doesn’t work, don’t let that stop from trying another.
- There are so many different kinds of medications, so it’s important to note they don’t all work the same for everyone. What works for one person may be wrong for another because it all depends on their chemical makeup and balance needs. This is why it’s important to get fully evaluated by a psychiatrist to find out what would work best and get a true diagnosis. This is a much better route than taking something because your PCP potentially plays a game of eeny meeny miny moe with your body chemistry. (But this shouldn’t stop you from going to your PCP with these issues.) It’s important to note, as well, that just because something works for your sister or mom or uncle does not mean it will work for you.
- There is an adjustment period as the body figures out how to balance the medication in the system and let it change as chemicals swim around. This can take many months, and most times, a person’s mental health can get a lot worse during this adjustment period before it gets better. Stick with it. Keep pushing. The adjustment period isn’t forever.
- Flare-ups can break through medication and sometimes they are worse than they’d be without the medicine. That’s ok! You can get through them.
- Find a therapist who you trust and mesh with. Therapy can be one of the safest spaces. Make it someone you can tell all to, who actively listens to everything you have to say, who you trust, who knows nothing about you initially so you can start with a blank slate, who doesn’t make you feel like just another patient on their list, and whatever else you discover you need from someone.
- It’s ok to not be ok! No one has perfect days or perfect lives. But you can get through it, one day at a time. One moment at a time.
- Sometimes we need a break from everyone, and this may include the people we love and who love us most. It’s not something against us or our loved ones, but sometimes we just need to breathe and recenter ourselves. Just try not to push the people you love away. There’s a fine line between needing a break and pushing people away.
- Then, in the opposite side, sometimes we need our loved ones to hold us or to just sit there with us in a quiet space while we work on finding ourselves again. No expectations. No forced talking. Just existing.
- We can’t usually just talk about it. Words sometimes break for us. They stop working because a lot of the time, the pain is inexplicable.
- We may overthink everything. (My husband is probably highly amused at this sentence and may be nodding emphatically.)
- We are trying, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
- We appreciate you. Your support and love help, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Even when we don’t express how thankful we are.
I’m obviously not speaking for everyone with this article, but the majority of people I know who have been battling invisible illnesses have shared these thoughts with me.
This world is sometimes a dumb place to be. It sometimes hurts. But there is beauty in it. Sometimes we just need that reminder. We need people. We need love. And we need support, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
You are strong. You are beautiful. And you deserve to be happy. You are not your illness. Your illness does not define you.
Please seek help. Take care of yourselves. Take care of those you love. As someone who suffers from the above, I know we sometimes need these reminds.
And know, if you ever need anything, I am here. I understand.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255 – 24/7 free and confidential support
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis support in the US.
Volunteer to become a Crisis Counselor: