We don’t all have perfect lives. We get what life throws at us. Mental illness is a topic many people have difficulty with. It is not an obvious illness cured by medicine. Most people suffer in silence; unaware of the repercussions it will have as time goes on. Admitting you suffer from a mental illness can be the hardest reality we admit to ourselves. I plastered a fake smile and made jokes to mask the turmoil inside me. From personal experience, I can tell you that hiding will only exacerbate pain until you can no longer control it. Through anger, depression, tears, self-doubt, lies, honesty, and eventually happiness, I was able to come to accept my mental illness. I stopped letting it control me and accepted what I had been struggling with for years. It made me stronger, more confident and sure of myself. Now, I realize my journey was a way of understanding an illness that I cannot handle on my own:
1. Confiding in someone does not mean you are burdening them with your problems. The moment you begin to admit it to yourself or someone else, is the moment you set yourself free. It does not have to be everyone, but telling someone allows you to solidify your acknowledgement of it. You can only have a support system with open and honest communication. I hid my mental illness from my mother in fear that I would add more on to her single, overworked and stressful life. What I did not realize was that my mother was the strongest support system I had.
2. Waiting for someone to notice your problem will never have a positive outcome. If you are excellent at creating a façade, most people will never be aware of your struggle. Waiting on others to help means you are relying on someone to do what you cannot or are not ready to do. If someone does take notice you will only end up angry; angry with yourself for not successfully concealing it; angry at he or she for bringing attention to the unnamed darkness; angry because nobody likes someone with baggage. You have been trained by society to believe that any baggage means you are too much work for and that perfect friend group TV shows depict will reject you because you are not shallow. I presumed someone would eventually notice and it would all come unraveled. Whenever I was asked if I was “okay”, I lashed out with irritation and frustration. Someone able to notice subtle changes only proves that he or she cares about you.
3. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. Maybe the thought of mental illness conjures up images from movies with people locked in a psych ward. Maybe your mind goes back to high school health class with a poster picturing a sulking kid sitting in the shadows alone. You don’t want to be that kid. You don’t want to wear that straightjacket. You cannot recognize you have already put yourself in a straightjacket of lies. People shy away from discussing mental illness because of the connotations society places on those who suffer. Mental illness is not something to fear; it should be discussed.
I thought it made me weak. I had been severely depressed after my father passed away. I locked it inside my mind. I suppressed signs of bipolar disorder. I thought transferring schools was the solution. Nothing helped. Alone at night, I would fall to my lowest point not knowing if I could get out. It slowly ate at me until I did not recognize myself.
4. You cannot control your actions or thoughts. Impulsive actions and thoughts are out of your control. The burden will eventually crack the façade. I admit I stole, shoplifted and lied. I had no control over it. I felt bad the second the high was gone. I realized the implications of my actions, but, I had no rational explanation. To explain my actions would unravel everything. I realized how my actions impacted others, but how do explain something you don’t understand?
5. College is not the cause. Although the stress in college may make you more aware, this does not mean that college caused it. Trying to get through the mound of homework and faking happiness can take a toll. Graduating college will not fix it. It will persist. It will get worse.
6. Drinking may make the pain go away, but it doesn’t last. I am all for going out as many nights as possible, taking pulls from a half gallon of hot cinnamon Burnett’s and waking up to your friends filling you in on what you can’t remember as you debate whether you are still drunk. College is your time to have fun. You should get to enjoy this time. Go out until your liver begins to hate you. Drinking will only cause more havoc. Drinking is a depressant; it will push you deeper into the darkness. It has the power to destroy the fake world you created. Drunk you will end up saying things sober you has never admitted. Realize drunk you is, for once, trying to help you.
7. Being someone’s support system who battles mental illness is about trust. Understand your friend had faith in your friendship to confide in you. The courage it takes to open up leaves her vulnerable and afraid it will change people’s perceptions. As a support system, you just need to listen. Know that she has bestowed her trust in you. It is not your place to tell others. Be patient. When I decided to tell those around me, I found friends who would stick by me until the storm had cleared. When my father passed, his friends continued to check in on my family. Without my father, his friends had no obligation to stay in contact with us and many did just that. For some, their friendship with my father was deeper than just having a good time together. It meant being there when my dad couldn’t. My father has missed so many moments in my life, with more to come, but his friends have continued to be there for me. That’s all it takes.
I eventually reached a point where I knew it was no longer healthy to continue as I was. Being honest with yourself is the only way out of the walls you built to keep people at arms length. No matter how much you run from it, that fake smile and laugh will only hold for so long. Admitting it causes self-awareness. Suffering in silence will eat at you until you don’t recognize the person in the mirror staring back at you. You have hidden something that is part of you. It has kept you from genuine happiness. To conquer those demons, takes courage you have demonstrated already by trying to go at it alone. You have to come to terms with who you are. When mental illness can finally be addressed, it empowers those to fight adversity and become stronger than before. Don’t let society make you someone you are not.