I asked people who battle mental illness a few simple, but powerful questions. For people who relate, I hope you will find solace in their honesty. For people who do not, I hope you will be educated in their bravery. Vulnerability is a scary, beautiful thing that can help us to combat stigma and grow together.
I collected answers from people who suffer from generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety psychosis, and bipolar depression. Many of the people I interviewed face more than one illness. I, myself, face generalized anxiety, depression, and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures; I included some of my own answers to the questions in the article.
1. “What is the most difficult part of facing one or more mental illnesses?”
On having both anxiety and depression:
“When depression hits harder, I find myself with the same anxious, overwhelmed feelings, but without the motivation or energy to do anything to curb them.”
“When depression comes, I crave anxiety just so I can feel something. Then as soon as panic attacks ensue, I crave the emptiness of depression. I don’t know what real peace feels like.”
On the struggle of surviving, battling your mind every day:
“For me, it’s trying to get by day to day, feeling like I’m letting myself, my boyfriend, my dad, and my family down.”
“Not being able to make sense of my thoughts.”
“Learning how to live every day and control these issues to be able to have a productive and successful life.”
On dealing with shame and feeling ‘pathetic’:
“Dealing with the regret and lost opportunities. I should have done better in school, I should have created more art, I should have started my career sooner…”
“Part of my anxiety stems from trying to hide…I try to put on a brave front in for my boss and my coworkers, but I constantly feel like I’m one misstep away from the whole charade falling apart.”
“I let myself believe I deserve to suffer.”
This seems completely distorted. It is a part of our everyday lives, yet we try and hide it. We see success as keeping it together, when we know no one truly has it all together, but can you blame us? If our illnesses aren’t telling us we are useless, if our minds take a break from tormenting us, then the stigma of society is there to fill in.
It’s not any one person’s fault, even though I’d love to take it out on the people who belittled me because of my disorder. The culture is the problem, the stigma, society’s perceptions of us. It’s bigger than one bully. One person, however, can make a big difference. One kind word, one meaningful text, or one attempt to understand us can be monumental. For this very reason, I asked the next question in an effort to educate peers. Here are the things we want you to know about mental health.
2. “What is the one thing people just don’t seem to get about mental illness?”
“They don’t get that it is something that is debilitating…they think because they can’t see it that it doesn’t exist”
“People really don’t understand that depression is being more than just sad. Sometimes I just feel empty. And that’s a really hard thing to tell people who don’t face it.”
“That OCD isn’t just keeping things tidy, it’s strange thoughts and dry hands and obsessive fear of leaving the oven on even when you haven’t touched it that day.”
“Because words like anxiety and depression are thrown around daily, people who are actually struggling with those serious mental issues are written off as just sad or nervous.”
“That it is so much more then “in my head”. It can be very physical.”
We want to be understood. We aren’t looking for people to fix us, but to listen, to try to understand, to choose us instead of choosing stigma. Our pain is real, and we want it to matter because sometimes we have a hard enough time convincing ourselves that it does.
3. “Do you feel like anything good has come from battling your mental illness? If so, explain.”
After reading the other answers, you may think this question is crazy. How could something good come from something so painful and debilitating? Because we are human, and being human, even though it makes us fragile, unpredictable, reckless, and flawed, also makes us astonishingly resilient. Even if they couldn’t see it at first, every single person I talked to felt that at least one good thing had stemmed from their battle with mental illness.
“I am stronger and more empathetic with others”
“It’s made me stronger in my faith…I’ve brought awareness to the taboo subject among friends and family. I’m not crazy. I’m not sick. I’m simply who God made me.”
“I began changing the way that I prayed from a focus on pain to a focus on thanksgiving. I made myself list out everything I was thankful for each day, even things as small as
“I’m thankful that someone left a Snickers bar on the free food table at work.”…it’s slowly beginning to change how I see the world.”
“It has made me understand and help other people emotionally…The ways I cope may not work for everyone but it can be a start for some.”
“I hope that by being raw with what I am feeling and how I am fighting it, I can be a beacon of hope for others who suffer.”
If you are facing a mental illness, I urge you to reach out. Never apologize for being honest. You are not alone. If you do not face a mental illness, I hope you were still touched by these words.
We are not sick. We are not seeking attention or pity. We want support, understanding, and love. Our illnesses have helped us become stronger, more grateful for little things, and more willing to help others. Don’t be judgmental of what we face; rather, be inspired by what we overcome.