Today I am coming at you sprawled on the beige carpet of my bedroom floor during a particularly bad plight of insomnia. If sleep isn’t going to happen, I might as well use this hour of the night to divulge my deepest thoughts. Sometimes the best writing happens at the darkest hours of the night with a sleep mask thrown a stray, hair disheveled, no makeup on, the only light remotely close to that of the sun radiates from the open laptop screen.
And so the excessive thoughts begin. Who am I kidding? They never end! Just my writing of this stream of consciousness (which I will edit for your leisure) will begin.
So, I never gave much thought to mental illness…until it consumed my life. Oh wait, given this all started with anorexia it was more my lack of consumption that was the issue. But you get my point. Truly knowing the struggle of living with mental illness isn’t real until it is real for you personally. Now don’t get me wrong, anyone with empathy can support someone in their struggles with mental illness. We need those who are more mentally stable to be there for those of us not quite as sane. They can still understand the emotions we feel, probably not the extreme of it though. My point is, I never understood what living with mental illness meant before experiencing it myself. For those of you out there who do live with mental health issues, I hope this post can comfort you to know you are not alone. And for those of you that don’t, I am going to try and convey what it is like based on my own perspective. Keep in mind everyone’s mental health story is different, but here is a glimpse into how I experience mental illness.
Mental illness is given its name for a reason. The brain is SICK. There are days where my head literally feels like it is sick. It aches. It is exhausted. It feels like it could explode. It can’t focus. It can’t function any more. Sometimes I push it to max capacity trying to override my issues to be productive. Other times I have to give in to my depression or eating disorder thoughts because it takes too much energy not too. Any of these will happen in a given day because my struggles are daily. Hourly. Sometime minutely. Mental illness doesn’t have an easily stated recovery date like when you go to the doctor for the flu or a cold. You don’t just get over it with just some medicine. Trust me, my antidepressants do not make my depression just disappear by any means. They only make me able to live my daily life a bit more easily and with a few more spoons of energy.
Everything I have done for the last three or so years I have done while being mentally ill. It is not like other types of sick where you can just tell people hey I am sick so I can’t come to school/work/that-annoying-family-dinner-function-I-so-desperately-want-to-get-out-of. I can’t use mental illness as an excuse to not live my life because then I wouldn’t live life at all. I have to live everyday with a tint of struggle to look back on. Yet, the only thing more exhausting than living with mental illness is living with mental illness and having to pretend like you don’t. Which is what I have to do every moment I am not in my therapist’s office. The struggle is real, folks.
Because I often need to overpower how I am feeling inside to function and be productive, I am a surprisingly good actress. I am not going to earn an Oscar or anything, but people think I am incredibly happy if they don’t know me well and are not observant to my subtle cues of deeper issues. It surprised me when a few days ago at work my supervisor approached me as I was waiting for him to tell me what Target cash register would be my home for the next several hours and he asked me “Are you okay? You look sad.” I was taken aback by this question because in the many months I have fought my depression no one has so bluntly asked me that. Especially someone who hardly knows me. I barely knew how to respond, but I managed to squeeze out an “I’m fine” to him. Although just the sheer fact that he noticed I wasn’t quite right as I stared off into the distant, non-visible horizon within the massive, windowless store made me consider telling him “Ya I am sad, actually I am depressed.” But I hardly know the guy and you just never know how people will respond when you share these things. But the sheer fact that he cared enough to ask meant something. Those little moments of validation actually mean a lot. I have a feeling I will remember that experience for quite some time.
I could end this post on some sort of uplifting note about how I am doing so much better in my battle against my mental illnesses, but that would be sugar coating it. As YouTuber Charlie McDonnell says in his video sharing his struggles with anxiety and depression, often times when people share their mental illness they feel the need to end on some sort of positive note. But the truth of the matter is, to do so would be dishonest. I want anyone reading this too understand that this is my life and mental illness is part of my daily existence. I don’t say this seeking pity or to be dramatic. All I ask for is a level of understanding and compassion from both those who have experienced mental health issues and those who are fortunate enough to go through life without such experiences.
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