Today’s world mental health awareness day.
I have dealt with mental health issues for pretty much as long as I can remember. Nothing was diagnosed until I was postpartum with my first child, but understanding now what I didn’t understand then, I am certain I had depression all through high school.
More recently I have experience anxiety and had this summer what would once have been called a breakdown, but they don’t use that word anymore, so who knows what it’s called. But what it feels like was a total and complete loss of ability to function. Tears for hours. Racing heart for hours for no reason.
Mental health issues have ever been, for me, about what my thoughts are doing. I’m pretty good at focusing on all the amazing things I have in my life to be grateful for.
Unfortunately my brain chemistry doesn’t play nicely.
I am open about my illness because I know how important it is to see yourself reflected in the media around you. So I’m here, shining a light, because I *know* people need to see it and I *know* we need to normalize mental illness. I don’t do it to ‘overshare’. I do it to create a place in people’s minds to understand something they maybe didn’t understand before. And I do it so other people who share this illness know they aren’t alone.
Because feeling like you are along, like you are the only one who could possibly live such a difficult experience, makes it worse.
I have a mental illness. I am not mental illness. I am loving and creative and resourceful and funny and generous and loyal as heck. I have a full life with love and happiness and gifts and blessings beyond measure. And still the tears come.
So if you catch yourself thinking ‘why doesn’t she snap out of it’ or ‘why doesn’t he just take better care of himself’ or ‘if they would just focus on the positive in their lives they’d feel better; please take a moment and check in with the facts. Mental illness is so much more than just changing your outlook and going for a run and eating more veggies. Do those things help? Of course. They help everyone. But still the tears come.
Your mentally ill friends may need space to be who they are because it’s exhausting trying to pretend all the time.
They may need understanding if they cancel plans because today they just can’t get out of bed. They aren’t being callous.
They may need to talk, or they may need to not talk. They may need you to sit in silence beside them or watch silly videos so you can belly laugh together.
They may need you to understand that there will be stacks of papers on the counter, because they are important things that need to be dealt with (which is why they are in eyesight) but they just don’t have the mental planning capabilities to actually deal with them (which is why they stack up).
They may have messy homes and be afraid to have you over.
They may have meticulously clean homes and get upset if you spill a drink.
They may seem abrupt in their speech, maybe rude, because they can’t find the energy to make more words.
They may talk a lot and need to be heard, not told they ramble.
Take the time to get to know where the line lies between illness and person. Don’t demand that they be one or the other – they can’t drop the illness on demand but oh, do they wish they could.
The points is your friends with mental illness are still your friends. They aren’t the illness. But they can’t peel the illness away at will. So just as we accept our friends with glasses or those who can’t keep up with us on a hike, we need to accept our friends with mental illness and what they can and can’t keep up with.
It’s not personal. It’s living with illness.