I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s the freaking worst. It’s exhausting. It’s not an easy thing to explain to those who don’t have it, because it’s a feeling that others simply may have never experienced. While some of us can manage it effectively, it never really goes away.
Last week I was having a hard day and just felt bad about myself. All Shane had to do was cuddle up next to me, tell me that “it’s okay to have bad days” and let me cry, and that was enough to get me through it. As much as I manage my own mental health, this still happens and there’s not much I can do about it.
I hate the stigma and taboo that comes with even mentioning mental illness, and it’s been my mission for the last year to try to increase understanding about it as best I can. So I thought it might be helpful to explain some general traits of mental illness from my experience, and provide some tips for how you can help someone you care about, whether it’s a friend, partner or family member. Obviously this list doesn’t apply to everyone, nor is it all-inclusive, but hopefully it provides some guidance.
What to know about those with mental illness:
- We are VERY vulnerable and often feel judged. We have deep-rooted issues that have done some internal damage over time.
- We sometimes lose our shit. If you’re in close proximity to us when this happens, be prepared for us to possibly take it out on you. Know that it’s not intentional.
- We don’t always have control. It’s not us, it’s the illness taking over and basically blinding us. We assume the worst is happening and panic.
- We are our own worst enemies. We are at war with ourselves. And nobody will ever be meaner to us than we are to ourselves.
- We push others away to protect ourselves. We build walls bigger than Trump can even imagine. We purposely isolate ourselves because we’ve been rejected before. We are not always easy to be around.
- We sometimes want to die. We just don’t have the energy to do it ourselves so we keep living instead.
- We don’t prefer to seek out help. Going to doctors takes a lot of effort, and reaching out to loved ones for help takes even more.
- We have excellent game faces. We have a lot of fears deep down that we have learned to mask with smiles just to fit in and appear normal.
- We sometimes can’t do simple tasks. Taking a shower or eating can be like climbing a steep mountain.
- We can develop bad habits. Drinking, smoking, self-harm; these are easy outlets for us to turn to. We are aware how bad they are for us.
- We are f*cking crazy. We have a chemical imbalance in our brain. We don’t always think rationally. It’s not an excuse, just a reason.
- We are difficult to love (or even like) sometimes. But we are lovable and likable with some dedication and compassion.
- We will never be cured, but we can learn to manage ourselves. And we have to want to get better if we’re actually going to get better. We can’t be forced.
What NOT to do:
- Don’t try to be our therapists. Or our nutritionists. While holistic approaches are certainly helpful, they don’t exclusively work for everyone. Some of us need medication just to function. And we don’t need your advice, that’s what we pay other people for. If there was an easy fix, none of us would be dealing with this.
- Don’t compare our situation to others or tell us to be grateful for what we have. We are very aware that there are people in much worse situations around the world, and we often feel shitty about the fact that our problems are what they are.
- Don’t tell us who else in your life has depression/anxiety/issues to make us feel better. We honestly don’t care about your coworker or third cousin.
- Don’t say “we all get depressed/anxious sometimes” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “I know how you feel” if you actually don’t. It’s invalidating.
- Don’t accuse us of being selfish. This is a classic line by people who have never been suicidal. It’s easy to see it this way, but we really just want our pain to end.
- Don’t tell us to get over it or do something else. We’re not cats who get distracted by a laser light. At that moment, we are consumed by our minds.
- Don’t tell us to pray to God for help. Just don’t.
- Don’t pity us or make us feel like outcasts. We have enough criticism and loathing for ourselves already.
- Don’t abandon us…if you can help it. As I said above, we’re hard to like sometimes. But abandoning us just reminds us of how screwed up we are. And then those walls get bigger. Then again, if it’s truly hard for you to deal with, it’s best to go your separate way from us to save all parties from further anguish.
How you can help:
- Feel free to connect with us on a deeper level if you have similar issues. One of the things I’ve loved most about writing about mental health is the number of people who have approached me and opened up about their own mental health struggles. Being able to relate to others in our lives is so validating for us.
- If you don’t, reach out anyway in a supportive way. If you know the type of illness someone has, do some research and understand what it entails. That means just as much to us.
- Just listen/hug us/empathize/be there for us. If you don’t know what to do, ask us how you can help. Or just act like a cat or dog and provide silent comfort.
- Be our accountability partners. We’re not always the best at initiating plans. If you’re doing something fun/active and care to invite us, please do so. It’s good for us to get out and feel included.
- Treat a mental illness like you would a physical illness. You wouldn’t get angry at someone for having a heart condition, or tell someone with a broken leg to just walk it off (pun intended). The only way for mental illness to be taken seriously in society is for more people to start taking it seriously as a disease.
BONUS! What is it like when both people in a relationship have mental illness? Speaking from experience, it’s HARD and not for everyone, but worth it if you can manage it effectively.
- We have our own way of doing things that won’t make sense to you. It has taken us a lot of trial and error to get to this point. Remember, we’re both a little crazy and that works for us. It’s our love language.
- We have a deep, sometimes unspoken, connection. We relate to and get each other like nobody else can, and can therefore support each other. We are grateful for each other and we accept each other. We choose to see through the illness to the person underneath.
- We are resilient. We’ve been to hell and back many times. What many would walk away from, we dive head first into. We stick with each other through the bad times. It’s the only way for us to keep going and develop trust.
- We are rarely 50/50. Our mental issues are a daily occurrence for us, so we take turns stepping up to the plate. And sometimes we’re both down, which sucks. But it’s an ebb and flow that we accept.
- We do our best to manage our own conditions for each other. We’re not perfect most of the time. But the more we take care of ourselves, the more we can be there for each other when needed.
Some of this sounds overwhelming and a bit negative, but it’s not meant to be. In the end, we’re people who are responsible for ourselves just as you are; we’re not children. But as normal as we want to be, deep down we’re just not. And the more we are understood and accepted for this, the easier it is for everyone. We hate it, but we do the best with what we’ve been dealt. Pretending it doesn’t exist makes things much worse and so does judging us for it. But if you can survive us, we’re grateful to you!
If you or someone close to you has mental illness, I’d love to hear if you have anything to add to the above. Stay well ❤ 🙂