When you’ve been diagnosed with a disease, people seep out of the woodwork to offer well wishes and assistance. You’ll get greeting cards in the mail and daily Facebook wall posts telling you to “hang in there!” and “get well soon!” Those with religious beliefs will pray for you and ask God for healing. Spiritual friends will send you warm vibes and positive light. Everyone is willing and ready to fight with you.
When you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, your first thought is, “Oh my God, I can’t tell anyone”, because the stigma is anything but positive. You start by removing yourself from social situations, because you don’t have the energy to entertain the questions from your peers. The phrase “cheer up” sounds like nails on a chalkboard, because WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE? You begin to wonder how much longer you’ll be able to keep your job, because the fear of getting fired is looming over your head every single day. Mostly, you feel alone, because deep down inside you think there’s something wrong with you and the unworthiness spreads like a wildfire.
You are not alone, though, and the numbers are increasing rapidly. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. And these are just a few stats to get you started.
If you feel so inclined, I encourage you to visit NAMI.
Every mental illness is different, and everyone suffers in their own way, so I can only speak to my personal experience. As I mentioned in my previous blog, my original diagnosis of Bipolar II has since taken on another form. I can say with confidence that I suffer from severe depression, but there’s reason to believe that my bipolar symptoms can be traced back to my childhood development. Much of my demeanor and how I react to things is a mirror image of my mother. Now, am I saying she’s to blame and was a terrible, terrible caregiver? Not at all. Mothers and fathers do the best they can with what they’re given, and it’s simply my job to decide how I want to live and make changes to break the cycle of traits I don’t like. Simple? I wish.
Depression is ugly. Even when you’ve been given the tools to be more mindful of what’s inside your head, there’s no escaping it. Sometimes I can’t sleep. Sometimes I can’t eat. Sometimes I eat too much and go to bed at 7pm. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed at all. Everything makes me cry. I push people away and sabotage relationships with friends. I stop riding my bike. I even get angry at my bike. And luckily I have Chico, because if he didn’t need to go on walks, I would have spent more time in bed the last 11 years than I already have. Needing to pay rent helps, too, because it makes me go to work. It takes a lot of effort to be a productive member of society when everything in your head is telling you to give up.
And we feel ashamed, don’t we? We feel guilty because we see other people living these perfect lives with the perfect partner, perfect job, and carefree lifestyle. We see people who don’t have to worry about money, and beat ourselves up because we’re not good enough to do the same. Every tiny mishap becomes the end of the world. Every broken plan, however big or small, rips our heart out. We are scared to reach out to friends and colleagues for help, because depressed people are terrifying to the non-depressed. We watch movies that depict mentally ill people in the most intense manner, so of course we believe that’s how the entire world sees us. By the way, WE’RE HUMANS JUST LIKE YOU.
If you’re reading this and you have a mental illness, please know one thing: YOU ARE NOT YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS. If you’re reading this and you don’t have a mental illness, take the time to educate yourself and familiarize your mind with the facts. Maybe step outside of your comfortable bubble and open yourself up to be more compassionate to others. Try not to judge people (this goes for EVERYONE), because you have no idea what the person in the cubicle next to you is going through. Your friend with a mental illness is no less “sick” than your other friend with diabetes.
Through a shitload of trial and error, I’ve discovered healthful ways to improve my quality of life and lessen the symptoms of depression. I do not completely rule out medication for those who need it, as it can be quite beneficial for some. For myself, though, I am adamantly against it, and in my next post I’ll give you a little nugget of what is currently working for me. In the meantime, take a few minutes to read this: