We must put aside our preconceived notions of mental illness


“I’m not okay — I’ve been struggling.” These words are some of the most painful and brutally honest for someone who is struggling with a mental illness.

Society sends a message to those who suffer from mental illness that they always have to be in control and that their illness should be contained in a nice little box where it doesn’t come out to intersect with the other facets of their lives. Mental illnesses are seen as completely understandable unless the illness is actually seen.

As a society, we love to hear inspiring stories of people who have so bravely pulled themselves from their darkest times; people who got help from some expensive retreat facility that taught them to use yoga to center themselves or some new self-help book that taught them how to no longer be anxious. And then, just like that, they are all better! They are as good as new!

Sadly, mental illnesses are not an Easy-Bake oven project where you throw a pre-made pouch of therapy and pills into the mini oven and instantly get a nice little happy life cake out on the oth- er side. They are also not a DIY project. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that requires a life-long journey of care and treatment.

Mental illnesses are not pretty, they are messy. They don’t come packaged with an instruction manual. They come with their own set of rules and uncertainties that each person has to figure out for themselves. Managing your illness is for life — and it sucks.

Sometimes your illness can get out of control and begin to direct your life and you have to pull strength from deep inside of you to gain the upper hand to put it back in its place. Sometimes you don’t have that strength yourself. It is a continuous power struggle between you and what lives as a part of you. Each person has to constantly check-in with themselves and take care of themselves  to maintain equilibrium. It is exhausting. What is just as exhausting as the daily tedious struggle of living with an illness that you neither asked for nor wanted — and can’t even see! — are the assumptions, expectations and judgments of people and institutions around you. As I mentioned earlier, society, people in the workplace, peers, family and sometimes even friends, expect you to “power through it” or “just shake it off.” What they ignorantly don’t understand is that those comments and expectations invalidate their mental illness as an illness.

Plenty of comparisons have been drawn by other people to liken mental illness to other diseases, but, despite their abundance, the message does not seem to be getting heard.

I suffer from major depression and anxiety disorder. I have fought these in- visible demons my entire life, even as a child. These illnesses have manifested themselves in other forms, including conditions such as insomnia and symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. At this time and moment I am experiencing the ugly part of the illnesses: the part where they are out of control. Their misconduct is through no fault of mine; I have done everything in my power for years, including taking my medications as prescribed, checking in with my doctors, seeing a therapist, self-care, eating well, exercising, etc. the list goes on and on. I have been faithful with taking care because I hate being in pain. When my mental illnesses are out of control, I am constantly in a state of pain.

The ones who truly understand the all-encompassing, devastating effects of a mental illness are only those whose reality it is. However, I have found that the people who have been able to begin to understand my illnesses are those who have seen me go through the worst, taken the time to listen to me and educated themselves.

The best thing anyone can do is to put their perceptions and preconceived ideas aside and listen to the stories of those suffering because it is okay for them not to be okay. They need to know that.