Are you ok?
How often do we ask those words without any real weight or backing? For the millions of us who deal with mental illness we often find ourselves lying every time those words are pitched to us.
In this world of quick status updates, fifteen second videos, and online dating profiles it feels like our generation is the most open about how we feel.
But what we have all become masters at, is presentation. Here are five ways those of us dealing with mental illness(es) have to navigate through life.
We have to make up illnesses people understand, because we know that they won't understand the actual problem.
"I just have a really bad bug, this headache isn't going away, etc etc."
When dealing with an invisible illness it often requires constant work, to navigate a dialogue that people will understand and accept. Try explaining to your boss that you just feel like the world is crashing in around you and that your bed is the only place you're currently feeling safe. For those who suffer with mood disorders, it isn't rare to wake up feeling completely exhausted and helpless. It isn't laziness that's keeping us from doing work, but instead feelings of grief, depression, or anxiety. While many of us have had to deal with our illness (es) for years, we know that to many others mental illness is not completely understood.
What people often fail to understand is that mental illness is not a cut that heals and goes away; think of mental illness more like your nails growing (stay with me here). While you can cut your nails, or paint them another color, ultimately your nail is going to keep growing. And every time it grows, you will have to repaint them, trim them, manage them. Until the day you die, you will have to maintain your nails. That is mental illness.
A good night can become a bad night in a matter of minutes.
As someone who is an extrovert, I feel happiest amongst people. But as someone who also suffers from severe social anxiety, even the smallest interactions can prove to be massive undertakings. Simple passing conversations with roommates can feel like the weight of the world. A party can go from fun to a nightmare instantly; and Irish exits become all too real. A sudden change of plan, or brush with a stranger, or literally gust of unexpected wind can lead to a feeling of panic that you didn't anticipate. And you know what? It sucks. We all have methods of smoothing out the situation, but sometimes they don't work. And believe us, we are right there with you in being bummed out. Because there is 1. So much stigma surrounding illness. 2. So much pressure can be put on going out and having "the best time", pulling a friend aside to tell them you are about to have a panic attack, or are suddenly feeling horrible seems like the absolute worst thing imaginable; what will they think? What judgment will be passed on you not only in that moment but in the future? Here's the things about friends: they love you. And may understand more than you know. So next time, instead of dipping without an explanation reach out. You might be wonderfully surprised with their reactions.
We often feel completely disgusted and isolated when you see mental illness used as punchlines in movies and on t.v.
Let's be honest the media is really never a good place to look for any form of commentary on real life. As a gay person I often have to see myself on screen as a prop, as a Black person I often have to see myself as a prop, why would mental illness be portrayed any differently?
Hollywood pretty much always gets it wrong, and thus posts like this are necessary to explain what the realities of mental illness actually are. I never thought dating nor being a manic pixie dream girl would pan out well. Yet Hollywood beat that horse dead, while never showing a manic pixie dream girl who sought help and recovered. Eternally stuck, in a bipolar mania.
Most recently Hollywood has given us Welcome to Me, in which Kristin Wiig plays a woman who has dealt with a range of mood disorders over the course of her life. The movie focuses on her winning the lotto and preceding to muck everything up. Because mental illness! Facts are facts, and no matter how loud we yell Hollywood relies on profitable formulas (why else would Adam Sandler still be allowed to make movies). While I can not change a major studio's outlook, I can change those who I am watching said movie with.
We know that our lives will consist of medication after medication. And with each new prescription will come a slew of different reactions.
Medication is both a wonderful blessing, and a massive curse. For every pill that works, four more have made you worse for the wear. I have had so many bad reactions to medication that I chose to suffer through my brains ups and downs sans medicine for years. Many times while meds are doing exactly what they were prescribed to do, they are numbing you. You may no longer feel depressed or anxious, but you also aren't feeling much else. Something I have actually oddly learned to embrace about my mental illness is my capacity to feel things harder than most people. As a writer, and someone who often works alongside others who are dealing with problems of their own, being an empath has proven to be a part of myself that I love. For myself, I completely feel that my mental health is largely responsible for how I interact with others, sometimes that manifests in the form of anxiety, but often it manifests in extreme forms of acceptance and understanding. Meds often act like a fresh coat of paint. They seal all of the cracks and smooth everything out, but who wants to live a life that is completely level?
Too often self medicating becomes a norm; alcohol and drugs are more easy to get, and often cheaper than pharmaceuticals. A few shots of booze for example, can have the same effects as a Xanax, and thus a vicious cycle can begin. In a country where healthcare is not widely accessible, these methods become commonplace. I recently moved from New York to California, where weed is legal. As someone who has always taken meds and thought: what else is there? I see medical marijuana as a huge blessing for many that suffer with mental illness and chronic pain. Much like alcohol and opiates, many meds used for the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia are extremely addictive. Science has found that the same form of calm that those meds give, can be found in a compound of marijuana called CBD; without the high normally associated with pot. I am not one to usually stand on a soapbox and advocate for any kind of medication, all of our bodies are different, and that needs to be respected. But as someone who has suffered with extreme anxiety since childhood I can not stress enough the relief CBD has given me. My point is, look further than traditional medicine: yoga, the outdoors, reading, playing with animals; done with purpose, these things can help more than you'd think.
Sometimes we'll be an amazing friend/partner. Sometimes we'll be the worst.
You know how you texted me three days ago, and I still haven't responded? It wasn't even a question you asked, just a simple "Hey what's up?" Well I looked at that text for a solid five minutes, then I flipped my phone over and turned on Netflix. It's not that I don't want to talk to you, it's just the thought of small talk is completely overwhelming in that moment. Remember when you were a little kid, and your parents would tuck you in and leave you alone in your room? The minute they left, you felt so alone, and worse you felt like there was something lingering in the dark. That's how I felt in that moment, except that feeling can expand to an entire day or over the course of a week. No matter where I go or what I do, I feel like that little kid alone in their bed in the dark.
Dating someone with mental illness can be rough. It is like having a third party that is always along for the ride, but is probably not helping the cause. A constant mantra to chant is this: It isn't me, it isn't you, it's my brain. It is super easy to get offended when your partner all of a sudden seems 1000 miles away, but know that most of the time they are just as sad and frustrated to be floating. Hopefully they are committed to open conversation while, not using their illness as a vessel or excuse for being a shitty human.
More people than you think deal with some form of mental strife everyday. Most of us have gotten really good at hiding it, which is a shame, because more of us need to find camaraderie. We need to open up and share. You need to exercise your voice, whether it be as someone managing their own mental illness, or as a declaration of support to your friends that are