I am 25 years old and have been battling mental illness for a majority of my life. I became aware of my mental illness in middle school. I struggled with issues at home and loneliness at school. My home life was spent isolated in my bedroom. My school life was spent sitting at different tables every day searching for where I fit in. I felt alone 24/7 and when I feel like that, it’s easy to think that no one cares. Eventually, I felt so misplaced and worthless that I cut myself. I carved ‘I Hate Myself’ into my upper arm with thumb-tacks in my bedroom. I cried because as I felt the pain, it felt right. It felt like I deserved to be hurt. In high school, I developed a severe eating disorder which led me to starve myself and spend my days working out and trying different weight loss supplements. As a result, I lost 50 pounds during summer vacation and returned to school. No one recognized me. I started to make friends, I felt inclusion, I ultimately became happy. What did this teach my brain? If I remain thin, I would be accepted. I learned that it was not an achievable goal as no matter what shape my body was in, I could always find fat somewhere to pick on. Nevertheless, I never quit trying. I constantly battle depression and anxiety disorders which affect my everyday life.
To some, mental illnesses are unreal. They think the solution is simple – if you are unhappy, change that. If only it were that simple.
When I am sick, I’m not just sad or in a bad mood. My energy sinks, I have lack of concentration, I feel hopeless and a lack of interest in things that normally give me joy, I distance my personal relationships, I isolate from public because socializing begins to feel terrifying, and I self-destruct. I wouldn’t even say that sadness is my overwhelming emotion, it’s typically numb. I have thought about, and even fantasized about ending my life several times.
Mental illness entails a lifelong battle.
With help from medication, professional therapy sessions, emergency plans, and my support system I am here and continuing to learn how to best manage it each day. Unfortunately, due to the misunderstanding of and stigma around mental illness, it’s common for people to ignore symptoms, struggle with acceptance, avoid education, fear asking for help, refuse to bring it to the public eye, etc. By all means, exposing yourself is completely terrifying. Sharing my story and experiences with my mental illness is not at all for your entertainment. It’s two-fold. Expression is my coping mechanism (journaling, poetry, art, music), so sharing serves as a source of self-help. Looking at the bigger picture, sharing raises awareness and encourages others to do the same. Somewhere along there will be a domino effect, the stigma around mental illness will be weakened and those affected by mental illness will be strengthened.