“I can’t wait to know what it’s like to live without a mental illness.”
The statement came to me over a meal one day. We had been discussing a fairly old post of mine, on what my eating disorder recovery gave me back. I cringed a little inwardly and said “Well, you may never know what it’s like to completely not have one, but I’ll be praying you get to that point.”
She laughed and told me she meant to be living like me-where it may be there but it didn’t effect me day to day. I left it at that for that moment, mainly because our discussion had come to this point after talking about how deeply and achingly she was hurting lately and I felt like a fraud (and to be frank a little selfish) to try and explain it still totally is a part of my daily life. But I still felt the comment in my bones. My struggles were not as real as others because I hold it together in public better.
Maybe it’s because I had the eating disorder that never left me emancipated and I struggled with believing I was actually sick for a long time. Maybe it’s because my depression has never forced me into bed for days. Maybe it’s because most people who know me now, including this woman and a good number of my church family(and let’s be real, my family who I hid a lot from) were never privy to how intense my manic episodes got.
Whatever the reason, I never looked sick enough. I never acted sick enough. And it often translates to people not believing I was truly struggling as much as I was back then-or believing I am a miracle who is completely over it all. I accepted that-or I had thought I had.
But, after reading this great article on the concept of functionality and how it swings a persons opinion(and professionals!) of whether a person is truly mentally ill, worthy of treatment, and how sick you look is how sick you are…I had to share some of my own thoughts on being a presenting “totally fine” person living with mental illnesses.
I still have my mental illnesses. My mental illnesses have not disappeared, nor will anything short of a miracle of God make them. And that’s okay.
I try very hard to be transparent on this blog and social media because I want people to know that it’s possible to struggle with these things and still be able to get through each day. I want them to know recovery is possible to be in and that life after getting them under control can be so so so beautiful. I want to talk openly about PTSD and depression and OCD and anxiety-so others who have those letters attached to their names know there’s more to them than their diagnoses. I want them to know yoga is mighty, prayer is mighty, medication is mighty-whatever makes you feel better and act more like “you” is worth taking up and doing.
I never wanted it to appear like I was removed from the struggles of mental illnesses on a daily basis though. Because I’m not. And in complete, raw and authentic honesty here, I may never be. And you may never be either.
And again? That’s okay.
While my daily life doesn’t always appear to reflect my struggles, I think it’s important to recognize that most mental illnesses are a life long battle and should be treated as such. No, my safety is no longer a question. I’m eating healthy. I can make it through months without a panic attack.
I also have really intrusive thoughts sometimes. I obsess over things that seem like complete insanity to others and I’ve been known to overreact to certain situations. There are some days I hate to wake up and am afraid to sleep.
I still have a mental illness. I function, I’m healthy, and most the time I’m totally okay-but it’s still there.
There’s a very good chance that there is someone in your life who you knew struggled with mental health before, but now seems totally fine. We exist! And we are totally fine a good amount of the time. But we still need people to check in on us and sometimes we need to be reminded that our feelings and mental health are valid, even beyond those rock bottom places.
How can you do that? Well I want to share with you a few things I would love for others to do when they check in with me -maybe it can help a friend, coworker, or family member of yours in the future.
Ask how we’re doing. And mean it! If the answer is fine, maybe we are fine, but ask more in depth questions. “How have you been feeling lately” or “Do you need anything to help maintain your mental health?” Specific questions are harder to back out of or write off with generalized answers.
Learn about the mental illness. My gosh, I wish I could scream this from the mountain tops. In fact? I have. I say this every time I talk about mental health; if a person you love struggles wit a mental illness, learn about it. I would give anything to have someone not say to me “So when will you get over PTSD?” or “You just have to replace bad memories with good ones!” Tell my re-wired brain that okay?
Know the triggers. The best thing in my life is the fact that a few of my very close friends know the time frame my trauma took place in, so they reach out every year and give me extra support during that time. It’s such a blessing. My best friend also checks in with me whenever she sees I’ve been exercising more or notices I’ve lost some weight. Yes-it may get annoying sometimes. It annoys me when the first thing I hear after talking about getting healthier is “well make sure you eat enough and are safe, okay.” But it also helps. It makes me feel so darn loved to know that people are aware of what really hurts me and take the time out of their day to check on me.
Accept when we say we just can’t. Like I said, for the most part, my mental health doesn’t affect my functionality. I get up and parent, cook, clean, shower…all of it. Even on my worst days struggling with postpartum depression after Bug, I managed to do it all. But every so often? I just can’t. C A N N O T. When someone says they are struggling and can’t handle doing something, listen to them. Don’t assume because they made it to church yesterday, their hair and make up look great, and they’re laughing with a friend they are fine. Sometimes taking a step back from the smallest thing is just a break we need. And if someone says that….
Don’t be afraid to offend them with worry. You will never offend me with your worries about me. It’s that simple. Sure, I might get annoyed at times. I may roll my eyes at you. But if you’re worried because you think I’m struggling and hiding it better than usual, it’s not going to offend me if you approach that. In fact, it may make me feel better about how much you care.
Know the warning signs. I almost didn’t write this because this is so far from where I am on the mental health scale, but it’s something I believe we need to talk about more. Know the warning signs of suicide. Suicide is a real threat that our friends and family face and one we need to know the warning signs of. If you are worried about another’s suicide risk, please call the National Suicide Hotline. (1-800-273-8255)
Mental health is a fluid thing and it’s okay to be okay. It’s also okay to not be okay. If you need anymore advice on how to approach a friend with mental illness, please feel free to shoot me an email. If you’re interested in sharing your own story about mental health, please fill out this form and you can join my “Exploring Neurodiversity” series!