Here’s the thing about mental illness

Here’s the thing about mental illness.

It’s really, really lonely.

Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that for me, some of it can be self-inflicted. I’m a champion shutter-outer. For me, it numbs the pain of feeling any emotion at all, a welcome bliss. But it comes at an ugly cost: Alienation.

A lot of the loneliness I feel is simply because of our societal narrative about mental illness. It’s the giant lie that goes roughly like this: “Doing” will fix you.

Well, how often are you working out?

Are you getting out of the house?

Are you being positive?

Are you taking your medication?

Are you saying your prayers reading your scriptures going to church having faith attending the temple regularly etc. etc. etc???

Yaaaaaaas.

Sure, some of these things are tried and true and will very much help mental illness. But not always.  I’m doing all of those things — some of them to a fault — and I still feel like I’m drowning.

I realized just how deep I had plunged when I was on my back last night during yoga looking up at the dotted ceiling some 20 feet above me, staring into the florescent lights trying to fight off the abyss that was threatening to overwhelm me.

I love yoga and how I can normally leave everything on the mat, recalibrating my thoughts that are all too often bombarded with negativity and self-criticism.

But not always. And certainly not tonight.

Because that’s the thing about mental illness. Sometimes, the illness wins. This dark monster has once again set up basecamps in my brain and heart and it honestly feels like nothing I do can conquer it.

It feels terrible to admit this, and I’m sorry for anyone who takes offense. It’s not intended with a capital NOT. But I’ve often wished that I could have battled cancer or heart disease instead of mental illness. I’m sure this is a morbid, selfish thought, but here’s why.

Cancer is a socially acceptable illness. If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, no one tells you to just try being positive. Masses of people ranging from loved ones to Internet strangers run 5Ks and share GoFund me accounts to help support you, building a community around you.

Mental illness is often discussed in whispers in corners or somber tones across family councils that look an awful lot like interventions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not begging for charity, money or sympathy. Heavens, no. I’m looking for community. I’m looking for an acceptable way to grieve my illness, to struggle and stagger through my symptoms without the heavy weight of stigma bearing down on me.

Oh well, she’s just lazy.

Oh, she’s just looking for attention.

Oh, my gosh, she’s writing about depression again (eye-rolling emoji).

She just needs to apply herself.

She needs to snap out of it.

No. I just have a mental illness.

I hope, oh, how I hope, that these words will help someone else feel like they are not alone.

YOU DO NOT SUFFER ALONE IN THE SHADOWS.

Well, it probably feels like you do.

I hid in my room all day Sunday, trying to quiet my sobs as my family gathered for dinner. I was too ashamed to face them; too ashamed of my debilitating illness that had intensified over the weekend. Because I have no visible scars. Instead, I have a smile on my face and this blog where I try so hard to be positive about negative things.

Here’s the thing about mental illness. It shouldn’t be this way.

I don’t want a fundraiser. I don’t need it.

I don’t want a 5k or GoFund me. I want understanding. Empathy. Someone who will listen without judgement. So many of you readers have listened as you’ve read my words and I’m truly grateful.

I crave that compassion and understanding about this incredibly difficult cross to bear as a wife and as a mother and a human in general.

Please, if you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, love them. Let them know you are thinking of them. Validate their feelings rather then telling them what they should be DOING.

Chances are, they are doing literally everything in their power to fight, to survive, to hang on.

I’ve always been so impressed with bloggers who write about themselves or a family member, chronicling a physical illness, or a recovery from a major accident. They create that incredible community of love and hope as they share recovery and healing updates.

About a year ago, I wanted to do the same for my struggle with prenatal and then postpartum depression. Truthfully, I was far too broken to write then. I feel very broken now. But I believe with my whole heart and soul that God gives us our unique challenges for a purpose. Our job, or at least my job, is to share them in the hopes of lifting another.

So please. Join with me during my continuous fight to improve my mental health. I’m going to write about it, so read it or don’t. I only ask for your empathy and community. I love you, and hope to offer the same to you in whatever monsters you may face.

Because here’s the thing about mental illness.

Our discussions about it have to change. Let’s do it together.

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7 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about mental illness

  1. Thank you. Thank you. You have described exactly how I have been feeling and my husband and I were just talking about it just last night as I was struggling to break free of the darkness that was possessing me. I have postpartum depression and while my husband is wonderful and loves me no matter what, he doesn’t understand what this feels like. How you can’t just be positive and do things and hope that it will go away. I have been feeling so alone in this and I felt like no one took me seriously, I was always just told to suck it up or to go outside and get some sun, NO ONE has understood me. Thank you for sharing and writing about something that needs to be more understood.

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    1. Thank YOU for sharing. It takes a brave heart. You are so strong, and I’m sorry you are struggling. I have battled postpartum depression from the trenches. To say it is rough is laughable. It’s life-alteringly hard. You can do this. Know there is an army of warriors behind you. Keep fighting!

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  2. Hey Emily, You’ve asked for a little more community support in this. I hear you. Doing more just isn’t possible when your legs are cut out from underneath you. I know this all too personally from my own experience. Your ability to talk out loud (or write) about this sounds to me like you are working to decouple shame from the confusing, crushing experience of depression. I know this is a part of you, just like other parts, like being funny or writing well. In totality you are a whole person, and you write about all of these parts because its the saving work you need to put it all together. It’s not about simply being more positive, or blowing rainbows, or scattering sunshine. It’s about making sense of it all and finding meaning in the effort. I also know the criticisms, said or implied, to people with mental illness are so harsh because they are amplified and given significance and weaponized in the echo chambers build by isolation and loneliness. Thanks for sharing your life Emily. Thanks for throwing open the chamber doors.

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    1. Paul, thank you for your beautiful thoughts and your support. Your words have stuck with me and helped me greatly. Thank you for sharing your powerful spirit with me. You are a blessing! Hope all is well with you and your family.

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  3. Thank you for your post. Very confronting and well written. I think one of the reasons mental illness is not spoken about is that it cannot be easily categorized amd put nicely into a box. If you see someone with a broken leg, you can see its a broken leg. You can get scans and xrays and see its a broken leg. You can perscribe treatment. With mental illness, NO ONE is the same. You can’t put the person in a nice little category, perscribe treatment and after 6 months or 5 years, everything will be better. However, mental illness needs to be spoken about to make people more aware. It needs to be spoken about by people who KNOW, not doctors or specialists, but the people wh REALLY know, like you, and on occasions, me. It needs to start with opening up to your family. My mum suffers bad depression, she used to lock herself in her room for days and i couldnt understand why. My sister suffers bad depression and relies on alcohol. I suffer depression and rely on my family. I have never hidden it feom my children and have spoken about it with them to help them understand. I also feared they too would be afgected by depression asbit seems strong in our family. And, 2 of my 5 children do. I feel grateful in a sense, that i was open and honest with them about my depression as they felt they could come and talk to me about it before they were diagnosed. I know its hard, but consider your family as the first to try and educate about mental illness, you may help them and they may educate others. I am sorry this is such a long post! Sending you strength ❤

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