Mental Illness Awareness Week

This week (October 4-10) is Mental Illness Awareness Week . I wanted to post some thoughts about awareness and compassion, and to talk a little more about what goes on in my head.

People don’t just walk around with a button on their jacket that says “Hi, I live with depression“, “I live with chronic illness”, or “I live with Bipolar II“. In many cases, you can’t distinguish someone who is totally healthy in every way from someone who is dealing with 7 different chronic illnesses at the same time. Because we’ve learned to hide it so well. There is simply no way to know unless you ask, or they happen to mention to you, that they are not “the average person”. And as a matter of course, we assume everyone we meet is just like us. They think like us, and they react like us. But you just don’t know what is happening inside other people’s heads that might fuel their responses or create the filter through which they view life and interaction.

I’ve mentioned that I have lived with depression and anxiety. Sometimes my depression is so severe that it bottoms out into seasons of self hatred. I have written a three part series about self hatred here and written poetry in the midst of depression that I have posted here and here. Sometimes my anxiety is so bad that I have panic attacks that wake me from sleep, or give me a hair-trigger so the smallest unimportant things throw me into a screaming rage. I developed PAS, a recognized form of of PTSD after a traumatic experience in my late teens, and sometimes that gets triggered too.

I lived portions of my life in almost crippling overwhelmedness, shame, and anxiety from what it took to essentially single parent several small children while dealing with chronic sleep deprivation, and homeschooling, and trying keep up with my house. I felt incredible amounts of guilt when I measured myself against other people and how they could bear up under stress and daily life. I couldn’t admit those feelings to anyone because I couldn’t risk their judgment of my weakness and failure. The only reason I no longer live in that place of crippling overwhelmedness is because I have come to a place of peace with my limitations. I started making self-care a priority. And I have mostly stopped comparing myself and my parenting skills and my particular children to others.

I would like to submit to you that situations and stressors that may seem like no big deal to you might seem unbearably stressful to another person. We are all created differently, and bear up under stress in different ways. We also all have our own neuroses, the things that just nearly drive us crazy about our home, our apperance, or a life situation that oftentimes make no rational sense to others. The way in which we bear up under stress affects how we treat ourselves, our families, our friends, and even complete strangers. It affects how we behave at home where no one can see, and out in the world where anyone can bear witness to it.

I do, actually, have a good friend that has seven different chronic illnesses that she is dealing with at the same time. I have friends with fibromyalgia, with lupus, with visible physical challenges like spina bifida and cerebral palsy. I have friends with invisible disabilities like sensory processing disorder, high functioning autism, seasonal affective disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain. And I have friends who live with mental illnesses like severe depression and bipolar disorder, who in addition to just living daily life, have the added stress of coordinating the delicate balance of avoiding triggers and dealing with medication adjustments often.

I also know a significant number of people who suffer in abusive relationships, many of whose bruises are invisible to the casual onlooker. I have been in several of those relationships, too. I can most assuredly tell you that there is suffering and there are psychological effects, and that they may be the least likely kinds of suffering for people to let on about. They don’t want anyone to know the shame, the humiliation, and the control they live under. That it’s not valid for them to complain about their dysfunctional relationship because it’s “not bad enough” when compared to “real abusive relationships”. Relationships like that can contribute to a lot of unseen and invisible illnesses like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Everyone has their own story, and everyone’s story is valid and unique. Because people struggle with mental illness, it doesn’t make them weak, and in working to manage their mental illness, they are not a failure for not being able to manage it without therapy or medication.

The truth is that we’re all various levels of messed up inside, it’s just a matter of do we own that, and embrace it. Do we ignore it and live every day with a facade up for everyone, or do we admit we need compassion, and mercy, and grace. And can we extend the same to others?

Try to see more than the present moment. Really look at people when they talk to you, and really listen to what they say. Everyone hurts, everyone gets scared, everyone gets insecure, and everyone is afraid people will reject them if they knew what they were really like.

See? Everyone is just like you inside.

31 thoughts on “Mental Illness Awareness Week

    • Thank you for your encouragement and faithful reading and commenting. You are part of my support, and part of the reason I can be brave. That what I share resonates with you is so helpful to know, like having a hand to hold in the dark. *HUG*

  1. I occasionally have panic attacks, and there is no worse feeling. They’re just awful. I, too, have the silent illnesses–depression and PPD–and you feel so alone. I think you did an important thing here, acknowledging that we are not so different from anyone else.

  2. Excellent reminder Frelle for those of us who don’t know firsthand but have others around us who are suffering silently. You mentioned listening and looking in the eyes of the one who you are talking to and that is sooo important in life to do. It makes another human being feel so valued … and aren’t we all to be valued and validated? Yes! Thank you again for this reminder and educating the public! Appreciated!

  3. This is so true: “The truth is that we’re all various levels of messed up inside, it’s just a matter of do we own that, and embrace it.”

    It is like when you are pregnant and you see pregnant women everywhere. I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and depression and I see people in pain everywhere.

    • I understand that feeling, the knowing pain and being able to see it. Watching people’s faces as they react to things, and before they can mask their initial response and the facade goes up.. been doing that since I was a kid. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. Thanks for writing this. Depression, anxiety, bipolar and addiction run in my husbands family. It’s been an interesting few years dealing with some of these issues with his extended family.

    I’ve learned the true meaning of the word patience.

    (First time visitor from Write on Edge.)

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I’m glad you can appreciate the advocacy I am trying to provide, and hope that the honest look into my particular brand of messed-up-ed-ness is helpful to others.

  5. I too suffer from chronic PTSD. I too have chosen to write about it. At first I felt guilty for writing about my struggles. I feared it was nothing but an attention seeking device. What I have learned though is that those of us who can MUST speak for those who can’t. Yes we are benefited, but that is a sideline in comparison to what others can learn from our struggles.

    Good writing!

    Blessings : )

    • I agree, we have to be brave so others can be brave, we have to speak on behalf of others who have not found their voice. To put our stories out here so that people who dont ever comment can feel less strange, isolated, misunderstood, and alone. I’m so glad you came to read and comment today!

    • I wish you could. I’m so glad you came to read and comment. And it helps me to know I’m not alone in my anxiety. There have been seasons where it has been much worse than it is now. Sleep deprivation is a huge trigger, as is having to deal with illness with my kids. I’d love to get to know you better. *HUG*

  6. I love how you’ve explained this so those people who do not have mental illness can see and understand what it might be like for those of us who do. It’s beautiful. I’m going to tweet now ;) xo

  7. Beautiful words. I love to see mental health awareness posts. I posted about the DSM revisions this week. You are right on that no matter what illnesses or issues people deal with, and everyone deals with something, we are all the same in many ways. Everyone needs help in some fashion, it would be great if we could all understand enough to help each other. I write openly about my struggles with mental illness because I feel that’s the best way I can contribute.

  8. This: The truth is that we’re all various levels of messed up inside, it’s just a matter of do we own that, and embrace it. Do we ignore it and live every day with a facade up for everyone, or do we admit we need compassion, and mercy, and grace. And can we extend the same to others?

    Love this, Jenna. All of it. Spot on, sister. Thank you for sharing so eloquently and openly. xoxooxox

    • Thank you for the encouragement, validation, and telling me what jumped out at you. And as a writer, I love when you come and read and enjoy what I share. I’m so glad to know you *HUG*

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s so important to highlight these issues to people who might need this information, either because they’re going through it themselves or because they’re supporting loved ones who are.

  10. I completely get this. I was recently talking to a group of friends who don’t know me THAT well and I mentioned that I dated a pathological liar for seven years. They cheered on the stories, oohing and aahing over the dramatic bs that I went through. The further it got they looked at me more strangely thinking why did this person deal with that for so long if they knew. I didn’t respond “sometimes I deal with severe depression” or “I have really high anxiety that allowed him to real me into codependency”. I just said “Well, he was good at emotionally manipulating people and and creating codependency. And, frankly, for a long time, I loved him.” You don’t always spill all that which leads to abusive relationships. You don’t always explain it all. Those people that think you’re a put-together person wouldn’t know what to think. So, you keep yourself together.

    • I understand what you’re saying. Im so glad you came by to read and comment, and tell me about what you’ve been through. It’s good to know when people get you.

  11. Seems like we have a lot in common with the depression, anxiety and poetry thrown in the mix. It’s a positive thing, though, being able know exactly what we’re dealing with and to have the ability to connect with others so they know they’re not alone in any of this. You’ve done a wonderful job of that with this post.

    • Thank you so much for coming and reading, and to share what you struggle with too. I appreciate your openness, and your encouragement.

  12. I just recently discovered that most of my problems stem from an anxiety disorder. It’s nice to know what’s going on, but it still doesn’t help me leave the house or calm down. I work with mentally ill children so I guess I assume every one is suffering from something. And whether diagnosed or not, I think we really are all suffering from something.

    • I’m so glad you felt comfortable to share what goes on inside you here. I hope it gives you comfort to know you’re not alone, and that you can work through and find ways to cope with your anxiety. Thank you for reading and commenting today!

  13. Thank you for writing this.. for being so real. I know so many people who struggle with many things you spoke about above and I for many years battled depression. Thank you for this.

  14. Pingback: You Own Everything That Happened To You | Made More Beautiful

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