I have a mental illness.
Those five words are stark on the page. Despite so much growth in mental health awareness, a powerful stigma remains against mental illness. Is she psychotic? Is she dangerous? Why can’t she just get over it? Just a few of the questions that are bounced around when people come to conversations about mental illness and aren’t familiar with what being mentally ill really looks like.
Having had mental health battles for nearly 28 years and having been diagnosed, misdiagnosed, and re-diagnosed, I have some experience with what mental illness means. I’m not a doctor or a licensed therapist, but I live in the darkness much of the time. Here are four truths I’ve come to realize about mental illness.
1. My mind lies to me.
Depression and anxiety are pretty little liars. Because of my brain chemistry and thought patterns, I’ve set up a nice home for these liars in my mind. Improving my life means I have to rebut those lies on a daily basis and start evicting them.
2. Nature and nurture play roles in my mental health.
It’s not an either/or situation. My heredity and my lifestyle impact my mental illness. I’m predisposed to having a different brain chemistry because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. Life events have caused me to be more depressed, anxious, and to even battle manic episodes at times. We’ll talk more about those at another time. Also? I haven’t done myself any favors by feeding into negative thought patterns, digging deeper trenches in my neural pathways to feed into the depression and anxiety.
3. Taking medicine does not make me weak.
This truth has been a long time coming for me. I have been under a psychiatrist’s care for more than two decades, but I’ve fought the idea of treating my mental health like an actual illness for about just as long. As my dear father once told me, “If you had diabetes, you’d take insulin. Taking care of your brain, and taking medicine for your mental health is just as important.” He was a smart man (I miss him so), and I’ve finally come to understand that using medication to help treat depression and anxiety is not wrong.
4. I’m not a bad person.
My severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder do not control my conscience or my character. They are liars. (See Statement 1.) I need to improve in different areas — as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a human being — but I’m not innately bad because of my mental health.
I know there are more truths here, but these are the four most powerful ones that I’ve realized to date. What would you add?