Three Things I Wish I’d Known About My Mental Health

Have you been asked the question: “If you could go back into your past and do things differently, would you?”

I have, and while I definitely wish I could change past events and decisions, I know that I am in the place I am in now because of those choices. I wouldn’t change my history, but there are some things I wish I had known 20 years ago, especially about my serious mental illnesses (SMIs).

Medication Can Help Your Serious Mental Illness

Medication isn’t the villain, but it’s not the hero either.

I fought taking my prescription medication for my depression and anxiety for years. I thought that once I started to feel better, I could stop the regimen of daily pills. I didn’t want to be attached to pill bottles and med schedules when I was 19. I saw those as yet more weaknesses to my already flawed personhood. One night, after another relapse because I’d stopped my meds, my dad used the metaphor that if I had diabetes, I would take insulin every day without fighting it. My meds were the same thing, just to help my brain instead of my liver. That metaphor made an impact on me, but I still didn’t value the full benefits of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. They were the first expense to ignore when money was tight. I didn’t prioritize getting my refills like I should have.

It took years for me to understand and accept that these meds help me, but I hate that they don’t solve the problems. So often in society we see quick fixes — pills or shots or shortcuts — as the cure-alls to our pain. Some do their jobs, others don’t. Prescribing mental health meds is most often a painstaking process of balancing a cocktail of meds, finding one that works but for only one symptom, adding another to address something else, adjusting both over the course of months to get the milligrams and timing exactly right, and then one may stop working inexplicably, so the process begins again. After decades of starting and stopping medicines ranging from lithium to Effexor to Adderall to klonopin, I have come closer to a cocktail that works for me than I ever have, but the pills don’t solve everything. They’re more a supplement, a piece of the puzzle that moderates my brain chemistry.

You Are an Imperfect Human

Mistakes will be made.

I have created so much mental anguish in my life by ruminated over every mistake, whether minor or life-altering, because I believe that if I do all the things the right way, with zero errors, then I will avoid tragedy, I will be accepted, and people will love me. I realize that is not how life works. As my dad said, “Shit happens.” But I do still believe that perfection is attainable. I am a perfectionist who seeks external validation and who has abandonment issues. But I do recognize that mistakes will be made, and I know that I have work to do. That work means walking myself back from the catastrophic thinking that I must throw myself off a cliff because I made a mistake, forgot that request, didn’t parent the ‘right’ way, gained that pound. I know better now, so I have to do better. And that work, friends, is hard.

I’m retraining myself, building new paths of synapses for neurotransmitters to speed through my brain so that I can move on from a mistake, recognize that to err is human, and it’s how you recover from a mistake that matters. What I wish I’d known since childhood is that I’m allowed to make mistakes, that just because I’m not perfect does not mean that I’m unloveable. I have a sign in my office now that says, “I love you anyway.” That’s a great sentiment, but teaching myself that it’s true is harder than expected. Learning that I’m a fallible human being and still acceptable and that my accountability, a personality trait of which I am most proud, will help me fix the mistake and do better next time.

Knowing that years ago would have given me decades more to practice, and what would that look like now? I have a glimmer of that image in my head, how I would be able to unclench, to give myself grace, and to at least remotely believe that I am loved anyway, even when I make mistakes.

Asking for Help Does Not Make You Weak

Get support to climb out of the dark hole.

I do not like to ask for help. I continually see the need for help as a sign of weakness and incapability. When I have been in the dark hole of depression, the sucking-all-light-from-life place that is certainly endless and the most lonely feeling that exists, I didn’t ask for help even when I wanted people to understand the pain that I was feeling. Those experiences were when the suicide attempts happened because swallowing pills and slicing into my skin where the only ways I could express my emotions. I was at a loss because when that level of depression hits, there is no next.

Thankfully, I haven’t fallen into that hole in a few years, but the thing with SMIs is that you always know the hole exists. It travels with you, planting itself just outside your home and showing its shadows when things feel uncertain. What I know now is that before I follow the shadows to the edge, I have to ask for help. What I know is that putting words to my emotions, defining how I feel in language out loud to someone safe, helps pull me back from the precipice. I don’t have all the words yet. I still describe my emotions with basic adjectives–bad, sad, angry, lost–but I know working on identifying my emotions will help me move farther away from the hole. And that means asking for help. Hiding the pain and how close I am to falling only makes the steps more slippery. The pain that I felt, the holes that I was in, could have been a bit more shallow, perhaps more manageable from the start if I had known to ask for help.

I know that hindsight gives a more comprehensive picture of what the world looks like, what the impact of decisions is, and how behavior changes the course of the future. I wouldn’t change my path, but knowing more about myself and my serious mental illnesses would have made the course a bit easier. I am grateful that I know now.

How Journaling is Helping Me to Manage My Mental Health

Stating that I’m managing my mental health feels like I’m tempting fate. For years I have lived in fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can point to examples of days when I’ve felt on top of the world with all the happiness, times when the depression and anxiety were just shadows in the background; then, without warning, something happens to throw me back into the black pit that feels unconquerable. But you know what I’m learning to accept?

Wait for it…

That’s life when you have two serious mental illnesses (SMIs). Honestly, that’s life in general. You can’t control the future. And you most certainly can’t control other people. What you can control is how to deal with the situation and move forward. So, here is one tool that I’m using to help manage my mental health.

Rx: Journal Those Emotions

I’ve been in and out of therapy for more than 25 years. I’ve been committed to mental hospitals. I’ve read countless self-help books and blogs. And what has been one constant recommendation? Write down your thoughts and feelings.

Now that I’m in my forties, I finally figured out that yes, journaling does benefit my mental health. All those therapists and doctors and authors were right. Who knew? I may be book smart, but it can take me awhile (meaning decades) to admit that something might work for me.

Make Journaling a Goal for Mental Health

At the end of last year, I set my 23 goals for 2023, and one of those goals was to write “morning pages.” This idea came from reading Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies, in which she explained Julia Cameron’s famed approach to fostering creativity in The Artist’s Way: write three pages in your journal every morning. Don’t edit yourself. Just write. While I haven’t read Cameron’s book, I was inspired by Schuster’s description of how the journaling practice helped her, so I decided to try it.

Keeping a Journal for My Mental Health

It’s now April and while I have missed some days in my journalling practice, but I do write at least three pages most days. Sometimes the words flow freely and bleed over into four or five pages; other days I struggle to fill the lines on even the second page and resort to finding journaling prompts on Pinterest. But, I’m now on my third notebook of the year, and this practice is helping me learn to manage my mental health:

  • Feeling frustrated about something at work or home? Write it down.
  • Annoyed with myself because I’m not losing weight and am stuck in a binge-eating cycle? Write it down.
  • Unsure of what truly brings me happiness? Write it down.
  • Have a decision I need to make and don’t know what to do? Write it down.
  • Want to envision what life would be like if money wasn’t a necessity? Write it down.

Most of the time, I can close my journal after finishing those pages and feel a sense of either resolution or at least a bit more clarity in how I want to handle a situation. If I need to talk through one of the situations I journaled about, I have at least put my thoughts to paper and have them organized in some way, even if I’m not reading them verbatim. And, I like to think that these notebooks are going to be a nice reflection of how I’ve grown when I look back at them later in life.

So, the experts were right. Writing supports me as I work through my emotions and challenges, and it feels good to say that journaling is helping me to manage my mental health, even if the other shoe drops.

In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

What Anxiety Looks Like

I’ve been fighting back crippling anxiety for a week now. I’ve tried to explain what my anxiety feels like before, but my words don’t seem to accurately define it. I am going to keep trying, though.

My Picture of Anxiety

  • Checking my email inbox obsessively to see if my boss’s boss approved of my work.
  • Feeling like a did 30 minutes of cardio when I’m just sitting in my chair. Heart pounding, shallow breathing, body aching.
  • Knowing I need to complete my to-do list, but not being able to focus, and then feeling ashamed that I can’t check off my priorities.
  • Counting calories and steps with a fear I won’t meet my goals.
  • Snapping at my husband because he asked how I am feeling.
  • Panicking when I realized I booked a non-refundable trip.
  • Clicking Buy Now on Amazon because a book or a dress might make me feel better.
  • Being proud that I was able to leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Spending an hour talking myself up so I can leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Sleeping because I’m exhausted, but having to take Klonopin to help me sleep.
  • Dreaming about trauma and failure.
  • Withdrawing from my family.
  • Cancelling a trip to the city to see friends because I can’t imagine getting on a train.
  • Wishing I could spend the day in bed, but feeling obligated to close my Apple Watch rings so that nothing bad happens.
  • Saying the same prayer every night so nothing bad happens.
  • Feeling like I’m walking in a razor-covered high wire.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month (Week in the UK). My company’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee tried to promote it and mental health support, but I only saw a few posts about it on our Workplace channel. I helped my department launch a campaign for mental health awareness, but I am sad that few people participated. I was the only one to make an individual post in support of the campaign. Now I’m unsettled because maybe my peers assume that I have a mental illness because I showed more support than others, and it feels like I’m standing out too much.

It’s true that I have serious mental illnesses. I share about my bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety here and on my social media channel. So if I’m putting my SMIs out in the web universe, why does this bother me? Am I a fraud because I’m nervous sharing any of this with coworkers? Am I contradicting what I stand for?

I think I am all of those things, but here are the excuses I tell myself when I shy away from talking about mental health in the workplace.

People Don’t Understand Mental Illness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2020), 13.1 million U.S. adults have SMI diagnoses. While that’s 5.2% of the adult population, it doesn’t mean understanding and recognition is growing at the same rate.

SMIs take many forms. Some people can be high-functioning, hiding their SMIs from others while they control their symptoms with medicine, therapy, and self-care. I don’t believe that you can be “healed” from an SMI. Rather, like a cancer of your brain synapses and chemistry, you can go into remission. That doesn’t mean that you’re healed; it means that you’re not showing symptoms.

Yes, SMIs are being discussed more than ever, but the stigma remains. From misrepresentation in the media to stereotypes about mental health, there are so many assumptions about what SMIs look like:

  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Moping
  • Irrational behavior
  • Victimhood
  • Weakness

Those are just a few of the assumptions that I’ve heard, and I know there are more. The stigma of SMIs is deafening, and it prevents more people from disclosing their diagnoses.

Disclosing Mental Illness at Work

I’ve been in the professional workforce for nearly 17 years now, and one of the things I’ve carried with me from the beginning is that I’m a failure and a liability if I show too much emotion. Emotion equals weakness, and weakness equals stagnation. But what happens when emotions are tied to SMIs that, at times, have been out of control?

When I had a breakdown in August 2020, I was terrified of taking vacation time. We were in the middle of a pandemic, and who takes a vacation from work then? I was hanging onto my job with my fingernails, even while I had multiple panic attacks daily. Despite hearing that my UK counterparts were taking 4-week-long holidays, people in the U.S. didn’t do that. My boss worked 12+ hours a day, so I needed to do the same. But when I couldn’t function anymore, I knew I needed time off.

So, I made the decision to talk to my doctor about taking a mandatory leave. She agreed. I should have taken more than 10 days, but I refused to allow myself more. My boss stopped me from sharing too much information with her because of privacy laws, so I focused on HR and my doctor shared only the most pertinent information.

I felt forced into a corner to take those steps because I wanted to protect my position at the company. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents firing because of medical leave like mine, and I was afraid of retribution because I was taking time off.

But that’s a bit irrational right? My company was pitching the boilerplate language of self-care, work/life balance, and taking time away. People in other countries were taking PTO and seemed fine with it. But that wasn’t what I knew. After all, wasn’t my boss working tons of hours? Why would I show weakness like that?

I don’t talk about taking that medical leave. I didn’t share why I needed the time. I needed more time, but again, I didn’t want to be weak.

Some things have changed since that time. I have a new boss who actively encourages taking time off. I do the same for my direct reports. The world seems more attuned to mental health in some ways. But, stigma remains. People remain quiet. And I question my actions.

When will we move forward? When will we normalize conversations about SMIs? When will we change the narrative?

Anxiety, a Psychiatrist, and a Lost Weekend

I am not sure how many psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and mental health experts I have seen over the years. I’ve lost count of those visits and of the medications I’ve tried. Since we have moved several times in the past six years, I’ve had to seek new help and new prescriptions every time, and that process is so tiring. I’ve seen good shrinks and bad ones, been taken off medicine too quickly and given new meds without warrant. But one of my psychiatrists made the largest impact on my life.

I’d met Dr. Donaldson shortly after I transferred from from one college to another in a different city. Because of my multiple suicide attempts, my dad had been seeking a referral for me for months so that I could see a doctor who had a good reputation and the potential to help his struggling daughter. I did not want to go see Dr. D., insisting to my mom that I was fine and I didn’t need a psychiatrist. She didn’t buy my pleas. “Your dad had to pull a lot of strings to get you this appointment. You’re going.”

And so I did. I arrived at Dr. D’s office and sat in a waiting room that smelled like old magazines and the 1980s. Our first appointment was thorough, but talking to Dr. D. wasn’t like my previous encounters with psychiatrists. He sat behind a giant lawyer’s desk and listened to me. He asked questions in a quiet, grandfather-like voice, and after I answered a few of his queries, I noticed he seemed to be interested in what I was saying, even when I was just talking about my summer, not my mental health symptoms. This doctor wanted to get to know me as a person before he handed over a prescription. What a concept!

He did prescribe me medicine, of course. We played with a few dosages and different meds for a while, but eventually I started taking EffexorXR for my mood, Trazodone to help me fall asleep, and Seroquel to help me stay asleep. It was a good cocktail of my mental health, until it wasn’t.

I saw Dr. D. throughout my final years of undergrad, and then when I started graduate school in a different state, he agreed to help me stay on my meds if I came back to see him whenever I returned home for a break.

I fell into a chest-numbing state of anxiety in October of my first semester. I had tripped trying to walk over to the phone in The English Center, where I worked 10 hours a week as part of my assistantship, and injured my back to the point I could barely walk to classes. Visits to a chiropractor were helping, but I was embarrassed by my klutziness in front of strangers. And, as we’d been in school for just over two months, my professors were amping up the assignments and readings. Plowing through 150 pages of critical theory a night plus writing response papers and helping grade first-year composition papers was a lot. I’d sit at my IKEA desk (thank you, Justyna) in my apartment and chain-smoke while I worked. I never slept in my bed; I fell asleep on the couch watching my DVDs of Friends on a round-the-clock loop. Not good for my back or my REM cycle. Finally, as the anxiety started to pull at my body even more and as I caught myself repeating tapping patterns, turning off light switches in quick succession of fours, and washing my hands until I was certain I wasn’t going to fail my Composition Pedagogy class, I called my psychiatrist. Something was off, and I needed Dr. D.’s help.

Anyway, I called Dr. D. in October of 2003 in a panic because my anxiety was over the top and I was terrified of failing out of graduate school (having yet to earn any grade lower than an A on an assignment; anxiety lies). He was still my doctor because we’d landed on six-month appointments that I could make work during school breaks. As it was a Thursday when I finally gave in to asking for help, he asked, “Can you take a break for a couple days?” I said I thought so. I didn’t have to be on campus that Friday, at least. “Good. Take two Seroquel tonight and try to knock yourself out for the full weekend. You’re exhausted and sleep is the best option for you right now. You’re exhibiting OCD symptoms because of your anxiety. Sleep and reset.”

So, I did. And nearly 72 hours later, I emerged from sleep and mindless TV binging to find that I did feel better. Not perfect by any means, but I could take deep breaths again and wash my hands in a normal fashion once more. Sleep would become one of my go-to ways to combat the anxiety and depression that took hold of me over many times from then on.

I’m not sure if doctors would prescribe three days of sleep with pills now. Several doctors have urged me to rest, but Dr. D. remains the first one to recognize that I need to take a break and to calm myself. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Finding a proper medical team is not easy. It’s painful. First you have to navigate insurance approvals, waitlists, and paperwork. Then you have to regurgitate your past mental health issues and talk about experiences that can push you back into that deep hole. And trying new meds? It’s a strain of adding new pills at different doses to the already complex cocktail of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills, maintaining a homeostasis to ensure that everything is working together, that a new med is helping, and that side effects are minimal. It’s exhausting. But worth it if you can find a doctor like Dr. D.

Why I Talk About My Mental Illness

I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.

About a week ago, I received an unsolicited DM on my Bookstagram account. I had posted a photo the night before, referencing how reading books – getting lost in novels – is a refuge for my diagnosed anxiety disorder. The next morning, a probably well-meaning follower offered to send me samples of Matcha tea because she claimed that drink would soothe my anxiety and help my mental health.

Was she correct? Does Matcha help mental illness? According to a quick Google search, Neuroscience News reported in 2019 that a new study showed promising results when people with anxiety drank Matcha (read more here). Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous DM enraged me. After deleting the DM and blocking the sender, I posted a photo of a green stack of books in support of #mentalhealthawareness that encapsulated my feelings about this unsolicited message. Here is an excerpt from that post:

I have disclosed my mental health struggles and the importance of mental health awareness. On top of sharing my love of books here, I use this little space of mine as a place to vocalize what took me decades to own (and some days I still fight it). Engagement on those posts mean[s] the world to me.

But what doesn’t help? Receiving an unsolicited DM this morning that “matcha will make you feel better” and that “you’re happy to send samples.”

Honey, don’t you think I’m trying every avenue to feel better already? Don’t you get that a serious mental illness is just that – an illness? Your DM reeks of trying to monetize my struggles, with scents of an MLM proposition on the side. Don’t capitalize on my honesty and vulnerability. Don’t @ me anymore.

@jessicareadsmanybooks – 6 March 2022

Why was I so upset? Because it felt too personal and it felt like the sender was trying to capitalize off my disclosure. It’s ironic that a “hard DM / promote it on [insert mental health tag here]” comments flooded the responses to my post, comments that I promptly deleted. But the experience has me thinking about why I post about mental illness.

My #greenstackformentalhealth

Mental Illness Should Not Carry Shame

I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.

At first, as a teenager, I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought I was abnormal and hid my thoughts. I didn’t have the language to describe what was happening. Then, after a vodka-sodden night that ended in me tearfully blurting out the story of my sexual assault in college, my friends insisted that I try therapy. It wasn’t easy. Suicide attempts, psychiatric holds, and bulimia followed. But therapy and medicine helped me to find the words.

I learned that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, just like having any physical illness should not carry shame. My brain chemistry does not work correctly. The chemicals and the neural pathways need a prescribed boost to help me deal with my clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t need to explain this to everyone, but I do disclose when necessary or when I feel so compelled.

We Need to End the Stigma of Mental Illness

Aside from not understanding what was happening in my brain, the stigma of mental illness kept me from disclosing anything for a long time. Despite posting about it here and on my Bookstagram account, I don’t talk about it on a regular basis with people, other than close family. But, I am always aware of it. Completing my dissertation on mental health in the workplace helped me to understand the stigma that people with serious mental illnesses (SMIs) face. Also, I started to gather statistics to quantify the impact of SMIs in the world. I’m clearly not alone.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that in 2020, one in 20 U.S. adults – 14.2 million people – experienced an SMI (, 2022). And, one in five U.S. adults (52.9 million) experienced mental illness that year (, 2022). While the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant influencer of mental health in 2020 and continues to have an impact now, the numbers prior to the pandemic are just as significant:

From 2008 to 2019, the percentage of U.S. adults who had any mental illness (AMI) increased from 39.8 million people to 51.5 million people, and SMIs in the U.S. adult population increased from 8.3 million to 13.1 million people (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020). So, to break that down into percentage growth over a decade prior to the pandemic: AMIs increased by 29% and SMIs increased by 58%.

Those numbers – before the pandemic and during – are nothing to scoff at. So why does mental health stigma still exist? In my opinion, it’s a lack of education, a lack of awareness, and a deep-rooted fear that it can happen to anyone.

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

The research on which populations are more susceptible to mental illness varies; however, it is true that anyone can experience mental illness. The disparities exist in who is more fortunate to have access to mental health services. As a white woman whose employer provides medical insurance, who has the funds to take care of my copays and prescription costs, and who has the option to choose from a variety of doctors, I am extremely privileged. It wasn’t always like this – there was a time in my life where I did not take my medications because of the out-of-pocket expense – but I have access to the help I need.

Others are not fortunate like me.

Statistics about Demographic Groups with Mental Illness

All data provided by (2022). Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, the groups that have the highest percentage of treatment are

  • Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual: 54.3%
  • Non-Hispanic white: 51.8%
  • Female: 51.2%

Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, those with the lowest percentages of treatment are

  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 20.8%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 35.1%
  • Non-Hispanic black or African American: 37.1%

Treatment is not equalized amongst the U.S. population (or any population). All statistics available from (2022).

  • 11 years: The average time it takes between onset of a mental illness and treatment
  • 134 million: The number of people who live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area
  • 11%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had a mental illness and no medical coverage in 2020
  • 11.3%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had an SMI and no medical coverage in 2020
  • 46.2%: The percentage of U.S. adults with mental illness who received treatment in 2020
  • 64.5%: The percentage of U.S. adults with SMI who received treatment in 2020

Why I Need to Talk About Mental Illness

Sharing about my mental illness is not easy. It is not something I take lightly. But for all the reasons above, and more that I can’t quantify right now, I feel obligated to disclose what I struggle with. I have a tiny platform, but I have a voice. It’s important to me that I share it.

But don’t DM me with a proposition to capitalize on my decision to speak out.

Four Reasons I Hate Mental Illness

Mental health matters and mental illness sucks. I have a running list of reasons I hate my mental illness. Here are four.

Mental illness sucks. There. I said it. It doesn’t just impact your brain. It makes nearly every part of your life go sideways. Here are four of the most pressing reasons why I hate having a mental illness.

Mental Illness Steals My Motivation

Do you have grand ideas of what you want to accomplish? Do you act on those ideas? Turn them in to goals that you fight to achieve?

I have grand goals that I want to achieve. I’m a driven person who seeks external validation in every part of my life. The problem is, I don’t often act on the goals that I know will make a huge difference in my life.

Give me a work project with a deadline, and I’ll attack it. Push me to do a work-related something new that will set me apart, and I am here for all of it. But, tell me that monitoring my diet and getting regular exercise will help me feel better, and I fall into a puddle of failure.

Most of the time I’ll blame this behavior on being lazy. I’ll respond with excuses and sometimes even anger. That’s a fear-based response because my brain tells me I can’t do it. Anxiety takes over and then it’s all about the overwhelming feeling of failure from before I even start. My brain lies because of my mental illness.

For example, I’ll wake up early on a Saturday morning and have grandiose plans of accomplishing my to-do list of those should-do items that I think about all week. I’ll sit with that feeling for a bit and then become exhausted. The thought of leaving the house to pick up some organizer bins or just go to the FedEx store or even have a lunch treat with my husband, and I’ll collapse under the pressure I put on myself. I’m an all-or-nothing type of person, and the “all” makes me tired. My motivation is gone. Mental illness lies and tells me that I can’t do any of it.

Finding a Medication for a Mental Illness is Frustrating

If you’ve ever had to take a medication for your mental health, you know what I’m talking about.

It can take months for the medicine to build up in your body, to be effective and make you feel better. Or, it can work from Day 2 and then taper off after a month. There is no cure-all that starts from the moment you swallow a pill, or four, and then feel stable for the rest of your life. At least, I haven’t found it. It’s like Alice taking a bite of a biscuit and morphing into a giant, her feet and arms pushing through the doors and windows of the White Rabbit’s house, and then she swallows another carb and shrinks to an eighth of her original size. In between, she nearly drowns herself with her own tsunami-sized tears.

Okay, I don’t remember the timing for all those scenes in Disney’s movie, but you know what I mean.

Finding a medicine – or a cocktail of prescriptions – is a tedious process when you’re trying to improve your mental health. I’ve been on so many different medications that I have lost track. Most recently it was lithium, that Big Daddy of the mental health world that scared me from the start. But, I’d take it for two weeks, feel great, and then the dosage would need tweaked. There’s a limit to what you can take, obviously, so we switched to something else. I’m feeling better right now with the current med cocktail, but there’s a lingering thought that the other shoe will drop and I’ll have to start all over once my body gets accustomed to another medication.

Mental Illness Makes Me Act Like a Victim

The t-shirts and the stickers are right for most people. Their mental health matters and they’re fighting through their struggles. They’re accomplishing things and sharing their stories.

I want to share my story, too. But right now, I’m in a cycle of victimhood as I blame others for the past and I’m not moving forward. I’m stuck at the blame-and-shame stage. I don’t believe that everyone can pick themselves up by their bootstraps and recover alone. You need a team, a tribe, a push forward.

I say “right now,” but if I’m being truly honest, I’ve been this way for decades. And that makes things worse. I hate that I’m not holding myself accountable for every part of this. Yes, bad things happened to me, but I haven’t made peace with those things yet. I hang on to the pain. And that exacerbates my mental illness and fills me with more lies that grow like mold in my brain.

Mental Illness Changes Your Relationships

This is the biggest reason why I hate having a mental illness. My depression and anxiety impact my family every day. I hate that my kids have become attuned to me hiding in the bedroom and sleeping away the afternoons because I’m so exhausted by life. I hate that I have to talk to them frankly about mental health. I hate that I don’t do the Pinterest and Instagram mom things because I’m mentally ill. I question if my love is truly enough when I can’t show up with enthusiasm and action unless I push up against the walls of the deep, dark hole that depression dug around me.

I hate that my husband feels he can’t talk freely without my emotions taking over in response. I hate that he’s dealt with my mental illness as much as he has. I hate that he anticipates a “no” from me before he asks if I want to do something, so much so that he’s stopped asking. I hate that I haven’t felt right with him in months because I can’t relax. I don’t know how much longer he can hang on. He knew what was wrong before we married, but my mental illness has gotten worse, and it’s incredibly unfair to him.

The Tipping Point of Mental Illness

The tipping point is near. The fear remains that I’ve gone past it and can’t go back. The lie remains that I will be this way forever. It’s not something I’m handling well. Maybe I just want to be miserable. And that’s fifth reason I hate having a mental illness.

4 Truths About Mental Illness

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?