I can’t speak for anyone else who has suffered from a mental illness but I have an uncomfortable confession to make. I feel like I should admit that during my absolute worst, I was conceited and felt special and unique in my pain.
When I began exploring the idea of writing about my experience with mental illness here on Stigma Fighters I expected myself to just write about my past, my current struggles, and maybe why I am the way I am. And while I still want to do that, there’s just something I need to let go of first. If I don’t say this first, my story, at least in my mind, can’t be genuine and completely honest. If I’m going to claim to want to fight stigma, I have to tell the entire truth about my illnesses.
While suffering from anxiety and depression, and even while suicidal, I felt special, and in a way like I was somehow better than everyone else. In my mind it was as if my struggles meant that I was very in tune with other people and my own emotions, making me intelligent and simply, better at caring. I want to say that other people put this idea in my head. I’m a writer, after all, and after being told that I was mentally ill I was also told about the mental illnesses and addictions of famous authors. Instead of feeling set apart, I was a part of the right crowd. The club of creative misfits that wrote too much and slept too little became my comfort.
Sometimes I gratified my pain, as if it was worth being able to write complex poetry and it gave me some sense of pride when I went on Tumblr and saw all of the depression posts because I could actually say that I was depressed. I didn’t have to glorify mental illness because I knew what suffering was. And all of the sudden it was like I had this defense. Yes, maybe I was suicidal. But if I’m suicidal because I’m intelligent and perceptive of emotions maybe I can convince myself that I’m worth saving and it’s worth it to try and survive.
Even though I’m now in recovery I find myself wanting to use my illnesses and my struggles as an excuse. Sometimes I want to use my mental health to prove I’m strong. And while I do believe that I’m strong, isn’t it hypocritical of me to talk of how I wish no one would ever have to struggle with mental illness, while simultaneously boasting about how the mentally ill are strong and intelligent in ways “normal” people will never be? Like those are the only depths that produce deep and meaningful art?
In a sense, all I was doing was hurting myself. Even now I still think about how great it felt at the time to hurt myself. Sometimes, I will admit, I even miss it. People don’t expect you to enjoy that pain because people don’t expect you to hurt yourself in the first place. After all, what sense does it make to a “normal” person to add to your suffering? But what should they expect? When you’re mentally ill people don’t expect a lot from you. Some people will even cry with you and apologize for something that they aren’t responsible for. And honestly, there’s so much satisfaction in seeing other people so sad for you when you’re suffering because it does take a small weight off of you, even if it’s just for a moment. When that moment is over, however, they get to leave and in some ways they add to your suffering because they get to leave those bad feelings on your shoulders. They won’t have insomnia and they won’t cry themselves to sleep because they just want the pain to be over. They won’t have to see a therapist who recommends medication, making you second guess how sane you are. They won’t have to hide scars from their family and friends.
And this is exactly my point. I never really had to hide any of that. Trust me when I tell you that I heard my fair share of jabs at the mentally ill. For example, without knowing of my illnesses, people would say to me, “kids who cut themselves are only seeking attention” and “people who are depressed are just weak-minded”. And both of these quotes happen to be from family members. But it wasn’t a friend or family member or stranger who convinced me to spill my guts out to my mom about absolutely everything in 11th grade. I made that decision because I was fed up with myself. I was fed up with trying to convince myself that these people didn’t care. They absolutely cared. They just didn’t know enough to read between the lines. Now that most of my family knows, they come to me and ask questions. They admit that their perceptions of mental illness were completely wrong. And we got to this point because I stopped making it harder than it had to be.
Suffering from any mental illness is no walk in the park and trust me, I know it seems impossible to be honest in the moment. But you can’t fight stigma with closed lips and you can’t expect others to speak up for you. We can only do it if we’re honest with ourselves and others about what we’re going through and what they can do to help. When they ask questions, answer them honestly and to the best of your ability. Take them to your therapy sessions. Educate them. If they say something that’s incorrect, politely correct them.
I knew that this would never be easy but I couldn’t use my isolation as an excuse if I was the one doing it to myself. We all want to fight stigma, so the only thing left is just to do it. I know that’s easier said than done, but take this from someone who not only used her mental illness as an excuse, but enjoyed it. Opening up actually shut that defense down for me. It’s very hard but it’s not nearly as hard as suffering alone.
Sam is 21 years old, married, and in college for Marketing. She’s a Social Media Manager, blogger, and freelance writer. In 2015 she sold t-shirts to raise funds for her local mental health association. She aspires to one day own her own marketing company, write a book, and play a larger role in fighting stigma associated with mental health. Her interests include yoga, psychology, politics, and cuddling with her dogs.
Samantha can be found on Twitter.