29 Things People With Mental Illnesses Want You To Understand
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Have you ever carelessly said, “I'm so OCD,” while cleaning your desk, without giving it a second thought? We've probably all made casual remarks like this at one time or another.
But for people suffering from mental illness, those blanket statements can be a stark reminder of the fact that many people struggle to understand what it's like to live with these diseases.
It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the UK experienced a common mental health problem, the past week.
And research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that there's much more to be done in terms of removing the stigma attached to so many of these diseases, which often make people feel guilty, responsible, or that they're permanently broken.
We talked to some strong, kickass women with mental illness about what they wish people understood about them and their particular disorder.
I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP
“I struggle with forms of social anxiety which surprises people since I'm relatively outgoing. Because I don't act like what people expect, most people think I am making it up.
But being outgoing doesn't stop me from getting paralysed by thinking about all of the 'what ifs.' I'm a champion snowball thinker—if this happens, then this will happen, and then this will happen…until I end up dead and alone. it feels like a never-ending battle.” —
DON'T SAY 'I'M SO OCD' UNLESS YOU REALLY ARE
“I have obsessive compulsive disorder and it's so much work and energy. I have to get others to open door knobs for me and I wash my hands and brush my teeth non-stop.
My bedtime routine has to go exactly the same or I have to start over, which is a blast with children. So when people joke about being 'so OCD' about having a clean house or something it's very frustrating. This isn't a joke, this is a terrible, life-altering illness that I have to deal with every day.” —
I'M NOT LAZY
I have ADHD and when it's bad it's hard for people to always understand that I'm not lazy. It's my mental illness and I get distracted and move from this to that a lot. I may mean to finish task A, but something happens and task B takes over.
All of a sudden, task A is sort of partially completed. It's not because I'm lazy or don't want to do it, it's because I actually can't.” —
BINGE EATING ISN'T JUST ABOUT EATING TOO MUCH
“I suffer from food addiction and binge eating disorder. People think that binge eating is lack of willpower but it's so much more than that. It's a minute by minute battle sometimes that is exhausting and all consuming.
Telling me to 'just don't eat so much' doesn't help at all. This is a real disorder and needs to be treated like an addiction.” —
I HAVE TO TRY SO HARD JUST TO FUNCTION AT 'NORMAL'
“I have attention deficit disorder after having chemo treatment for cancer. I feel scattered and I'm always wondering what I've forgotten. It can be overwhelming and I have to stop everything and start over.
Often I question every little thing I do. Because of all this people think I'm not listening, that I think they're not important or I'm just not trying hard enough to be attentive and keep everything together and focused. If they only know how hard I'm trying! I would love it if people would ask or check in on me with things that matter to them so I could be sure to give them the focus and attention they deserve.” —
I DON'T SEE MYSELF THE WAY YOU DO
“I have body dysmorphic disorder. In college I lost 100 pounds and didn't recognise myself in the mirror for the better part of five years. I became very controlling over what I ate to the point of orthorexia and still feared others saw me as the 'fat girl.'
It didn't help when people would say that I wasn't. I want to believe them but I just don't see myself the way other people do.” —
BEING A JERK DOESN'T MAKE YOU MENTALLY ILL (AND VICES VERSA)
“I have bipolar disorder and I wish people knew how hurtful it is to make comments like 'so and so (who is acting like an ass at the time) is so bipolar.' Being a jerk is just being a jerk and has nothing to do with mental health.” —
I'M NOT VIOLENT
“Sometimes people are afraid of me when they hear I'm bipolar. They're afraid that I will do something really weird or dangerous or would be unreliable or somehow not good enough.
Unfortunately many people's only experience with mental health issues is when someone's illness is not treated or under control so they only see the really unpleasant side effects that can manifest. When the illness is treated, we are just like everyone else.” —
DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY WHEN I SAY 'NO'
“I struggle with depression and anxiety but I hide it pretty well in public. If you aren't close to me you may never know unless it comes up in discussion.
But when it gets bad I tend to withdraw because I don't have the energy to be fake-happy in public. Medication helps, exercise helps, but sometimes I just have to let things go. I wish people understood that sometimes I say no to things because it would add that 'one more thing' I can't handle.
I know I can't do it all even though I want to and I wish others understood that.” —
I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT FROM ME EITHER
“I started with anxiety, OCD, and depression after losing several pregnancies. I was told it was just post-partum but it's been over two years and it's still there. I have good days and bad days, but the hard part is not knowing which version of myself I'm going to wake up with.
Will I be motivated and ready to go or find it hard to get out of bed and get dressed? I don't like when I'm having a hard day and I maybe snap at the kids or ignore the husband because I'm off in lala land.
Then they just look at me and get upset with me and don't understand what's wrong, and I can't try to explain it because I feel like a soda bottle, if you keep shaking and asking, then when I finally open, I'll explode. I just tell myself to make it through the bad days because another good day has to come soon.” —
I'M NOT ALWAYS STRONG
“I have depression and anxiety issues. I wish people understood that sometimes I just can't be strong anymore on the outside. People will tell me I'm so strong but the thing is, sometimes I'm really not. My shield isn't always at full power and it's okay not to be strong sometimes.” —
I DON'T WANT MY ILLNESS TO BE A SECRET
“When I first began to experience depression and anxiety I felt so alone. I remember telling a friend and she whispered to me that she had depression too, but not to tell anyone because her husband would be mortified other people knew.
It made me feel even worse and I vowed that day to be as open as possible about my depression and anxiety so those around me would never feel so isolated. We don't have to—and we don't want to—quietly suffer alone.” —J
DON'T GIVE ME ADVICE UNLESS I ASK FOR IT
“I have nightmare disorder and people tell me all the time to just meditate, try yoga, or take a supplement. But just because it helped you fall asleep that one time you had a sleeping issue, doesn't mean it will help me too. No, no, no! I've had nightmare disorder all my life.
Trust me when I say I've tried all the cures over the years. Of course, people mean well and they're just trying to help, which is nice of them, but it's not exactly useful or productive.” —
DON'T SAY YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL
“I have severe anxiety. It doesn't matter how unreasonable the worry seems, it's very real to me and I have to talk myself off the anxiety ledge on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. If you don't suffer from it, you can't possibly understand how I feel.
So don't tell me you get what I'm going through. It doesn't have to make sense to you. This is my reality.” —
COMBAT PTSD IS MORE COMMON, AND DAMAGING, THAN YOU KNOW
“I suffer from PTSD—the VA and Army both diagnosed me as having it to a severe degree. A lot of my life is smoke and mirrors.
On the outside I look and act totally fine, but on the inside I'm a wreck. Even six years out I'm hardly better. I still have sleepless nights, night terrors, am constantly paranoid, and am easily triggered by normal everyday things.
The worst part is remembering all the battle buddies I've lost to suicide from the same combat PTSD I have. Because I understand why they made that choice. My hope is family—and without them I'd be long gone, too.” —
I'M NOT FAKING THIS JUST TO GET THE MEDS
“I have ADHD and it's different in adults than in kids. In adults, it often seems like we're flighty or just don't have our stuff together.
But every day is a struggle to remember all the things I need to. Between two kids at two different schools, my job, doctor visits, cooking, grocery shopping, and taking care of everything else, I spend a lot of my life exhausted. It often comes off as being quick to anger or cry, and it's frustrating not having the words come or be understood when you're trying to hold onto a thought long enough to convey it.
I really wish people would stop saying that people with ADHD are faking it or just want the medication.” —
I AM NOT MY ILLNESS
“I struggle with PTSD and one of the side effects of this is I don't really plan in advance to go out, and sometimes I cancel plans or have to leave early. It's a lifelong battle, and I wish people would see all people with mental illness as separate from their illness.
I have an amazing boss and an incredible husband—both who treat me as the person I am, and see the symptoms as just symptoms, not personality traits.
They don't let them define me, and more importantly, remind me that they don't define me on those days I really need the reminders.” —
I CAN'T JUST CURE MY DEPRESSION BY TRYING HARDER
“A lot of advice I get from people for depression amounts to 'fake it till you make it' or 'just suck it up' or even 'just stop being depressed.' It's not a choice! If it was I'd have chosen to stop feeling bad long ago. And I am trying to do things to help myself.
Sometimes they work and sometimes the depression comes flooding back. It's a constant battle. But I can't just think myself better.” —
NOT EVERYTHING I DO IS BECAUSE OF MY ILLNESS
“People with mental illness aren't really allowed to just have a bad day. I have bipolar disorder and anything I do that's not perfectly pleasant is often treated like a manifestation of my disease instead of considering I'm just having a bad day.
Not every mood is a symptom of illness. Some days do just suck and that's the way of it, [it] doesn't mean I'm about to have a 'bipolar moment.'” —
MEDS CAN HELP BUT THEY DON'T CURE YOU
“I've had an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, and depression. I was on medication for almost 15 years and while it did help, it didn't automatically fix everything. Eventually the side effects were worse than the benefits and I went off them.
I've been off meds for almost two years now and have some good techniques to help me deal with my OCD and anxiety on my own—that, and a lot of prayer.” —
PLEASE BE MY FRIEND, EVEN IF I'M NOT A GREAT FRIEND IN RETURN RIGHT NOW
“I wish people knew that anxiety is real, isn't always easily controlled by therapy or medications, and that it doesn't mean I want to be left out of things. For me, anxiety means shutting down and isolation.
My friends interpret that as meaning I want to be left alone, but it honestly feels like life or death, and I need people. I don't mean to be a bad friend.” —
I'M NOT A SNOB, I HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY
“People who don't know me think I'm being cold or snobby or bitchy when really I'm just anxious and not sure what to say to people. And since I'm a courtroom lawyer who has to talk in public all the time, people don't believe me that I have social anxiety.
I wish people knew that when I have a 'script' of what to say, such as when I'm in court and have prepared my arguments ahead of time, I don't have any problem talking to people.
It's when I don't have a pre-planned statement or idea of what to say, like in casual social settings, that my social anxiety goes through the roof.” —
MY MENTAL ILLNESS REQUIRES A SPECIAL DIET
“I have wild mood swings from polycystic ovarian syndrome and ADHD on top of it. I recently started a high-fat ketogenic diet and it has helped my symptoms tremendously. My brain works better on fat than carbs.
As long as I stick to my diet all my hormones test normal, no symptoms, my mood is stable, and even my ADHD is manageable without meds. For this reason my diet is just as important to my health as if I had, say, a peanut allergy.” —
PANIC ATTACKS AREN'T LIKE THEY APPEAR IN THE MOVIES
“I have anxiety disorder with panic attacks. I wish people understood that the panic attacks can literally come out of nowhere, even when I don't feel anxious. Telling me to 'just relax' or 'stop thinking about it' isn't super helpful.” —
I DON'T HANDLE BIG SURPRISES WELL
“I suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, and panic disorder. Most of the time I'm good at coping with them but they really flare up during times of transition or big changes. If possible, I need plenty of warning to prepare.” —
I'M NOT BEING NEGATIVE ON PURPOSE
“I have depression and what I wish other people understood is that I really am trying to be okay and I don't want to be down, but sometimes I have to get through the 'down' days to be okay the rest of the time.
And also, I want people to know how much energy it takes to feel good—that it's a constant battle that drains all my energy. I'm not being negative on purpose, it's just the way my brain is sometimes.” —
IT'S NOT A CHOICE, IT'S BRAIN CHEMISTRY
“I have had postpartum depression and anxiety with all three of my babies. I also have severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Yet so many people still think I'm choosing to be emotional. I wish more than anything people didn't see this as a choice and recognised it for the biological illness it is.” —
I'M NOT BEING UNGRATEFUL
“I have major depressive disorder and the thing I find the most frustrating is that because I do well in athletics, have plenty of friends, and a good home life that people feel like I am being ungrateful.
They can't understand why someone who 'has it all' could be depressed. The worst is when my coaches or teachers tell me I'm not living up to my potential or trying hard enough.
I want to tell them that some days it takes everything I have just to show up to school for the day and there are some days where it just feels like my life isn't even worth living.” —
PANIC ATTACKS CAN FEEL LIKE A LEGIT HEART ATTACK
“I have recently been diagnosed with menopausal depression/anxiety and panic attacks. I had a partial hysterectomy when I was 32 so menopause hit early for me.
These last two years have been a wreck for me. I've felt like I can't talk about it to anyone, that they'd rather I just stay quiet. Then one day last month I woke up feeling like I was having a heart attack (and my mom died of a heart attack around my age) so I went to the doctor.
He told me I actually had a panic attack and my heart was fine. He recommended medication.
Now I have never taken meds, [and I even] had natural childbirths, and so it was a huge struggle to say yes, especially because they were for depression and I didn't want to be labelled as depressed. But I also don't want to keep feeling this way, so I said yes.” —