See someone profusely bleeding from his leg, and you probably wouldn’t try to patch it up with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.
Watch your friend’s arm twist backward in its socket, and you probably wouldn’t call for takeout pizza instead of an ambulance.
But, when your mind starts turning on you–telling you that you aren’t good enough, that everything is out of control, that you aren’t good enough, could never be good enough–and you spiral into the dark pit of depression, you ignore it. You try to hide it.
Then you finally tell someone about how you’re feeling, and they say, “What’s wrong with you?”
Mental illnesses aren’t easily seen. Pulling yourself out of bed every day could be the biggest battle in your life, but no one applauds you. Ordering a “fear” food at a restuarant could make your heart beat faster than a rockband drummer after chugging a Red Bull, but your friends keep on talking about whether they should buy the green dress or the blue. Going out to a crowded movie on a Friday night could have taken you hours to finally muster the courage to say “yes,” but your mom says as you head out the door, “I thought you’d never leave your room. Why don’t you go out more often?”
We like to rely on what we can see. If we don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It isn’t real.
Hearing others discount our feelings, thoughts, and emotions then makes it seem like what we’re going through is all in our heads. Maybe there is something wrong with us. Maybe we are making it up. That is the greatest danger though.
Mental illnesses are real. They are not fantasies or delusions, but are scientific disorders.
Research suggests that hormones and genetics play a factor, just like some physical diseases. Does everyone with a certain gene or brain chemical develop OCD, social anxiety, or an eating disorder? No. But does everyone with a history of high blood pressure or cancer in their family necessarily get that disease? No.
Recovery is possible. However, when society keeps telling you that what you’re experiencing isn’t “real,” then coming to terms with your struggles is that much harder. When you keep hiding your emotions out of shame, the pain can become unbearable.
So, you’ve realized you need help. You have your therapists, nutritionists, considerate family or friends… and then it happens. Someone says: “just get over it” *or insert any other insensitive comment here*.
What do you do?
1. Check in with yourself.
As hard as it might be, smile and move on. Take a moment, take some deep breaths, and show yourself some lovin’. Make sure you are okay.
Remember that you might not be able to control your every thought, but you can choose to keep choosing recovery. Look at how far you’ve come. Feel proud of yourself for the steps you’ve taken, and realize this is an inconsequential incident that does not reflect what you’ve already done.
Okay, you might not want to lecture the grocery store clerk. But if you truly care about the person–say, a family member or friend–then shed some light on the subject. Explain that ignoring your thoughts doesn’t make the issue go away. Even if they don’t completely understand what you’re going through, at least the next time they might offer their support. (Think your loved one might be experiencing an eating disorder? Here are other tips and things to say and NOT say.)
3. Call retreat.
Fall back on loved ones, friends, or professionals you feel comfortable with. And if a family member or close friend was the one who said the nasty comment? Find someone else, even if it means skyping a grade school friend or emailing a quick “hi” to an old teacher.
Go out for a coffee and have a chat with a neighbor. Call your grandpa. Attend weekly Bible Study and spend a moment with your pastor. You don’t have to talk about your mental illness. You can simply exist in the moment, recharge and refocus.
Who you choose to seek out doesn’t have to know what you’re going through, but even spending a few minutes with them could be enough to show you that you are worth it. You are valuable. You are not a failure for not “getting over” a real disease. You are not crazy, and you are not to blame for what’s happening to you.
4. Decide to receive help.
You’ve checked in with yourself, you’ve tried to tell yourself that you are not inconsequential or weak, but you’re still struggling. Everything within you is still screaming that you’re wrong and aren’t worth recovery. Please, SEEK HELP.
You are not your illness. You might have problems you’ll deal with for your life or at least a long time. However, you can decide to receive care. Someone with cancer goes to chemo, someone with diabetes takes insulin, so figure out what makes you better and do it. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. If you’re scared, you don’t necessarily have to take medicine to cure yourself. Journaling, religious work, counseling, and therapy can all work wonders.
5. Speak up.
Maybe the moment passes you by, and you kept silent. You thought of a thousand things to say afterward, but like those will help you now. That doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference.
Share your story, if you feel ready and able to. Through using your voice–whether through a video, a blog post, a magazine article, an artwork–you can raise awareness. With every story told, we hack away another chunk of the stigma surrounding these illnesses.
The strongest warriors aren’t the ones who wear thousands of medals or pound their puffed chests in pride. They’re the ones who face every day silently, smiling despite the tears in their hearts and laughing despite the pain. The real warriors are the ones who keep going, even when no one else is there to see.
–> What do you do when you hear insensitive comments?
–> What’s some common myths about mental illness?
–> What do you do to take care of yourself every day?