I want to talk about something that has really been bothering me. It’s also coincidentally been popping up on a lot of my social media timelines. So I feel like I just need to give my opinion on it—being that I go through it every single day.
First let me start this off by saying, mental illness is not something to joke about. It is one of the least funny things to laugh about. Also, I feel it’s important to say that mental illness IS real. Just because you can’t necessarily see it, doesn’t change the fact that it is getting in the way of people living their lives to the fullest every second of every day.
Most people with a mental illness start the conversation with something like, “I suffer from ……” No, not everyone. But most people I encounter do. I, personally, don’t like to say that I suffer from these things. Yes, it makes my life a living hell sometimes. But because of those moments, I am now stronger. I usually say something like, “I deal with,” or, “I have.” That might have something to do with the fact that I don’t like other people to know when I’m hurting. It’s hard for me to allow others to see how hard things actually are for me. Plus, it sounds less dramatic, if I’m being straight up.
I don’t let anyone in. No one. Not fully at least. I’ve never let my guard down completely to let them see how bad I’m doing on the inside. It makes me feel weak and it’s not fun for me to see people worry about me. These last several years I’ve held every terrible thing I’ve felt on the inside. One day I’ll be ready to share my whole story. But it feels better kept on lockdown in my head. On the other hand, it also feels like my head is about to explode every time I open my eyes in the morning. I’m in a constant battle with myself about every little thing. I’m going to give you three examples of three times my mental illness was impacting me and the people around me didn’t buy what I was selling. Also the things I’ve been seeing online about these specific things. Before that though, it’d help to know that I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.
So first, the big one for me—OCD. The other day I got on twitter and saw a tag trending. It was #MyOCDIn5Words. I clicked on it, curious to see what the whole thing was about. To be honest I wasn’t at all surprised to find it was a bunch of people saying things about needing their closet color coordinated, or needing the TV volume on an even number, or having their rooms super clean at all times, etc. etc. etc.
I got extremely upset, and rightfully so. I know firsthand that OCD isn’t just wanting your room to be clean, or needing your pencils perfectly sharpened all the time. OCD is a nonstop voice in your head that suffocates you from the inside out. It doesn’t let you sleep peacefully, breathe peacefully, or live peacefully. OCD to me is something that has put me in very dangerous situations. I get locked onto things and can’t take my mind off of them. The big one that has gotten me into a lot of trouble is the need to always feel centered, or even with my surroundings. Really just all about feeling in general. If I spin my body around once to the left, I HAVE to spin my body back around to the right. If I go through a roundabout one way, I feel like I NEED to go back through it the opposite way. If I’m debating something, I always try and go with my gut feeling, and I know instantly whether or not I made the right decision. It can be any amount of stupid little things.
Tonight, for example, I wanted chapstick. My friends and I went to the store and I picked out which one I wanted, then I picked up the exact same one behind it. Literally the exact same one. After that I held those two SAME chapsticks in my hands for five minutes deciding which one felt right. This makes zero sense. My friend was so confused as I put one down and held the other, then switched. Then picked both of them up and looked back and forth. The entire time she’s staring at me confused, I’m having a full conversation in my head, my arms are literally tingling and my head is going back and forth as to which one I should buy. All of my senses in moments like this (which happen too many times a day to count) completely enhance and I feel things at such a different extreme. I can feel every cell in my body playing tug of war with each other, just based on which freaking chapstick I should buy.
In the moment I laugh it off, once again, not letting them see how much it really hurts me. But in my mind and body, I’m numb. And I’m so confused why I let something as small as chapstick have such a dramatic effect on me. What’s really stupid, is now as I’m sitting here at home, I’m still bothered by the thought that I might have chosen the wrong chapstick. My entire day was put on hold, and the rest of the day after that was spent obsessing over something so, so small.
So to everyone who throughout their day makes comments about how OCD it is of them to make sure the pens on their desk are straight, or having their closet color coordinated; no, my friend, that is not OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder is real, and it is not fun. It’s scary, confusing, exhausting, and REAL.
I want to end this part by saying OCD is different for everyone who has it. So when I explain what OCD is for me, it could be the complete opposite for someone else. And it is so much deeper than the tiny example I just gave. But that tiny example is as real, as hard, and as day-altering as running out of gas on the way to a job interview. At least for me, a person who really has OCD.
Now, generalized anxiety disorder. This one is tricky. The best definition is really just anxiety of anything that happens at any point throughout the day.
I think that to a certain extent, everyone has some sort of anxiety. But there is a difference between being nervous for a basketball game, and having a panic attack over your hair not looking the way you want it to.
My anxiety is constant. I’m always, always anxious. I always have been. My body is always on high alert and I can’t say I remember a time where I was just present in the moment. It’s a constant struggle to try and stay focused on the task in front of me. I have trouble doing pretty much anything without my anxiety taking over at some point.
As I’m writing this I’m actually laughing because of how anxious just sitting at my computer is making me. It makes me feel pathetic. I think it’s hard for people without anxiety to understand how extreme it can really be—at most points, scary.
Having a panic attack is one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced; I’ve had a few more than just one. They start out small, just one tiny thing that’s getting in your way. The more you think about it, the more anxious you get. Your brain starts to freak out wondering what the hell is going on, and in turn, your body starts to react. You start shaking, your stomach gets upset, your body feels frozen other than the uncontrollable vibration, tears start to fill your eyes—and that’s when it all goes to shit. Once you start crying, that’s when it gets most scary. You lose your breath. All of a sudden it’s like you forget how to breathe and everything starts spinning. It feels like your drowning, while wondering how that’s possible, knowing very well that your head is above water.
As for how you come out of a panic attack; I don’t know. After some time you just remember how to breathe again. Your breathing and your mind slow down simultaneously. Your body doesn’t feel restrained and the tears stop falling. The shaking, however, takes a while to stop. Finally after feeling still enough, you unravel yourself from the ball you formed with your body and get up from the ground. You still shake as you try and remember what it was in the first place that made you feel that way. But because you have no other reasonable option, you get up and keep moving, because the day’s never over and you have shit to do.
I’d like to say that my last line in the previous paragraph is always what happens—that’d be a dream. But, no. A lot of the time it erupts your entire day. I’ve left school or work multiple times because of my anxiety and not being able to take it anymore. Going home and lying in bed is about the only thing that makes me feel somewhat safe. From what I’ve learned, it’s okay to let it stop you. It’s okay to let it push you down. Over, and over, and over again. But you MUST get back up. You have to try again the next day. I know how hard it is, but I also know how much stronger it will make you, regardless of how weak you feel.
As for an example of my anxiety, let me quickly reach into my backpack of infinite storage and pull one out.
I’m genuinely struggling with which one I could pick. Actually, okay…. I’ll go with one that’s been coming up a lot in my life recently. The general public (lmao true), but I’ll specify—movie theaters.
The other weekend I went to a movie with my friends and I knew that I was going to be anxious the whole time. I did not want to go, but I know that it’s good to push myself through things like that. When I go to a movie I always make sure I have an escape plan just in case. And that’s cool, but it’s not just that. After everyone gets settled and the trailers begin to play, I always pick out one person who just gives me weird vibes and lock in on them. For the next two hours I am watching that persons every move, every breath, and every blink out of the corner of my eye. Making sure they aren’t going to do any kind of harm. My eyes are facing the movie screen, but my attention is completely faced towards this random person I picked out.
I’m on such a high alert with everything that happens inside of the theater. Someone will open a bag of candy and my head snaps in their direction. I’m so nervous that something is going to happen that I sometimes almost have panic attacks. Usually it just goes to the length of my legs bouncing up and down uncontrollably.
And by the end of this specific movie- just like almost every other one I see in theater- I don’t even remember watching it. I have no idea what happened because I was so drilled on some person. For me, specifically, my OCD also plays a role in how extreme my anxiety or depression may be.
Anxiety has made me question many things. But it’s also helped me gain insight on how my brain really works and has helped me think on different levels than I might have otherwise.
Now for everyone’s best friend, depression. This one is going to be the hardest out of the three for me to write about.
There has been a picture floating around about depression, but in reality it could fall under any sort of mental illness. Here is the picture:
I know everyone has their own beliefs, and that’s fine. You are entitled to it. But just looking at this picture right now, quite honestly is pissing me off all over again. Yes, this statement can be true for some people, but for others, it’s so, so wrong.
Mental illnesses are chemical imbalances in the brain and if taking medication is something you need to do every day in order to live your best life, DO IT (under a doctor’s instructions, obviously).
It’s actually unbelievable to me to see people try and tell someone with a mental illness how they should feel. Or that pills are poison and you’re just feeding the beast by buying into that whole scam.
My response to those people is: you haven’t suffered enough in this territory to know what works and what doesn’t, so keep your small-minded opinions to yourself; because those of us who actually do struggle, don’t have enough free space in our head to deal with your ignorance.
Enough of that. Now me, and my personal struggle with depression. If I had to take my best shot at explaining it, I would just say it’s a scary guessing game. In my experience, it just comes at random times. It can last for an hour, a day, or a few weeks. But I never know when it’s coming or when it’s going to leave.
It’s especially hard when I have a family trip or some sort of event I have planned. Because I don’t know what I’m going to be like that day. And when depression hits me, it hits me hard.
The most recent example that sticks out to me was a couple of weeks ago at a high school football game. It was homecoming and I was sitting in the student section with my friends. The entire game I was having fun, my mind was distracted by the people around me and I didn’t see any way my OCD/depression/or anxiety could break in.
I think it was somewhere in the third quarter, I was cheering one second, and the next I was sitting down. Silent. I remember the cheering around me slowly blur into silence, and my eyes locked onto the fence in front of me. I looked around and couldn’t remember why I had any reason to be happy just seconds ago. It was as if someone snuck into my mind and tore the happiness away and took off before I even had a chance to see who was taking it.
The people around me started to take notice in my instant mood shift and continued to ask if I was okay. I used my most popular line of, I’m fine. They took it as enough and continued their screaming. I sat in a trance the next 30 minutes until the game ended.
I had to go home with my friend after the game. That made me feel super guilty because I couldn’t snap myself out of the low I found myself on so suddenly. She kept asking over and over again what was wrong, and I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t know. Yeah, a lot of things were bothering me. A lot of things are always bothering me, but nothing that was worth ruining my night with friends over. That could have waited until I was home and alone. Not having to worry about bringing other people down.
For the next couple of hours I put on my best smile and toughed it out until I was finally alone. That night I sat outside in the freezing cold for almost an hour just looking at the stars and thinking. I don’t even remember what I was thinking about, but it was nice to be alone with the stars for a bit.
All in all, I think I’ve had way too much experience with mental illness and I used to wonder why I was chosen to go through all of this shit. I used to hate myself for the way I felt, because it didn’t make any sense. To this day it still doesn’t.
Regardless of my mental illness staying the same, I can say that I haven’t. I’ve grown a lot. I am so much stronger now and I know I can handle anything that’s thrown my way.
I’ve finally surrendered myself to the fact that I do live with mental illness. But I’ve also surrendered myself to the fact that I’m strong, and nothing will ever waver my strength.
My only hope right now is to help other people surrender themselves to who they are. I want for them to see the outer layer of no sleep, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, endless puddles of tears, or constantly pushing people away—and know that if they just peel back a layer or two, hope will be shining bright right in their face.
So if you must let everything about yourself slip away to start fresh, promise me that you will at least ALWAYS hold onto your hope. Because I promise you, that’s what will get you through.