mental (st)illness

We preach about weight loss and disease prevention and other aspects of physical health but we rarely talk about taking care of our mental health.

While it’s generally accepted that we all struggle from time to time, very few like to admit they might struggle more often or to a greater degree than what might be considered the norm. But if no one talks about their struggles, how can we even define a norm?

I’ve always tried to be transparent with my struggles with depression, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. It’s because I want others to know they aren’t going through it alone. One of the worst parts of mental illness is how isolating it can be. I’ve often felt that no one could possibly understand my loneliness, fear of people, the compulsion to binge eat, or my deep-seated self-hatred. But I’m not the only one. So many people deal with it every day. And knowing that doesn’t fix the problem but it does take some of the pressure off it. And it makes you feel a little less alone and a little more understood.

And because we don’t like to talk about it, you never know who’s going through something difficult. Money, class, and religious affiliation does not exclude you from depression. Just think of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams. They have access to the best psychiatric care possible and it didn’t help them (assuming they sought treatment). And through the years I’ve learned the people from high school who I thought had it all were in actuality suffering greatly. One classmate killed himself about a year ago and another, arguably one of the most popular girls in my grade, is currently in treatment for severe anorexia. I’ve even talked to people who said they thought I had it together but I’ve always felt like a huge mess.

You just never know what someone is going through in secret. So why do we make it so hard to tell each other? Why do we make it so difficult on ourselves to reach out, to give a helping hand or to ask for one?

I got to a point where I knew something had to change in my life or I just wasn’t going to have one. So I sought counseling. I’ve been in therapy for about a year now and while none of my problems have been magically erased, I do believe it has helped.

One of the best things about it is just knowing I have a safe zone where I can rant, cry, and ask questions without the fear of being judged or shamed. But really that’s something anyone with a good friend can do. And let me tell you, therapy ain’t cheap. So if you do have a good friend with a willing ear, use it. If you’re in a position to go to therapy, use it. If neither of those are an option, research online resources.

I don’t have as many destructive thoughts anymore. I don’t automatically tear myself down when I make a mistake. I’m insecure and I want positive attention and reassurance and companionship. I want to make a difference, feel like my life has meaning. I’m also scared of being left behind, scared I’m not good enough for people, scared to stand up for myself. I can be aloof or distant because I don’t want to be abandoned again. I let others reach out first because I don’t think anyone wants to talk to me and I don’t wanna be a burden. I have high standards and low self-esteem. I love giving advice but can’t take criticism. I’m hard on others and extremely hard on myself. But it’s only because I know we can all do better.

And all those good intentions and bad habits make me human. And I realized there’s a difference between wanting to be better and beating myself up for not being perfect. I’m never going to get it right every time, whether that comes to people, work, or art. But that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of the good things life and people have to offer.

One of the things I’ve learned in therapy is to love myself, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done, something I never even thought I should or could do. But it makes sense. When you don’t love yourself, you allow other people to dictate your actions, your mood, and even your self-worth. But the more you love yourself, the less others have control over you and the more you get to have a say in how you live your life.

We make the easiest things in the world so hard for others. And ourselves. We keep affection at a distance because we don’t want to feel vulnerable. We attack others’ choices because it makes us feel superior. Pain begets pain and, well, that’s just not cool. But I get it. I want to lash out at people sometimes too. Not because I want them to hurt like I’m hurting but because a lot of the time I don’t think people realize how badly I am hurting.

But I guess that’s when we need to take a step back from our own pain to recognize other people’s paths. If only we could use our experiences to help guide instead of gun down the hard times of others. Pain isn’t a pissing contest. We all have it crappy in one way or another. And as long as we can keep our crap and everyone else’s crap in some kind of perspective, it might make things easier on all of us.

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