When I was approached to share my story for this wonderful movement, I became instantly overwhelmed, but I knew I needed to do it. Where do I even start? Which part of my story will resonate most with others? How do I sum up the many battles of this mental war I’ve been fighting for so long? I decided I needed to approach this in a different way. Like everyone else sharing their stories, I have my triggers. I have the trauma, the heartbreaking loss, the constant physical & mental pains, the ongoing and frustrating medical issues, the PTSD, the relentless General Anxiety Disorder, and the deep, dark depression. I can pinpoint specific instances in my life that literally broke me (and there were MANY), but I can also feel anxious or broken when the sun is shining and everyone around me is smiling. That is mental illness. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care how strong you are and it certainly doesn’t care how weak you are. It doesn’t care if your Vitamin D levels are good. It doesn’t care if you are on a healthy diet and getting adequate exercise. It doesn’t care if you’re taking medication or getting professional help. It doesn’t care if you are the fun/funny friend, or the person who’s friends with everyone. It doesn’t care how alone you feel. It will push you and it will break you. In fact, it can completely shatter you. And just when you think you’ve put yourself back together for the hundredth time, it comes back, and it will keep coming back, whether you’re ready or not. While most of those close to me know when I’m struggling, that’s only because I let them in just enough, but don’t tell them everything. It’s hard to talk about the things that break us – no matter how big or small they are; no matter if the trigger is from the past or the present – the reality is that we are constantly fighting battles those around us know nothing about. Pain is subjective and is not a one-size-fits-all, so we tend to minimize our feelings and play them off like they are no big deal, but they are absolutely a big deal. We have to stop downplaying our pain and our feelings to a level that we think people will be able to comprehend and not judge us for.
Listed below are a few things I personally wish others understood, especially those who are surprised when they hear how badly I struggle:
- Just because I made you smile or laugh one day, doesn’t mean I smiled or laughed that whole week.
- Just because I look put together that brief moment you see me out in public, or in that picture I posted, doesn’t mean I had been out of my pajamas or had made any attempt to clean myself up in the 24 hours prior.
- Just because I showed up to an event, doesn’t mean I’m not sick to my stomach with anxiety.
- Just because I am always there for you, doesn’t mean I feel like I always have someone there for me.
- Just because I am surrounded by people who love me, doesn’t mean I don’t feel alone and isolated.
- Just because I’ve taken all the “right steps” to combat these ongoing issues, doesn’t mean they will “fix” me.
And on and on I could go.
That is my story. That is my truth. So how can someone live like that? I am going to tell you what I have been working on in my journey - and I want you to really hear me because I need it and you need it:
- Rather than telling yourself to be strong, tell yourself it is ok to NOT be ok.
- Rather than running from help, ask for it and/or accept it.
- Rather than feeling ashamed of your struggles, allow yourself to be transparent and let people in.
- Rather than pushing yourself past your limits, take a step back and learn to start saying ‘NO.’
- Rather than just going to the doctor when you’re in physical pain, go to the doctor when you have mental pain, too.
This is an ongoing journey. There will be personal victories and triumphs, but you will also feel defeated. There will be plenty of good days, but there will be many bad days, as well. My biggest personal victory so far in my journey is my newfound self-awareness, which has led to more self-care, self-love, and self-respect. By focusing on these things, I have found that I am able to at least attempt to manage something that I know I will never be able to fully overcome. Nobody knows you better than you know yourself, so it’s up to you to really focus on what it takes to calm the mental storms you face. My plea to you is this: don’t ever for a second think you are less worthy of living this life than others. You are absolutely worthy. You are not your pain. You are not your struggles. You will rise and you will fall, but please don’t ever quit. You are NOT alone.