I know what you’re expecting me to say. The illness itself. The not getting out of bed. The self neglect. The self harm. The pushing of people away. The black cloud that your brain now resembles. The thick smog that inhabits your lungs. The weight of the world on your shoulders. And often these are all the worst parts of having a mental illness. But sometimes the worst thing is people who don’t have a mental illness.
They think they’re helping. They want to try and fix you. They offer a shoulder to cry on. An ear for listening. A heart to hold you in but unless they’ve had a mental illness themselves, they can’t ever offer what you really need and that’s no judgement.
See people who don’t have mental illnesses think they understand. We all have struggles right? Everyone has their down days, sure? We’ve all been depressed that one time. But what these statements really mean is that they don’t understand how you can not be OK. As if we don’t beat ourselves up with that every day.
See people without mental illness don’t see the things the way we do. A down day is staying in bed til 10. Or crying over a breakup or getting upset after a frustrating day at work but all of these things get better right? They don’t see the emptiness inside our souls. They don’t see that when everything on the outside is chipper – a great job, a gorgeous boyfriend, a group of brilliant mates – that the inside can still be hollow. They think that we can’t see all of the good. That somehow if we just opened our eyes and appreciated what we had, that we’d be able to pull ourselves out of this ‘funk’.
Then comes the patronising conversations.
‘I can’t believe someone as strong as you needs medication.’
‘Please don’t take that shit, it’ll make you think you’re really depressed when you can get yourself out of it.’
‘How can you be depressed? You’re always smiling!’
‘Do you think it’s depression or is it just grief?’
There should be a term for mental illness-splainers but until then that’ll do.
But if you’re lucky, you may meet someone or some people without a mental illness who do not judge. They don’t tell you everything will be ok. Or that they understand. Or that they’ll come round with a Dominos and a bottle of wine because that’ll fix it. They are just there. They listen. They don’t offer advice. They celebrate your small steps like brushing your teeth that day. They get that you don’t need fixing that you just need understanding. They check in on you in a way that makes you feel cared for, rather than a burden – a checklist they must complete to be good people themselves.
Sometimes you’ll meet people who also have a mental illness. Sometimes they’ll want to beat you at a game of ‘Who deserves to be mentally ill more’ which involves Top-Trumping rounds of, ‘I’ve had a severe trauma that triggered my mental illness – what’s ever gone wrong in your life?’ Or, ‘I ACTUALLY self harm, you just sometimes neglect a shower for a day or two.’ Don’t trick yourself into thinking that just because they are also ill that they’ll reserve judgement. Or that they’ll understand that occasionally there’s nothing ‘wrong’ apart from the chemical imbalance in your brain. Sometimes these people are the worst thing about mental illness.
And then fortunately you’ll meet people just like you. Who just get it. Who don’t ask ‘why’ you’re feeling depressed because they understand that often there is no why. They’ll join you in a pity party when you need it because they get that sometimes hitting rock bottom is the only way to bring yourself up again. And then they’ll also feel stronger just by being strong for you.
Whatever you do, whatever you’re going through, surround yourself with the people that are the best thing about mental illness. Once you have these people, show them this post about the things you wish they knew.
And for more information on mental health and to find further advice, visit the Better Help website.
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