Often we suffer from mental illness in private, too scared to show or tell the world what we’re really going through. Even with all the head way we’ve made in regards to awareness and treatment, mental illness is still very a taboo subject.
While on the one hand we’re being encouraged to open up when suffering, on the other we’re being ghosted by services, judged by employers and made to feel ‘crazy.’
If you or someone you know sufferings from a mental illness, then you may be able to relate to what we’re about to discuss. However, if mental illness is new to you, here are a few things I’d like you to bare in mind.
5 Things I wish People Knew About Mental Illness.
1. It’s not a choice
My own experience with mental illness was by no means my choice. I didn’t develop anorexia on a whim. Nor was my relapse back into it a conscious decision. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide ‘Today is a great day to start ruining my life’. Who does that?!
My relapse didn’t happen overnight but over a long period of time, one which I don’t necessarily remember. Other people saw it happening before I did, my best friend in particular, but I was in denial.
I didn’t want to relapse, I didn’t want to fall back into fighting my own responses to hunger, but anorexia and the security it gave me had other ideas.
2. Recovery isn’t as simple as ‘take a few days off'
A few days off on ‘leave’ won’t fix a long standing problem. Just like putting on weight didn’t magically cure me. I had never ‘recovered’ before, I was just in a state of quasi-recovery where I could barely stand to look at myself on my worst days.
For years I was still hiding behind the mask of counting calories, over exercising and purging. I would have still gone out for dinner and picked the ‘lightest‘ sounding thing on the menu.
The only thing that helped me was working through recovery at a steady pace with support at all angles. It was working through my stunted emotions, my ideals of weight and body image, and learning about myself in the process.
Recovery was a long and often difficult road, and not one that could be walked in under a month, let alone a few days.
3. Guilt often eats us alive!
I felt and continue to feel guilty about everything: from not being fit to work to what my cat is going through. Yes, you read that right, I feel guilty about the fact that my cat could be picking up on my scattered moods, throwing her into depression! It’s weird, right? That I feel guilty about things outside my control (least of all my cat’s mood)?
That’s the nature of the beast. You’re wracked with guilt about not being able to just function like a normal human being. Why can’t I just work eight to five without a meltdown? Is there a reason why I can’t eat food without wanting to rip my skin off?
“Why can’t I just be like everyone else?!”
On the other end of things, you’re also wracked with guilt when you do feel fine. It’s so conflicting; You hate yourself if you do and you hate yourself if you don’t.
4. It’s exhausting.
I’m tired all the time. But when I was knee deep in relapse, the exhaustion was overwhelming. When you’re actively battling anorexia, that’s one thing. But to have anxiety and depression, and all the other life stressors that come along for the ride, things start to get all kinds of hard. At the beginning of my relapse, I was barely sleeping.
Then when I went on sick leave from work I started to nap throughout the day. Everything took far too much energy and effort. There were even occasions when getting out of bed to brush my teeth seemed like too much of a task.
But it still surprises me how little people understand the exhaustion that comes with any mental illness. Unless you’ve experienced depression or anxiety or something similar, the sheer effort it takes to fight is lost on you.
5. We often feel like failures in every aspect of our lives
I felt like a failure not just in the eyes of weight loss but everywhere else. Everything I got involved with or touched seemed to rot before my eyes. I was convinced that I was bad at my job, bad at being a partner, bad at being a writer, bad at driving.
I felt like I was terrible at every aspect of everything!
Or at least that is what anorexia has told me.
But the problem with mental illness is that you begin to believe it. And that infects you. It knocks your confidence, it knocks your self-esteem and it renders you completely self-deprecating. These are just some of the things I wish people knew about mental illness. It’s impossible to pinpoint everything, and people’s opinions of mental illness, specifically anorexia nervosa, never fail to surprise me. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, one more person has a distinct opinion.
In fact, writing this I realised that if I had written everything I wanted people to know about my eating disorder, I would have been writing a novel. Or at least twenty more points.
What about you? Is there anything you wish people knew about your mental or chronic illness?