1.30.19 // Hey, You're Not Alone in This
Mental illness, at its core, is isolating.
Growing up, I was always anxious. I always thought that I needed to touch a door handle a certain amount of times or keep the volume on an even number in order to keep myself and my family safe. I was worried about walking around the block by myself, about flying on planes, about not saying my prayers “in the right way”. I was constantly scared.
This heightened anxiety level became my new normal level of functioning. And because no one really talked about mental illness, I thought that everyone was feeling this way. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t actually normal to spend 30 minutes leaving a room because you couldn’t get your thoughts “right”, or that it wasn’t normal to be panicking this frequently when I wasn’t in any danger.
But again, no one talked about how they really felt. All the thoughts I had, I kept to myself. I didn’t want people thinking that I was any different than them. I had all these intrusive thoughts, at no fault of my own, and I kept them zipped up inside my mind.
I got diagnosed with anorexia in grade twelve (because obviously, if you have two diagnosis’, a third is just much more well rounded). That was one of the first times I felt extremely isolated. It’s sad, but people really only started noticing something was unhealthy when the physical effects of the illness showed themselves. I lost a lot of weight, I was eating extremely restricted portions, I was running every single day. People started asking if I was okay. My family asked me why I was so sad all the time. I thought of absolutely nothing but what I could do to please the eating disorder voice in my head. I felt alone because I thought that absolutely no one else could possibly understand what it was like to have this constant voice in your head telling you you have to do better, or else you’re not safe.
When I first developed my eating disorder, I was alone with this voice that was telling me that I wasn’t good enough, and I was too sick to realize that it was a disordered voice, not my own. I’ve been in and out of treatment programs over the last 5 years (super fun right?), and I know that my eating disorder, my OCD, and my anxiety aren’t my fault. I know that it’s not something that I just struggle with, that it affects every single race, shape, age, and kind of person.
But, mental illness, even when you recognize it and separate it from who you are as a person, is isolating.
People talk about the need to start the conversation, but it seems like we’re scared to actually start talking about it. We talk about being open, while we remain hidden behind the fake “I’m fine” and “it’s all good”.
A couple weeks ago I had a huge breakdown, I was bawling to my mom about how hard it is to actually have mental illness. How isolating it is to try and explain to people what you’re thoughts are, and no matter how understanding and nice they are, they still don’t understand what it’s like to battle your brain every single day. It’s exhausting living with a voice everyday that makes you think about if you ate the right thing, if you moved enough that day, if you said/thought the right thoughts. How do you explain to people that you know that your disordered thinking doesn’t make sense, but the fear of not living that way is too much to change something? I was tired of people telling me it was going to get better and people saying they could imagine how hard it was. All I could think was, how could you possibly imagine what it’s like to live like this everyday?
And some people can’t, but they can always be there for you.
I’ve been so fortunate to have such amazing supports in my recovery. All they need to say, and sometimes all you can say is, yes that sucks. And I can see how hard you are working, I don’t know what you are going through, but I am here for whatever you need. And then there are the people that truly do understand what you are going through, because they went through it too. These are the people I’ve met in recovery programs, people who I was able to fully open up to because they were brave enough to share their own story. I was shocked to find out that my exact thoughts were going through other people's brains too, all sense of isolation vanishes with a connection like that.
Mental illness is so isolating because people don’t really talk about how they feel 90% of the time. It makes you feel like you are the only one who is “messed up”. But when I started being open about my own struggles, I was flooded with responses of people feeling the exact same way. Every single person has something that they are struggling with. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We say that, but I think the only way to truly turn the conversation into action is to actually HAVE the conversation. When I started talking, I realized there was a huge community already out there who were expressing the exact same fears, doubts, and intrusive thoughts I was having in my brain. I started to feel less isolated, because there were other people who were open, and people who were telling me that they were always there for me, no matter what.
Be genuine with where you are at. If someone is reaches out to you, you don’t have to understand, you just have to be there. And the more we all share our stories, the more we’ll understand that mental illness isn’t something happening only to you, it’s something that happens to everyone, and you are not, have not been, and will NEVER be alone.