I’ll start this post by saying that there are varying degrees of mental illness and that help and treatment are not one size fits all. I’ve spoken about my personal journey quite a few times on the blog and I can give insight on this topic through my personal journey, as well as insight based off of how some of my closest friends have dealt with their own issues. With the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain completely taking over my news feeds, I, as well as my friends, have found themselves really triggered by the “help” being offered from people who really don’t understand the beast of the illness. We know your hearts are in a good place, but the cheerleader quotes and hotline numbers actually make the majority of us feel worse. Let me explain…

One of the biggest symptoms/signs of depression is becoming withdrawn to the point of social isolation. So, you’re telling me that someone who has hidden themselves away in a dark cave is supposed to reach out for help? I want you to imagine for a moment that this person is standing in a cave… looking out to the light… to all the people they know are there. Behind them, stands an army of monsters (guilt, shame, thoughts of suicide, etc.) The monsters hold on to them. The monsters covers their mouth. They are unable to do the thing you think they should do, so their symptoms of guilt and shame become worse. This monster of a illness holds us in place and sometimes drags us deeper and deeper into the cave… even when we do fight back. When your brain is making you feel absolutely worthless and life not worth living, hearing “you’re here for a reason” “you’re going to push through” “you are loved” doesn’t matter. Again, most of the time, hearing those things exhasterbates your warped emotions and thoughts.

What we need for people to understand is that it’s an illness. Some deal with it every hour of every day, for some it comes in waves. Some people are high functioning, and some are bed ridden. But, what we all have in common is that it is persistent. It’s not a temporary problem. Even after months of feeling good, it boomerangs back when you least expect it. We know it’s going to. The monster inside lurks. So, when we see things like “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” it triggers us because it is anything but a temporary problem. Personally, I don’t want to hear of anyone killing themselves, but I get it. I also see if from this perspective — they’ve lost a battle with their illness. The illness killed them.

For those of you that find the death by suicide selfish… would you tell your friend dying of cancer that he/she is selfish– To think about what they’re going to do to their family and friends? Listen, it hurts to lose people… but how selfish are you to think that someone should continue to endure pain because you’ll be sad when they’re gone? That attitude is why people who suffer, do so silently. Most people, your family and closest friends, are actually not safe harbors free of judgement. Most people take the vulnerability of others and make it about themselves. The “I can’t believe you can’t talk to me” crew… I know when someone is not capable of the level of understanding and compassion I need, as do your friends and family that suffer. Don’t hold it against us…

It takes time to build community. Truthfully, I have about 4 people I can be completely open with and guess what? I still can’t explicitly ask for help, but what I have become comfortable with is saying “I’m not okay”, which allows them to swoop into action. This has taken me YEARS to establish. To the “reach out and talk to somebody” crew… 1. it’s not easy and mostly impossible to reach out 2. we’re not comfortable talking to just anyone. Understand that at our lowest, we are naked, raw, beaten, exhausted, tired… we need the hand reached out to us and more importantly, we need you to listen and not talk at us. How you react and respond to us, and it will vary from mental illness to mental illness, is delicate. You are walking into landmines.

I would love nothing more for people to get educated. There are many resources at your fingertips for how to handle your loved ones who are dealing with mental illness. But here’s a crash course: You have to stop expecting us to just flip the happy switch over a motivational quote. You have to stop expecting us to be comfortable talking about our darkest thoughts with just anyone. You have to start checking in with people, especially your “strong” friends and family; they are often the ones that put on the best masks and suffer silently. I am that person. I am the person that takes care of everyone. I want to make sure everyone is living their best life… but when the monster takes hold, I need someone to walk into my cave with a flashlight.

Here are some symptoms and signs to look out for:

Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
Whole body: excessive hunger, fatigue, loss of appetite, or restlessness
Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, or social isolation
Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide
Weight: weight gain or weight loss
Also common: poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts
Therapy has done me a lot of good. I have chosen to not medicate, but that route is not for everyone. If you’re experiencing depression, I suggest reaching out to a licensed therapist. I personally found it easier to talk to a therapist than anyone I knew personally. The more you’re able to talk about your illness, the more control you will gain over it. You can’t ignore it and expect it to be under control. Also, understand that it takes time to build community and learn how to deal with it. My waves have started to come more infrequently, but I know that it doesn’t mean it’s stopping. There are days where my anxiety is at a 10 for seemingly no reason. There are nights I go to bed on top of the world and wake up feeling completely worthless and hopeless the next morning. Sometimes I know it’s coming and I can do things to correct it and then sometimes I’m drowning without ever remember how I got there. It is a monster illness and I consider myself one of the lucky ones.
I hope that reading this has helped some of you gain understanding or at least inspire you to learn more.