Mental Illness is Real and Frightening

Author: Elizabeth Zarb, Real Life Stories

My mental health is not at its peak.

Mental illness is something that I have struggled with for most of my life, especially as I entered adolescence. I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, depression, an unspecified personality disorder, and I have frequent bouts of dissociation. I spent two years misdiagnosed as bipolar. Yes, misdiagnosed. Casual, right?

I have been to edges that I don’t like to admit. I have felt like my brain is broken and doesn’t work “right.” I have experienced days that are just one panic attack after another. I have been frightened by the status of my mind. I have to keep a list of things that make me happy on a wall so that I don’t lose sight of them.

When my mood crashes, I can become uncharacteristically mean or distant. I have a nasty habit of isolating myself when I feel low, which can lead to extreme breakdowns. Cutting myself off leads me to make projections of my fears and anxiety. Essentially, I believe my friends are replacing me even when they aren’t. 

My panic attacks can be triggered by almost anything. A lot of times it’s caused by social situations, but not always. Each panic attack presents itself in a different way. While I can normally identify when one’s coming on, I’ve had other moments where I just genuinely thought I was having an asthma attack only for a doctor to find my lungs fine. When I panic, nothing makes sense. 

Being afraid of your own mind is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.

When the irrational part of my brain takes over, I lose control. In a moment that I’ve only recently become more open talking about, the irrational part of my brain led me to slice open my hand with a butcher’s knife because that part of my brain wanted me to use my blood as paint. What was terrifying in that moment was that I didn’t consciously make that decision; the knife was already making contact with my skin by the time I realized what was happening. Even by the next morning I wasn’t sure if I had dreamt the event or not.

I have come to terms with my illnesses, my hand is completely healed, and I’m taking the proper measures to control them. I share these to show how much can be going on in the human brain at one time. While there is so much going on in my brain, and anyone else’s brain who suffers from a mental illness, I have to continue to go to school, have a social life, and deal with the everyday responsibilities of being a human.

But I’m in constant fear that my mood will crash and suddenly I won’t be able to do anything, or I need to give myself a ten minute pep talk before I’m able to go ask for help in a store. I have to pretend everything is okay if I suddenly begin dissociating in class and don’t know what’s real anymore, which is really difficult to pull off convincingly.

And I am not alone. I know many people who suffer from depression, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and even moments of blackouts. Mental health is a part of life in every possible way that it can be.

But, there’s still a misconception out there that our generation is making mental illness “fashionable,” or a fad — and that even celebrities are using mental illness as they would fashion accessories. This a gross and potentially harmful misunderstanding. Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite and much missed space princess, was very vocal about her struggle with bipolar disorder… and nothing about it was ever for publicity.

Mental illness is not a new thing. And yet, the phrase “it’s all in your head” is thrown around constantly. There is so much fundamentally wrong with this phrase.

When you tell someone that their struggle is “all in their head,” it invalidates what they’re feeling and can even cause the person to not believe that they have a problem, which will prevent them from getting help. 

There is a stigma surrounding mental illness that states that if you just “think happy thoughts” then everything will be cured. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It consumes your body. More than once I have found myself unable to move because of severe anxiety sending waves of nausea and dizziness throughout my body. I have been trapped on the couch because my depression has drained me and I lose all motivation. I can’t simply “think happy thoughts” in those situations, because my mind and body are completely overridden.

Millennials are one of the first generations to actively seek help for mental illness on a wider scale. Previously, it was often seen as something that you kept to yourself. Because we are now seeking help, it is perceived that mental illness has become a trend and is something that has been publicized in every possible way.

I am not ashamed that I go to therapy. I’m not ashamed that I am on medication. And nobody should be. Why should we be subjected to live in a society where mental health isn’t taken seriously until it is too late?

This is just one of many questions we need to be asking ourselves everyday in order to be living our best lives. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about — being the best you you can be?

If you think you may be suffering from mental illness and don’t know it, I implore you to do some research on mental health facilities near you.

If you or anyone you know experiences suicidal thoughts or tendencies, whether related to a mental illness or not, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


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