She’d always known that something wasn't quite right. For as long as she could remember she’d been a careful girl, always concerned about the potential of failure. She didn't know the name for it then, didn’t realise that there was a name for it, but she certainly knew how it felt. It felt horrible. And the ambiguity around it only made it worse – how could she possibly fight something she didn’t even understand? She felt helpless and frustrated. It felt like an unending battle, and one she sure didn't have the weapons to fight. She couldn't talk about it and that made it harder still - it was always there, a constant reminder in the back of her mind. Eventually it started to affect her physically as well – she felt hot and sweaty all the time, couldn't catch her breath, and her heart would hammer at a mile a minute. Soon she started to lose her appetite and even having to leave the house was an immense struggle.
At that point she learnt the name for it; mental illness. This wasn't some phantom, imagined experience but something very real and apparently very manageable. This new knowledge changed her perceptions – she started to feel a little better and more than that she felt relief. No longer was this an uncontrollable, impossible force but she could do something about it. She started to feel positive, confident and each time she challenged herself she relished the pride that came with the success.
Of course she quickly learned that it wasn’t just a continuous upwards climb. Things weren't as easy as they’d started out to be. She quickly became disheartened, feeling frustrated at her perceived lack of progress. She experienced bouts of sadness, and weeks where she’d vow to just give it all up – what was the point if things would just go bad again and again?
But she kept going, and even though it may have taken a lot of time, she realised that life kept progressing too. Soon she got bored of sitting on the sidelines, and that boredom encouraged her to try again. It wasn't easy, given her past missteps – but she learned that one bad day didn't equate to a lifetime.
Now her mental illness makes her feel a number of different ways. Some days – the harder ones – she still feels defeated, run down and like she’s made hardly any progress at all. But more and more she feels empowered by the experiences she’s been through. While some have been almost unbearably hard, she’s still here and she’s even stronger from them. She's learnt that while there's a lot to abhor about mental illness, there might just be some good parts to it too…
May is Mental Health America’s annual Mental Health Month and this year the theme is Life with a Mental Illness. Individuals are encouraged to “share what life with a mental illness feels like for them in words, pictures and video by tagging their social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike (or submitting to MHA anonymously). Posts will be collected and displayed at mentalhealthamerica.net/feelslike ...Posting with the hashtag will allow people to speak up about their own experiences, to share their point of view with individuals who may be struggling to explain what they are going through—and help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness. (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may.
Writing about my own experience, I've realised that my feelings surrounding my anxiety disorder have changed a lot, as I too have transformed. This keeps me hopeful that one day the world’s perception of mental health problems and mental illness can too go through a metamorphosis and abolish the stigma that still exists today. Speaking honestly about what mental illness is goes a long way in furthering the understanding of those who have never experienced it. Everyone experiences mental health problems in a unique way, and their feelings about living with mental illness no doubt also differ. For this reason this month I also asked Talklife users to share their feelings:
feather: misunderstood, mistreated, lonely, different
addictedtoselfdestruction: For me it's like nobody understands you even though they try their very best all the teachers can't relate and they don't understand that the reason you didn't finish your homework was because you had no literal motivation at all and you ended up breaking down into tears after you only wrote one sentence down....
orion: It just feels normal at this point. I've been disassociating since I was 2.
scarlettears: Feels like you are getting deeper in the darkness as time passes by.. getting deaf, mute and blind.. and all that exist is the insanity.. at times it feels like you are in the other side of existence.. looking at other people who are normal just passing by in your front.. feeling helpless and alone..
luis: endless fighting with the voices in your head .endless paranoia thinking everyone is following you feeling unsafe
ShatteredDreams: It's fighting a battle everyday to make yourself get through the little things. It's fighting against your brain, your thoughts, your own self, to get out of bed, or to talk to people, or to eat. It's wanting to do things, but being way too exhausted to. It's not just feeling sad, but it's feeling empty and numb. It's feeling scared to do basic things. It's doing those basic things, but breaking down afterwards. Having a mental illness is fighting a battle that no one else can see every single day, and most days you feel like you're not going to win.
deathgrips: The twisted thing about mental illness is that you somehow force yourself to believe it's normal, like everyone is facing the same obstacles as you but you're just weak and can't handle it as well as they can. You feel like you're faking it and you keep on waiting for your mind to snap out of it but you can't. When the weight is lifted off your shoulders for as short as one day, you constantly wait for it to come crashing down on you, and it always does. No matter how many people tell you that you're "strong," you don't feel that way, and you feel like you pity yourself too much, that other people can better handle themselves than you can because they're capable of fighting through it and you're not. You feel like you can't tell anyone, that if you do, you're seeking attention, but at 3 AM when it's at its worse, you have to, but no one's awake and you've pushed everyone away.
DiamondRose: It's like drowning but you can see everyone else breathing, it's like you're a failure and that you will never be good enough no matter what, like you just make people annoyed and that everyone just wants you gone
Saria The fighter: Like I'm trapped in my own little bubble, which is the only thing I understand. It's like being unable to read other people no matter how hard you try. You feel stupid, and misunderstood, because you can't read people, and people just see you as dumb or annoying. It's like being constantly paranoid of what will happen next, since you know nothing more scary than the unknown. But mostly. It's the feeling of being unable to trust anyone.
p57chr74n: It feels like life, my life... It feels like constant paranoia where nobody understands you but you. Its like having a disease that constantly changes for the worse. Its like me... lonely.
silent tears: It feels like the worst physical illness but for every single day it feels like I'm fighting a losing battle. It feels like I'm being crushed between two walls and I can't do anything to stop it. It feels like I'm in the middle of a desert with nothing or no one around. It feels like I'm totally alone racked up with guilt and pain
bobbiekins: For me it feeling of being numb, numbness to which you are physically , mentally and emotionally exhausted. It's hearing a noise and get anxiety , it's being sick with the flu and you seem worst than what you are. It's the insomnia , it's the nightmares of the past ,it's the guilt it's the not knowing if people will under stand you. It's being afraid , it's looking yourself in the mirror and you hate yourself
stronger_than_ever: it feels like an endless circle that you cant get out of. it strips you pf your identity and confidence. It turns you into someone else, it causes you to see the world differently to others.
it feels like you are different and misunderstood. it feels like a losing battle everyday before you have even began to fight because you feel there is no point trying.
Alix Wellings: or me, it feels like you're trapped.
But there's nothing actually trapping you.
You feel alone. But you're surrounded by people.
Like, you feel nothing, there's nothing there, yet you're so overwhelmed.
It's like I live in a black and white world because nothing seems to have colour in it.
It's like I have no motivation to do anything. Stuff will sound cool, but when it coming to doing it, I'll think "what's the point"
I'll stay in my bedroom so I don't have to encounter people. Or if I do go outside, I'm always alone, in my own little bubble.
The only thing that keeps me sane is my own little world in my head. They understand.
My best friend is myself.
That's what mental illness feels like to me.
Cannavampire: For me it is endless paranoia and trusting no one. Everyone is out to get me everyone. It is isolation and still being paranoid and unsafe. It is the cycle of trying and failing. It is destroying relationships with family every time i try to socialize. It is self destruction that doesnt stop and being so lonely damn lo ely and having nothing to do about it. Being sick and tired and furious with no solutions. Being at the end of my rope 24/7. Zero peace zero kindness. Hell
Iris: Like I'm caged in a glass tank and the water is slowly rising up. Outside of the tank I see everyone that I love and I've reach out to. Some don't try to help me. The ones that do don't know how to. I feel helpless and defeated
Hailey: Mental illness feels like another person living in my body. She took over when I was ten and controls my thoughts and actions.
Rye: like i'm trying to hold an enormous boulder by a string that is dangling off a cliff and if i let go i'll go down with it
brOKengirl: it feels like i am tied to a chair in a burning room, the fire is getting closer only slowly but i know it will reach and consume me... there will be no rescue
How does mental illness make you feel? Share your responses with us @TalklifeApp using the hashtag #mentalilnessfeelslike
If you or someone you know is in crisis, and potentially at risk of self harm or suicide, it is important to seek professional help NOW. Click here for links to emergency help.