The Impossibility of Living With Mental Illness

Perhaps you can relate to the struggle that comes with having a mental health issues. It’s an ever-changing frustration that starts out with the mental illness itself, which seems like the hardest thing you’ll ever deal with. But once you have lived with it for a while, you’ll realize that the actual mental illness is the easy part. Later, as you find your inner strength and start to make progress, you’ll find that your hardest journey is yet to come.

the difficulties and contradictions of living with mental illness

“You’re Crazy”

You’ve heard this one before, right? Someone in your life has said it about you or to you. The dreaded ‘C word.’ You’ve been called crazy, insane, psycho. Like so many others, you are living with some form of mental illness. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or even a personality disorder, your brain is out of sync with the rest of your body, and you are having trouble responding in the way a neurotypical human being would.

And yah, maybe you’re a little crazy. But so what? Aren’t we all?

The truth is that in the United States, 46.4% of people will experience mental illness during their lifetime. That is nearly HALF of the population! And in any given year, 5% of adults 18 years or older are experiencing mental health issues. That’s a whopping 43.8 million people! In ONE year. In ONE country! [source]

woman with tattoo on leg looks sad while holding mug of tea in bed

“You Need Professional Help”

So you’ve heard the comments, and you’ve looked deep inside and realized that you are definitely suffering from some sort of mental illness. You decide to seek help.

Let’s say that your super inexpensive (ha!) and awesomely inclusive (double ha!) health insurance covers all mental health related care (HAHAHAHAH) for you, and you’re able to go see a very helpful doctor who is great at their job.

Let’s also give you the best case scenario and say you are correctly assessed and diagnosed accurately right away – which, let’s be honest – is highly unlikely. In many cases, patients can be misdiagnosed with lesser issues while doctors and psychiatrists get to know them better and can get a fuller picture of the patient history. And even after this, a diagnosis many not stick.

In my case, I went through YEARS of misdiagnoses before finally reaching the verdict that both myself and doctors agreed on – Borderline Personality Disorder. And while it was definitely not a diagnosis I wanted or anticipated, it definitely helped me to better understand myself, which helped me to learn to control future behaviors and better my situation.

But let’s say that you are lucky and get diagnosed quickly. You are able to accept your diagnosis and do the work through therapy and self reflection to make yourself the best possible version of you there can be. You still have mental illness, but you are actively dealing with it and using every tool at your disposal to make your life better.

You have done everything you can to get the best professional help you could. You are not doing it on your own. You are trusting in people smarter than you, who have training and who have legitimate degrees from prestigious universities. They know what they’re doing, and they have taught you the correct way to do things.

You’re on your way.

woman with headphones looks into distance

“You’re Such a Drama Queen”

Now you’re out in the world, and you’re living your life. You’re doing your thing. You’re making your mark. You have occasional moments of despair and upset. Your mental health still plays a role, but it no longer controls you. You know how to cope.

You know how to set boundaries to keep yourself safe. You have breathing techniques you can use when you’re really overwhelmed. You are not afraid to stand up for yourself or walk away from circumstances that make you uncomfortable. You know which triggers can put you on a downward spiral, and you actively avoid them.

You’re basically doing alright. You are proud of yourself because you got the help and did the work, and you’re continuing to do it. Every. Damn. Day.

But then it happens.

Someone makes a comment.

They roll their eyes when you say that you need to step away “for my mental health.”

They tell you to stop being dramatic.

They suggest you’re just after attention.

They tell you you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.

You are selfish. And boring. And ridiculous.

You start second guessing yourself. You start to feel self conscious. Maybe you are being a little over protective of yourself. Maybe it’s okay to loosen the reins a bit.

So you start allowing yourself to participate in conversations that make you tense. You start associating with people who feel toxic. You start letting people make you feel small. And pretty soon you’re feeling overwhelmed and afraid and back in the darkness of your own mind.


All that work you did has been undone. Or at least flung far back. And now you are at a crossroads where you have to make a choice – choose yourself or choose anything else.

Self care is NOT selfish

Choosing yourself doesn’t mean pushing everyone else away and focusing on only you for the rest of time. Choosing yourself means allowing yourself to make choices that benefit you and your mental health over worrying about what others think of you.

Choosing yourself means giving the best possible version of you to the world – making choices that allow you to be your very best self. If that means canceling plans last minute without feeling guilty or spending money on therapy instead of on date night, then so be it.

But self care can also be tricky. Cancel too many plans with friends, and you may find they stop trying to make plans with you at all. Every self care decision you make will have a consequence you will need to consider. And you’ll have to be okay with it.

The main thing you need to remember is that focusing on self care can sometimes be vital to saving your life. What good is saving plans with friends if it leads to the end of who you are as a person?

Mental wellness is of utmost importance in life. And while it’s still a taboo subject, it really oughtn’t be. It’s shocking that so many still look down on mental healthcare as unnecessary and a drain on the economy when it is such an important part of our personal well being. Asking for help, whether from professionals or from the people in our lives is so very important.

I can’t stress enough how necessary it is to set boundaries and stick to them. I think it is vital to let people know what we are willing to accept and what we are not. I guarantee that not everyone in your life will be as accommodating as others. Some will be rude, obnoxious or even angry. Others will try hard and still miss the mark. A few will do their best and get it right most of the time, and that’s the best you can ask of them.

The world is changing around us, and the conversations are changing, too, but not quite quickly enough. I am hoping that going into 2020, we will find our collective voice and lift each other up so that we can find strength in one another’s stories of love and overcoming adversity.

Keep going, and know that we stand with you

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