Hidden Mental Illness
Is it possible for someone with a mental illness to suffer without anybody knowing? Some people would give a resounding NO. But I beg to differ. I know of several people, including myself, who have a mental illness and those closest to them wouldn’t have suspected anything had they not shared those details with them. This isn’t a jab at my family or friends by any means; it isn’t their fault. Mental illness isn’t something that’s easily shared.
Since childhood, I’ve dealt with some form of mental illness. In my elementary school years, I struggled with depression quite often. I would have trouble sleeping at night which would make staying awake in classes all the more difficult. I would withdraw from those around me. The happiness I once expressed left and I stopped smiling. I wouldn’t eat much or often. Most of the things I did were not what most kids were doing at my age. My life felt pointless and was filled with anxiety.
Because of those symptoms, I quickly learned that I was not like other children. My friends didn’t struggle with the same things I did. Then, the more I shared those things with my friends or those around me, the more I realized that if I wanted to have friends and look like other kids, I needed to keep those struggles inside.
As I grew older, I realized that keeping those things inside me was even more important if I wanted to keep friends. Still, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to relate to those around me. They were happy and spending time with friends and I was off in a corner by myself wishing for the day to be over.
These symptoms continued through high school and college. After struggling with them for so long, some of the symptoms started to show. I spent more time sleeping and not eating. Nothing seemed enjoyable and I had no desire to do anything or see anyone. I got tired of hiding things and my mom started to notice. This is when my doctor realized that I was struggling with depression. After that, I was placed on antidepressants and things started to turn around.
Unfortunately, the turn-around didn’t last very long. I spent a good period of time improving but soon after, I started having the same symptoms that continued to get worse. On top of that, the anxiety I struggled with seemed to worsen as well. I started complaining about some of the symptoms I was having but that quickly annoyed those around me. This isn’t to bash them in any way because I know how frustrating it can be when someone complains about the same things every day. So, in an effort to not bother anyone, I started to keep my symptoms to myself again.
For the next several years, I would go through periods of severe depression, normalcy, and feeling better than normal. The extremes of this cycle would last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, with the depression taking up most of the time. Since I had dealt with these things for a while, I didn’t really think much of them.
I was able to manage my symptoms and keep them hidden for several years. That came to an end last year. For the majority of 2017, I was a roller coaster of symptoms. I felt like I was driving a car that was completely out of control. They started out slowly toward the beginning of the year and as time went on, they got progressively worse. As I wrote in my last article, I spent a lot of time struggling with suicidal ideation. Before I knew it, I was completely out of control and ready to die by any means possible. Misery wasn’t even a strong enough word to describe what I was feeling.
Even though that was an extremely trying time for me, I was able to get the treatment I had needed for many years and a more accurate diagnosis. In addition to that, I gained a support system like I had never had before. The combination of those things has made recovery so much easier than the last time I struggled with suicide and symptoms of a mental illness. But, probably one of the most important things I learned through this is that keeping my symptoms to myself is probably one of the most detrimental things I could’ve done. Not reaching out to those around me when I needed help gave the illness more power over me than it would have otherwise.
So, by sharing my struggle and reaching out when I need the extra help, I’m taking power away from the illness and the struggle and turning it into something productive and positive. While I wouldn’t choose to go through that again, it was a valuable opportunity for me to learn things like perseverance and vulnerability.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or a mental illness, don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s not a character flaw. There are many who struggle with the same things and many great professionals ready and willing to help.