In Their Own Words: People With Mental Illnesses Reveal What It's Actually Like.
There are a lot of stigmas and stereotypes around mental illness. We don't often get to listen to people with mental illness explain what it's actually like to live with their afflictions.
This piece is based on an AskReddit thread. Link on the last page.
1/13. Ive been hospitalized eight times. Temporary bouts of psychosis. Tremendous mood swings. Full blown manic episodes. Plots to save the world. Serious suicidal thought bouts. Full days in bed. Hating who I love. Thought distortion. I have lots of stories.
But the truth is I hold down a full-time job. If I didnt tell you, you would never know. In fact, I thrive on chaos because I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. I have had to train myself to remain calm no matter what is going on in my brain.
What is it like? Visions of grandeur, being a savior, feeling ultimate purpose and mission, believing in yourself in a way that feels like nothing else. Then, when the pendulum swings the other way, crashing to where youre nothing. Hearing voices, being paranoid about other people. I'm used to it, I've sorted most of it out. But hell, its not easy.
2/13. You know how sometimes you get that gut feeling like something might be off? Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is like that, but pretty much all the time.
For example, if the dog bowls aren't lined up perfectly even? Someone will die. Oh the glasses moved too far left on the shelf? There's gonna be an accident! Oh you didn't have the exact same thought while you touched the wall as you did yesterday? Better do it again just right or the universe's vibes will be out of whack.
3/13. I have misophonia. This is where certain sounds drive you nuts. For me, the trigger is the wet smack sound that happen when someone chews with their mouth open. Many people have multiple trigger sounds though.
When I hear this, I almost shiver with rage. My brain tells me that the person making this sound is disgusting, and a terrible person.
4/13. Imagine you're hired at a new job and everyone at the office uses an extremely complicated program you had never heard of and have no training for. Many of its designed features are counterintuitive, unproductive, or outright dangerous to the user. (continued...)
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You're one of the only people in the building who needs any sort of training in using the tool, everyone else seeming to know how to use it instinctively.
If you're lucky you'll get some help in navigating the basics, but many of the finer points get overlooked by your teachers because they're so obvious that the people who know how to use it aren't even aware of them.
Oh, and if you screw up everyone gets mad at you and tells you what a horrible person you are.
Replace "Software programs" with "Social interaction" and you'll have a rough idea of what its like to be a high-functioning autistic. Thankfully, it does get easier once you get out of public schooling.
5/13. The simplest way to explain it is: You know when you are inside a haunted house, and you know it's not real. It can't be real. You made sure it's not real.
But still, you feel on edge, worried, and you know something is going to pop out at you. It won't hurt you. No. It can't hurt you. But it's going to scare the hell out of you. Then once your heart is done beating so hard, instead of returning to a calm state, you remain slightly afraid. Afraid all the time.
And then for me, I also get the physical symptoms. So I have chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach pain, heartburn, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, hand/foot numbness, insomnia, aches in my bones, and headaches.
With all that, I get scared that maybe the doctor just hasn't caught some severe illness.
That's what Anxiety Disorder feels like to me.
6/13. I find it easy to hide and conceal my mental illness from most people, actually. I often feel like Im a stranger to myself.
I don't trust my feelings/emotions because I have learned they are often wrong or biased. I flip between extremely happy and really angry and agitated. I suffer from paranoia and I believe to an extent that "everyone is after me." I see the worst in everyone and everything. I don't really have a set personality. It changes based on who I am with or what I see.
I emulate what I think I want to be. I'm 24, and I was diagnosed about 6 months ago. I suspect I've suffered from this disorder for about 12 years. What disorder, you ask? (continued...)
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I have Borderline Personality Disorder.
It's hard for me to keep friendships/jobs/relationships because I run from everything and everyone. I constantly want to reinvent myself by starting over from scratch.
But on the bright side, I've started therapy and it has helped a lot. The worst thing is not being able to trust myself and my feelings, and the stigma attached to my disorder. I'm not "crazy" I just have more extreme feelings than most people.
7/13. I have Schizotypal Personality Disorder. It's like if autism and schizophrenia hooked up and had a slightly deformed, bastard child.
Social interaction is confusing, and my senses (especially my vision) become distorted to the point where I see/hear things that aren't there.
Theres a lot of doubt involved.
Am I using the right facial expression? I want to cry. I SHOULD be crying, but instead I'm doubled over laughing. Did I just say something rude? I can't tell, but these people seem kind of upset. Is somebody staring at me? That shadow just moved. Why the hell is there a giant black dog in my room? Never mind, it was just a pile of clothes. But I swear it was breathing. Crap. I saw a black dog. That's a sign something bad is going to happen.
And on and on it goes.
8/13. I started waking up in a better world, a world where things seemed easier, more hopeful. I didn't experience it as a change in myself, it was more that suddenly I was seeing all of this beauty that had never reached me before, everything seemed to be revealing a secret euphoria.
I was filled with energy, going days without sleeping, but continuing tirelessly. I was so filled with ideas because I felt like the entire world was now communicating with me in an abstract way, everything was inspiring. But eventually it started to get dark. (continued...)
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That's what happens with Bipolar when you go from a Manic phase into a Depressive one.
I found things INSIDE of me... bad things. To be alive felt so painful, so disgusting, every breath was a chore, the volume of my heartbeat, my gut seemed to have quadrupled, no sensation or thought passed unnoticed or died quietly. I felt like I was in a body of screams made into flesh, I wanted to tear myself apart.
People were asking me where I'd been, if I was okay, I just kept saying I was sick because that felt accurate. I stopped showing up to work, it was out of the question to me, just being outside made me scared that something was about to happen, that I was going to lose control somehow. I started drinking more, with diminishing results.
For a month or so, my body felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, I slept all the time, never left my bed, even when I was awake the space between thoughts was almost enough to constitute or feel like unconsciousness. I felt like I had posessed a corpse, the screams had gone silent, the volume of life was on mute
It took a lot of work and the right meds, but I've crawled out of that pit to a much more level-headed and hopeful place. I'm still not super functional, but I'm lucky to be alive and Im fighting.
9/13. I have ADHD. I feel like I have a rope around my waist and whenever I start to do something, another thing will yank the rope and pull me over to it. Start that thing and the rope pulls me to something else.
Today I was moving laundry to the dryer. I wasn't finished when I had to make sure the dog's water bowl was full. Picked up the bowl and put it on the counter then I had to check hotel rates at Disney World even though I have no plans to go there any time in the near future.
10/13. It's like Im watching someone else live my life, and Im not paying attention. I don't feel much emotionally, or maybe I'm just bad at figuring out exactly what Im feeling. Or maybe its a bit of both? (continued...)
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It's like the me in my head and the me doing things aren't connected properly. Sometimes Ill go through the day and at the end I'll realize I wasn't really there for most of it and I don't remember it very well. Or I'll look around my room and realize it's a huge mess because I haven't been paying attention to anything I've been doing all week.
It's weird looking in the mirror and feeling like you don't recognize yourself, but thats what its like when you experience what they call depersonalization.
11/13. I didn't say that right. I shouldn't have done that. I could have said this, or that. I wish I didn't do that. If only I had done this, maybe that wouldn't have happened.
The anxious mind always interprets things to be the worst case scenario. Vague texts from people give me a really hard time. Phrases like "I want to talk to you" without specifics make my mind run wild.
Talk? About what? What did I do? What will she say? Was it this, or that? What if she says this, or did that? What if it's nothing? It's not nothing, it has to be something. What is it?
When I was going through a rough patch with a girl I'd been seeing (Or at least I perceived one, when there was actually nothing wrong at all), I could not sleep because my heart was pounding out of my chest so hard that it kept me awake.
It gets to the point that I have to drop everything I'm doing in order to sort it all out.
I'm often told I'm my father's son. He nearly died of a pulmonary embolism related to stress in his early forties. So I'm working on making sure that doesn't happen to me.
12/13. The media spreads a lot of misinformation about the disorder I suffer from. People seem to be under the impression that either:
A. It doesn't exist.
B. It's like a permanent sugar rush. (continued...)
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Firstly, ADHD does exist, and it's not like a permanent sugar rush. There are two varieties - predominantly inattentive (what used to be called ADD) and predominantly hyperactive. There's also combination, which has elements of both.
It's sort of like... well, I've never not had ADHD, so it's hard for me to describe. You know the concept of a "train of thought"? Imagine that, but going 2,000 miles an hour and the tracks are made of spaghetti. Maybe that's too much. Uh, let me try something else.
When I'm not on my meds, I find it really hard to think about the same thing for long periods of time. I can be working on a homework assignment or reading a book, and feel my phone buzz in my pocket, and the next thing I know it's been 30 minutes and there are like a dozen new tabs.
I find it really hard to focus on something unless it's fun or interesting. I can't just take more meds to compensate because then I might get really emotional and start breaking things and I hear it can cause heart attacks, even.
Huh, maybe reading my writing itself is a bit of an insight into what having ADHD is like.
13/13. OCD, mostly the O (obsessive). I obsess about "things" like all day, read and learn every angle about the "thing", think it through from every direction.
I can't get my mind on anything else for more than 5 minutes at a time. The internet hasn't helped my plight. I obsess about different things, but a certain "thing" can last a few weeks or more.
On the plus side I'm also very creative and handy so my obsessions often lead to some amazing results. There you go. Sometimes, beautiful things can come from terrible places.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.