Two Things You Should Know About Mental Illness

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I’ve been a slacker. I wanted to publish a new post every Monday morning. But my mental illness reared its ugly head this past week—or three ugly heads. Depression, anxiety, OCD. Like three heads of a hydra, spitting their poison at me. One alone is hard enough to deal with, but when all three attack together, it’s really hard to motivate yourself.

There are two things people should know about mental illness. Well, obviously there are more than two things, but I want to talk about two today. The first is that mental illness isn’t always consistent. Even when someone has mental illness, they can have good days. That doesn’t mean their illness isn’t real. I had a friend who had cancer. She found out about it when she was pregnant with her first baby. They were able to do localized radiation while she was pregnant, then started full chemotherapy after her baby was born. She fought it. She fought it hard. And for awhile it looked like she was going to beat it. She was doing so well, then suddenly it came back, and two weeks later she was gone. Mental illness can be the same way.

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I have depression. I deal with it on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean I am depressed all the time. Last Saturday was a great day. My kids spent the weekend with their dad so that morning I headed up to the mountains. It was exactly what I needed to reset and recharge. It was so beautiful. So still. So peaceful. Like the hand of God was resting there as He watched over the rest of the world.

That night I had dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s. Great food, great company, great conversation. I laughed so hard while I was there! It was the perfect end to an incredible day. Unfortunately it wasn’t the end.

After I got home, I started thinking about some other things going on in my life. Thanks to my OCD I couldn’t stop thinking. So many thoughts and feelings kept getting rehashed in my mind and by the time I went to bed late that night, I felt absolutely terrible.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling like a vice grip had been slowly tightening around my heart all night. I knew I wouldn’t make it through more than a few minutes of church without breaking down and balling so I just didn’t go. I went back to bed then went for a long drive up into the mountains. I tried focusing on the beautiful scenery, the inspiring music I had playing, but I still managed to cry much of the time I was driving. When I got home, I took another nap then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening vegetating—and crying uncontrollably. OCD wouldn’t let me stop thinking about certain things—things that give me anxiety and the anxiety made me feel awful, depressed.

I’ve slowly gotten back into my “normal” routine the last few days. My mental illness is there, as always, but more in check than it was. Everyone has up and down days—that’s just life. Well, it’s life with mental illness as well. It really is a roller coaster, so just be prepared.

The other thing I want people to know is that there doesn’t always have to be a reason. Traumatic experiences, difficult life events, can trigger mental illness, but just like multiple sclerosis, the cause can be unknown. It just happens. It just attacks. Don’t ever assume that someone can just get over their mental illness because there is nothing causing it. Would you ever tell someone with MS to just get over it? Sometimes my depression kicks in—or kicks me down—for no reason at all. Life can be great, yet for some reason I feel sad, down, like I’m living in a dark, lonely world. And it’s not because I want to feel that way. It’s not because I’m simply letting myself get down. It just happens.

Something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately is the phrase that it’s okay to not be okay. All over social media people have been sharing stories of others who have come to this realization. I came to this realization about my mental illness a long time ago. It’s great to understand how it applies to yourself, but also as important to extend the same to other people who aren’t okay. Instead of judging why someone wasn’t at church, let’s cut some slack and realize that there could be something going on we don’t know about. When we ask other people how they are doing, we should mean it! Don’t expect the typical answer of a smile and, “I’m good!” all the time. If someone wants to say they aren’t okay, let’s listen! Let’s let each other cry and have bad days. Let’s be there for each other, the way Christ would be if He were here. Let’s love each other, the way He taught us to. Don’t you think the world would be a better place if we could all do this? I do.

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