October 20, 2014, Huffington Post
There's a very uninformed, ongoing stigma that mental illness is some sort of weakness. There's an equally uninformed stigma that if a person can't "deal with" their mental illness on their own, that they're weak. Both of these mindsets reflect a willful lack of education, but they are not what I want to address here. What I want to address is that not only are these stigmas inaccurate, but they couldn't be farther from the truth. People who deal with mental illness have an incredible amount of strength, even though many times they don't see it.
1. They're at war with their own bodies: There is nothing more exhausting than struggling against your own body. And in the case of mental illness, it's not even your physical body you're fighting against. It's your mind. The idea that your brain doesn't want you to function and be happy is terrifying. Imagine if there was a force inside your body that was constantly trying to tear you apart; imagine living with that force every day. People who deal with mental illness have a strength and bravery many people are fortunate enough not to have to understand; they are fighting a battle against an internal force, and every day that they keep fighting and refuse to give in, they are the winner. It may not feel that way, but by continuing to take care of themselves and refusing to give up, people with mental illness are exhibiting their incredible strength. Unfortunately, this is something they don't always realize.
2. Their struggles aren't always recognized: If a person wants to call in sick to work because they have the flu, no one would question their actions. They'd be told to get some rest and come back when they feel better. Same thing for canceling on plans with friends or missing a day of class; if you have the flu, or any other sort of physical ailment, no one will second guess your decision. But what if you have to miss out on something because you're having an anxiety attack, or your depression is making you so exhausted you can't get out of bed? It's not as simple. There are a lot of people out there that wouldn't recognize these as legitimate reasons to not show up to something. As if dealing with a mental illness isn't stressful enough, this situation is worsened by the fact that many sufferers have to try to convince others that what they're experiencing is real, or even lie about why they can't attend something. It takes bravery to acknowledge that you have a mental illness, and even more bravery to share this with others. By the same token, I would never want to shame someone who isn't ready to tell others about something that really is a personal subject -- it may take bravery to share a mental illness, but living with it at all takes strength as well.
3. Everything they do takes extra effort: Getting out of bed? Extra effort. Making breakfast? Extra effort. Going to work? Extra effort. Once a mental illness is well-managed, these things become easier. But anyone who has endured a mental illness knows that especially on low days, it's next to impossible to make yourself go through the motions. When you don't care about yourself or are too exhausted to fight, doing things that for anyone else would be a normal part of the day becomes even more difficult. Building up the willpower to actually do these things takes strength.
If you don't have a mental illness, be grateful. If you do, don't give up on yourself. I'm speaking from personal experience when I say that as difficult as it is, fighting your mental illness is probably the most worthwhile battle you'll go through in your life. It might not be a quick or easy fight, but there's nothing more important than loving yourself and making sure you achieve the happiness you deserve. A message for everyone: Mental illness requires an incredible amount of strength and bravery. The sooner everyone -- especially those who deal with it first person -- realize this, the sooner stereotypes can fade away, and people can be less afraid to seek help. That is the purpose of my writing -- not just this article, but the previous ones as well. I want people to realize that mental illness is not something you have to be ashamed to have or to talk about, and to encourage people who need it to seek help. Your life has value.
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