(May is National Mental Health Awareness Month) A personal story from someone…

willing to share in order to bring awareness to Mental Illness – and I am grateful.

I grew up getting to know the term ‘mental illness’ and what it entails. When I was younger, I learned that it isn’t just sadness, anger, or an extreme of any one feeling. To me, mental illness is like any other illness, a selfish thief who robs people of life’s opportunities, often more than once, and can even decide to stay indefinitely.

My uncle suffered from an impulse control disorder and chronic depression. My dad suffered through bipolar disorder and heavily self-medicated through alcohol abuse. When I was in high school, I quickly learned that my best friend, my own sister, too, had been silently suffering from bipolar disorder.

Mental illness is not easy to write about, especially when it involves the people you care most about. It isn’t easy to write about because mental illness can be violent, even when it is silent. Because of this, it has the ability to destroy relationships between those who cannot convey and those who cannot understand.

I struggled for years trying to understand and forgive the verbal, physical, and emotional hurt my loved ones with mental illness, namely bipolar disorder, inflicted around me. I came to truly hate them before I realized it was not them who I hated, but their mental illness. I’ve watched my sister struggle through cyclical months of severe depression and mania, constantly battling anxiety. I tried, but I could never truly resonate the everyday fight it takes (on top of hurdling over life’s random obstacles) to conquer life.

Personally, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when I developed acute and then chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, and anxiety as a result of a sexual assault. There were days where I felt brave to get out of bed, to eat, shower, go outside – whatever it took to be or feel human. I felt like an ashamed, lazy, misunderstood, frustrated, and unable ghost. This is what mental illness does to people and it’s very real. Suddenly, I intimately understood my sister’s anxiety, my dad’s anger, my uncle’s depression.

Although I feel that mental illness has joined the social conversation more than not in my generation, it still carries a stigma. This stigma is in part due to the difficulty of obtaining tangible evidence and in part due to the silence of mental illness. Mental illness marginalizes its victims and medical health is not effective for the reasons prior stated. This is particularly true for college students who face the pressures of competitive academics and ‘10-year plan’ trajectories. My generation was built for the fast-track; but, many of us are silently suffering from mental illness, like depression and anxiety, out of fear of failing to keep up.

For those who have experienced, are struggling with, or unfortunately may encounter mental illness, I take my advice from my older sister who always reminds me “to be patient with yourself”. Mental illness can be unforgiving; but, there is control in knowing you can forgive yourself every time and start again.

-Anonymous

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