4 Lies People Believe About The Mental Health Community

It’s not a surprise that there is a stigma against mental health, but it shouldn’t be a battle that mental health patients should have to face.

I’ve battled with depression in my past, and not but a year later after I was diagnosed with a rare disease, I suffer from anxiety. Lots of things have probably attributed to my mental health like emotional abuse, my ex-relationship, toxic family, and things that have been hard for me to overcome.

I, along with millions of others in the mental health community are tired. We’re tired of the bias, the lies that people believe about our mental illness, and the endless reasons we must make up for missing work or a gathering because most people won’t take our mental health seriously.

I believe that in shedding some light on those lies below, it will help de-stigmatize mental illness and open us up for more unashamed conversation.

1. If we share our reality, we are in some way seeking attention.

Whoever has said that someone is seeking attention because they’re struggling mentally lacks a string of empathy—empathy that could mean a matter of life or death for someone. Our reality is real—and our feelings are valid.

Any kind of attention we’re seeking is because we’re seeking help. And we certainly do not have to struggle in silence. We know that just because no one else can heal or do our inner work for us, it doesn’t mean we have to do it alone—therefore we vulnerably share what we’re going through.

2. When we make some improvement, we were faking our mental struggle all along.

Don’t forget that at one point, our only relief was sleep. Our struggle was real, is real, and faking a mental illness is of no benefit to us or anyone else’s life. Making improvements in our mental illness is beautiful progress, and it is not to be misinterpreted as faking a mental illness. Some of us have fought for our lives while battling our inner demons. Some of us, like myself, had suicidal thoughts in our darkest hour and have self-harmed multiple times. So when we make an improvement, we’ve realized our life is worth living and you can’t fake that kind of reality. These things are as real as anything else in the world and the progress matters to us. Every time you think someone is faking their mental illness, you’re a part of the problem, not the solution.

3. If we stay in our depression, anxiety, or other mental health issue, we’re not trying hard enough.

No one wants to suffer from a mental illness, but it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have bad days and be less than perfect. It’s okay to do what’s best for our mental health even when that looks like we’re not trying to others. Everyone’s effort looks different. For some, it’s going outside and feeling the sunburn their face and for others, it’s getting out of bed for the first time in a week and drinking a cup of coffee.

And for some, it’s merely an effort to stay alive.

We’re trying. Trying is not giving up—and that’s all that matters.

4. If we keep the struggle to ourselves, then we’re not really suffering.

Just because we keep our feelings to ourselves, doesn’t mean we wish to heal alone in our mental illness. It’s not an easy thing to open up about what we’re going through because we feel we’ll be rejected.

Mental illness is not easily seen. We don’t have a runny nose, fever, or a rash where someone will easily run to us with a warm towel or Tylenol. We long to be able to express something we can’t explain, and we ache for help.

People with a mental illness know what it means to feel alone no matter how much support we may actually have. We struggle with accepting help from those that love us because we don’t want to be a burden.

Mental health will always matter. Whether it affects your brain, your arm, or your heart, it’s still an illness that needs to be addressed with just as much care.

Everyone is going through something and everybody has had something they’ve had to overcome.

There is hope, even when our minds tell us there isn’t. The fact that we’re still making it to work, caring for our families, being there for our friends, while still battling inexpressible pain is strength, not a weakness.

People will believe what they want to believe about the mentally ill—no one can really change that.

But we can let people know how truly precious they are. We can be a part of the change for good and give people a reason to have hope again.

Because hope should never be lost.

Anxiety Is Real

The shame long associated with anxiety and panic attacks is felt partly because of the stigma against mental health. We’re attacked for being strong and opening up about it publicly and defiantly. And most people will tell us to get out of our heads—that it’s all mental. While there may be some truth in this, it’s a very difficult thing to control.

In October of last year, I was diagnosed with Devic’s disease (NMO) and it can cause me to become blind or paralyzed at any given moment. It’s a neurological disease that affects my central nervous system, and it’s caused me to become half-blind at 29. I was ordered to start chemotherapy treatment immediately to prevent disability.

Anxiety filled my lungs.

Anxiety attacks are daunting. I’ve experienced a handful since I was diagnosed because I suffer from accepting that this is my reality—that this is even a battle I have to fight so early in life.

One day in January, I was sitting at my computer attempting to feel normal by burying myself in work. When my body and blind eye started to groan in pain, I grew exhausted of the constant struggle. I began to weep which turned into a state of panic. I fell to the floor shaking, somehow able to text my administrator what I was experiencing. By the time I opened my eyes, she was by my side helping me to deep breathe. My husband came to pick me up, and I kept repeating this isn’t normal as tears ran down my face on the way home.

I became bitter.

I became indignant. I lost all sympathy for people complaining about Yoga class being canceled or that their favorite Starbucks drink was no longer served. I wished with envy that their problems were my problems instead of dealing with what I was going through. I was sad and frustrated, and I took a lot of it out on my husband.

It’s taken six months to get back on my feet. I’ve accepted this is my reality; the biweekly infusions, vacation accommodations, and an unpredictable future. I’ve accepted that no one understands what I’m going through unless they’re walking through similar shoes. I’ve let go of bitterness and replaced it with content. I’ve used this time off from work to regain my strength physically, mentally, and spiritually. And come the Fall, I will teach again.

Despite that I am physically better now, I still struggle with anxiety. This disease wrecked every part of my life in a span of three months. I could barely walk without a limp or stand for a long period of time without my legs shaking. I was swollen from head to toe, gained weight, suffered from severe nerve pain, eye pain, and month-long migraines. I fell once. I had to quit my job just three months after my diagnosis in February of this year.

I couldn’t believe that everything I worked so hard for was ripped out of my hands. My career and any chance for normalcy—gone. I was no longer independent. I was incapable of getting out of a bath without my husband’s help. Getting in and out of bed felt like a chore. I was unable to cook, clean, or even shower without pain.

Fear of the unknown prompted a lot of my anxiety. An anxiety attack feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest followed by hyperventilating. Controlling my breathing and thoughts become impossible.

I dread the thought of going blind every day—that at any moment, I could lose the beauty of a sunrise and the wonders of moonlight.

When I became half-blind, half of my world felt suddenly gone. It feels like I have one chance left, that if I have another relapse, everything will change in a matter of seconds, and my world will be dark. Just because someone looks strong on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering mentally.

Anxiety happens when we feel like we’ve lost control. It happens when we feel like we don’t have everything figured out. It happens when we get a horrible diagnosis or when we’ve lost a job. It happens when we’re in physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. It happens even with no significant threat. And it can happen to any of us.

Maybe my anxiety happens because I’m trying too hard to play God in my own life.

I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t say I will never experience another anxiety attack in my life given my rare circumstances, but I do know that I believe in God, and he tells me that my heart and mind will make plans, but that his purpose will stand (Proverbs 19:21).

Not everyone’s anxiety is the same. Everyone’s suffering is different, but it’s still important and it matters. I wish I could tell you if you’re someone who got a medical diagnosis that it doesn’t have power, but that would be a lie. It does have power—it changes our lives forever.

Sometimes, we get so far in our thoughts that for a moment we forget we’re actually surviving the anxiety attack. We forget that despite that we can feel our heart beating in our throat, our hearts are still beating, and our body is pushing through the attack for the promise that there is a better tomorrow.

And that deep down, despite our best efforts at self-care, deep breathing, and sound baths, the strong spirit in us that comes from above will overpower the weak.

We will overcome it.