As someone who is clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I understand the importance of normalizing mental illness and fighting back against the stigma that prevents people from getting the help and support they need. But while we’ve made strides in recent years, I worry it’s come at the expense of downplaying the seriousness of these conditions.
I often hear folks say that people with mental illness function just like everyone else and that these conditions rarely, if ever, interfere with their lives. I’ve even heard these disorders compared to broken bones — and while it’s true that you should be no more ashamed of having bipolar II than you would be a broken arm or foot, this analogy is deeply flawed.
For one thing, doctors know exactly how to fix broken bones. There are casts, crutches, slings, and surgeries — and though the treatment plan varies depending on the severity of the break, physicians can typically estimate how long it’ll take for you to recover.
With mental illness, doctors have a much more difficult time finding an effective treatment. Many people find themselves shuffling through different types of therapies and medications for years before landing on a combination that works for them — and even then, you may find that you’ve suddenly hit a wall with a specific therapist or that your dosage needs to be adjusted. When everything falls into place, there’s still no cure for mental illness. Treatment helps manage the symptoms, but there are days when you may still experience panic attacks, struggle to get out of bed, lash out at friends, bite your nails until they bleed, or lose all sense of time.
It’s time we acknowledge the hardships those with mental illness face, instead of diminishing them.
Some days, I struggle to find the energy to do even the simplest tasks. I’m constantly worrying and overanalyzing things I’ve said or done, wondering what would have happened if I had handled things differently. I’m also not good with change, and I often find it difficult to stay motivated to hang out with friends, despite feeling lonely. Worst of all, I always feel like I’m disappointing everyone, no matter what I say or do.
Of course, despite these challenges, people with mental illness can still earn a college degree, have a family, get the career they want, have a fulfilling social life, and more. But doing these things while navigating a diagnosis is difficult and exhausting in ways that those who have never struggled with their mental health may never understand. It’s time we acknowledge the hardships those with mental illness face, instead of diminishing them. Because every day is a triumph.