I find myself constantly trying to think of ways to explain what it’s like to have a mental illness. Without the intention of sharing such thoughts, I still feel this intrinsic need to justify my experience to the oblivious world around me. But how can I explain something so complex and visceral, yet simultaneously fleetingly and elusive? My mental disorder is as solid and immovable as concrete, but paradoxically chaotic and ever changing like the most treacherous whitewater rapids imaginable. Sometimes it’s loud and aggressive; like hundreds of screeching crows swooping down trying to peck away at my very existence. Other times it’s quiet. Deafeningly silent. Like being stuck in an endless tunnel where the only sound you hear is the faint echo of your own pathetic voice begging for solace.
Sometimes it’s akin to being trapped underwater, surrounded by dozens of piranha. Bystanders watch safely from land, offering their best advice for how you can simply rise to the surface and break free from your suffering. They always fail to see the thick layer of frozen ice above your head. They’re not privy to the weights tied to your ankles that keep you submerged no matter how hard you fight to get your head above water to take a breath.
Then there are the moments when I feel like I’m on fire. The kind of pain that almost feels inhuman in its severity. I want to run and scream but I remain still.
Perhaps the worst are the sudden storms that strike from within. Without warning. Faster than lightning. Hitting deep down into your core setting off an internal alarm for all your demons to wake. It’s those moments of panic and sheer terror, when all the monsters inside you band together chanting with rage, running circles with their pitchforks threatening the very life they belong to. Trying to convince you there is no way you can survive that level of fear. That there is no hope in fighting against what you can’t even see. It’s an indescribable feeling; the battle against your own insides.
It’s the mentally ill who truly understand how long the increment of time is between seconds, when your jaw is clenched so tight your molars could crack and the term ‘white knuckling’ applies to your entire body. When you force your external self to adequately function despite the fact your internal world is nothing short of utter anarchy. It’s an all-out war. Fought every second, every minute, and every hour of every single day.
But even when we feel as though we are losing the war against our mental disorders, truth is, we’re not. We’re actually winning. Every minute we don’t give up. Every hour we choose to keep going. Every day that we continue to hold onto hope that the next will be the slightest bit better when we have every reason to believe the contrary…we win. We win by fighting the little battles, one at a time, moment by moment, day by day. It’s those small, daily victories that amount to something bigger. Something better. That’s how we win the war against ourselves. Not by how those around us believe we can somehow miraculously overcome our illnesses, but by us choosing to stay when it feels like the absolute hardest option.
We are soldiers in an invisible war few people can even begin to comprehend. We are warriors fighting countless battles each and every day. And even when it feels as if we’re losing, we keep going. We push through. We don’t give up. We approach the next little battle with the thought, I can do this. I can keep fighting. I know what it takes to win the war. My continuous effort to not give up or give in. Think about that next time you feel like succumbing to it all. Remember how many little battles you’ve won. I know it feels impossible, but you’ve already proven that it is not. You have persevered.
There is nothing braver than fighting an invisible war within yourself. If we can survive those moments when the monsters grow exponentially and the pain feels insurmountable and the fear is more real than your own reflection, we can win. We will win.
If you or someone you know is struggling, we encourage you to reach out for help. Our Find Help page is a good place to start.