What It’s Like to Have a Mental Illness

By Jessica StraitJune 18, 2018

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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Kendall

    Raising money for this. I can’t even begin to explain how much its helped and how much I appreciate that people out there want to talk about it. Nice to know I’m not alone in this never ending battle of mental illness.

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  2. Cathy

    Wow!!! Powerful! This is how I feel everyday. Thank you for sharing your story. ❤️

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  3. Haleema

    Absolutely stunning!!!!!

    Reply  |  
  4. Gail Porter

    “You look healthy enough” these are words etched into my brain not only by loved ones but by doctors also. Yes I’m more than thankful to be physically healthy and always “sunny” because I would never want to bring anyone down to where I’ve been. Most people just don’t get it, and it is too much, for me, to ever explain it. Constantly trying to keep my head above water, keep calm and focused in the “right” direction whatever that may be. My thoughts are at times overwhelming for me I am brought to tears behind closed doors. I thank God for this web sight where I can say it like it is! Yes I look healthy, I eat right, excersise, love too much, care too much, take my cocktail of meds that took years to assemble and yet I still deal with depression and thoughts that are not always healthy. It’s a very fine line that we sometimes walk and try to keep ourselves unharmed.

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  5. Kathryn Sauls

    This is an incredible description of mental illness. The sentence about bystanders really hit home with me. I have had issues with anxiety and depression, but I am one of those people who responds well to medication. I have been on it for years and will probably continue for the rest of my life. I don’t care how long I have to take it just as long as it keeps the depression and anxiety away. Thank you for such an awesome article!

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  6. L. Chastain

    Thank you

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  7. C

    Seems like such an unfair battle, I feel stupid every time I try and seek help,low income and hear voice,it sums,going on way to long,I was hoping to show my recent self-injuring episode to deal with stress,worthlessness, pain,emotional and physical, hospital and clinic I am assigned to treat me with disdain cause I’m mad

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hey friend,

      We’re really sorry to know that you are feeling belittled and shamed for your mental health. You deserve to be met with professional care and support. We hope you’ll email us at [email protected] so we can learn some more about your situation and how we can provide you with encouragement and connect you to support.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
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