Living with mental illness is a constant battle. Not a battle like the Anglo-Zanzibar War. (It lasted only 38 minutes) , but more like the Battle of Antietam or Gettysburg. Some days I’d rather stay inside and sleep instead of participate as an active member of society. Everyone has probably heard that before, but I’m pretty sure every article about mental illness starts with “the battle.”
It really is a battle, at least for me. People with mental illness aren’t all the same. I don’t speak for all of us. There’s no such thing as the model mentally ill person. It’s so easy to look at one person’s situation and make it universal.
I feel like a soldier in battle when I open my eyes every morning. I’m ready to get up out of bed and start my day, when all of a sudden Colonel Anxiety of the opposition comes and shoots me in the foot. I’m immobilized as the field nurses rush to mend my wounds. It’s too late by that point. I’m already back asleep. The Kingdom of Anxiety rejoices their win.
People don’t seem to understand that when I’m sleeping in ‘til noon, it’s usually not because I want to. Trying to overcome the anxiety I face every day is exhausting. If I delay my time getting up, I delay having to look at how messy my room’s gotten or how many projects I have due. I like to do things one at a time, but all of my responsibilities pile up. Life isn’t easily controllable. I used to tell myself that if I failed a certain test I would just kill myself, because I needed my life to be perfect. I couldn’t deal with all of its imperfections. Living takes dedication.
I’m constantly anxious if I’m not taking my medication. Hell, I’m constantly anxious after I take my medication. I can’t write an article unless all the circumstances are right. When someone picks at the nail polish on their fingernails I can’t move. If there’s a piece of paper on the ground across the room while I’m trying to read a book, I have to go pick it up before I can concentrate on the words. I can’t watch TV shows unless I know everything about them. I’m always worried that someone is going to come quiz me and I won’t know the answers. Life is like an exam to me; I’m terrified of failing.
I want everyone in the entire world to love me. I don’t care if I like the person or not, if they don’t like me it means that I need to change something. Lucifer himself could walk up to me and tell me he hates me, and I’d make a list of things I could do so that he’d change his mind.
I think it all started when I was a kid. My dad was always out late at the bar, so when he was around, I wanted to impress him. I still catch myself trying to impress him even though I only see him every few months. I love seeing my dad and telling him that I’m on the Dean’s List or that I got a competitive internship position. The more impressive I can be, the better. Still, my dad doesn’t care. He’s never been proud. I told him that I got straight A’s at my first quarter in college and he said, “Wow, they really must be lowering their standards,” without a hint of sarcasm. But it’s not just him anymore. I want to impress everyone.
Living up to these high standards wears me out mentally and physically.
When I used to play the Game of Life as a little girl, I’d start over when I didn’t have enough money or I had too many kids in my car. Real life isn’t like that. I always thought that if my GPA slipped below a 3.5 I’d be able to shoot myself in the head and start at the beginning again.
I told myself when I was 16 that I wouldn’t live long enough to graduate high school. There are so many mistakes to be made from 16 to 18 that I knew I couldn’t allow myself to survive. But then I realized that if I kept thinking that way, I wouldn’t live past high school. I had to tell myself that I was going to live if I wanted to graduate high school.
When I wake up sometimes the first thought in my mind is, “I want to die.” It’s automatic. Sometimes I say it out loud; sometimes it’s a thought that repeats in my head as I roll out of bed at 9:50 for my 10:00 philosophy class. Wanting to die doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to take a bullet to your head. When I feel like I want to die, I just want to stop existing.
There was this quote in the movie Wall-E that really stuck with me. The captain of the ship said, “I don’t wanna survive, I wanna live!” There’s a difference. Some days I’m just surviving. I can stare at a computer screen for hours looking at articles about the Kardashians. Is that living?
There’s so much pressure to do things that sometimes I do nothing. So when I say I want to die, I mean I want to sit in bed looking at cat videos until my entire life passes me by. If I don’t participate in life, I can’t hurt anyone. I can’t fail a test if I don’t take it. I can’t be declined a job offer if I don’t apply to it. It’s safe in my bed all alone.
These days when I wake up I say, “I want to die, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to live.” My therapist told me to say that, and at first I thought it was total bullshit. Now after doing this for about three months, I’ve realized that it actually helps. I’ve started telling myself positive things whenever I want to say something negative.
Some days I look in the mirror I see my face covered in acne and I think, “I’m really ugly.” Now I tell myself, “I might feel ugly today, but that’s not really true.” Even if I don’t always believe it in the moment, it helps. I’ll sleep in too late and I wake up and I think, “Wow I hate myself.” Usually I’d leave it at that, but now I say, “I might hate myself, but I’m working on loving myself.” Loving yourself isn’t easy, but I try to make it into a full time job. If I decide to just leave it at, “I hate myself,” my entire day is ruined. I actively choose to love myself.
I’m a very type-A person, so people don’t usually realize that I’m struggling. I run myself to the edge every month. I’m up almost every night doing my homework ‘til 4 in the morning because my schedule is so packed. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the small things I do wrong. I’ve always loved performance reviews because I get to see what exactly my boss thinks of me. The performance review is in the back of my head regardless of what I’m doing. My GPA is emblazoned in the back of my mind every time I open a word document to write a paper. I’m pretty sure I’d have a meltdown if I got any grade below a B. I already have a meltdown when I get a B.
So when I’m performing well it’s hard for people to tell that I want to die.
If I really wanted to die I’d just do it already
That’s the other thing. It’s almost a challenge. You say you want to die and the next thing out of a person’s mouth is, “If you wanted to die you would have killed yourself”.
The moment someone tells me that I’m thinking of ways I can actually kill myself to prove to them how much I’m suffering.
When you’re having suicidal thoughts it’s not always about sobbing every second of the day. It’s just this little inkling of a thought in the back of your mind as you’re carrying out your day-to-day activities.
I used to think about that a lot, but now I don’t, because it’s not about what people see. If people want to believe that, fine. I’m going to actively try to get rid of the thoughts whether anyone believes they’re there or not.
It’s not like I want to have these thoughts, it just feels shitty when people try to tell me what I’m feeling. So many times I’ve put my self worth on what other people think. If someone thinks I’m a bad person, I am a bad person. There’s not an in-between for me. I’m trying to figure out how I can love myself if other people don’t love me.
When I was around four, I spent the afternoon sobbing because my mom said the hands I drew on people were too big.
I used to date any person who thought I was attractive. I can make myself love anyone for any number of reasons. Now I think I was probably just covering up for how much I hated myself. If I could pour all my attention into loving someone else, I wouldn’t have to confront how much I hated myself.I feel so much for everyone, but I don’t feel enough for myself. I need to be in a relationship with myself.
I think a good start would be celebrating my small victories. So maybe I didn’t return that phone call to my doctor, but I got up today. I got dressed. I ate food. To some people these don’t seem like victories, but there are some days I sleep in until 3 in the afternoon and don’t eat ‘til 7 at night. Waking up and eating are victories for me.
I’m realizing that every single day I do at least one thing right. Today I made someone smile. I laughed. I read a book. I got paperwork signed (that one deserves a celebration itself). I did something. And so did you.
You read this article. You combed your hair. You brushed your teeth. You got out of bed and said yes to life for this one day. Even if you didn’t do those things, at the very least you woke up (unless you’re reading this article in your dream, in which case, you learned how to get wifi in your dreams. I’m jealous, really).
I’m not resigning myself to small victories. I want to have days where I do more. But I can’t do that if I tell myself I’m worthless every day. So maybe I can’t do the things other people do yet. I’m not going to publish a novel this year. I’m not going to run a marathon. I won’t travel the world.But I’ll make my dog happy. I’ll pass my sophomore year of college. I’ll live.
Every New Years that’s my resolution; I resolve to live.
And you should too.