To many, those who wrestle with mental illness seem weak. They see some people unable to work, going to countless doctor visits and counseling appointments, taking medication, or needing to take a “mental health day”. While many people wrestling with mental illness do utilize some of these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are weak.
Weakness…Its a feeling that I myself have felt throughout my entire journey wrestling with mental illness. You would think by now with all of the information and personal accounts at our fingertips, that the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness would be eradicated. After all, it is 2021.
Sadly, this notion could not be farther from the truth. While we have made great strides in battling the stigma surrounding mental health, there is still so much work to be done. Those of us struggling with mental health issues should not be hearing things like, “Why are you depressed? You have nothing to be depressed about”, when sharing a vulnerable struggle with someone. These are words I heard just a couple of weeks ago.
I used to think that I was weak for having panic attacks every day in high school and needing to go to a different type of schooling. I used to think that I was weak for having to return home after a bad depressive episode in college. I used to think that I was weak for battling with suicidal thoughts. I thought that I was weak for having to cancel plans or obligations so that my mind and body could rest. I’ve thought I was weak for needing countless therapy appointments and doctor visits. I also thought that I was weak when needing to take time off of work to go through IOP (intense outpatient program).
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I finally had a change of perspective. As I was pushing through work, shaking, while enduring a four hour long panic attack, I realized that I am not weak for struggling with mental illness, it’s actually quite the opposite. I am so incredibly strong because God has strengthened me to fight day in and day out.
What those who don’t battle with mental illness fail to understand is that it is quite literally a battle of war waging within your mind and body. Depression is much more than when neurotypical people experience sadness or fatigue. Anxiety disorders are much more complex and overwhelming than the average anxiety most humans need to survive.
Mental illness is often desperately wanting to accomplish your goals, chores, and obligations but being so beyond exhausted that any little thing becomes overwhelming. It’s wanting to be vulnerable with those we love but not wanting to be the heavy weight in the air. It’s wanting to continue to be invited to events but having to constantly cancel because we just can’t fake being happy for one more hour. It’s wanting to go to bed early but also fearing another restless night of sleep. It’s the constant built up tension in our bodies creating pain. It’s the constant dread every morning when our alarm goes off that we have to face yet another day. It’s the vegging out and losing ourselves in technology to try and silence the negativity in our minds for just a moment. The war that goes on within is this and so much more.
Mental illness looks different for everyone. Contrary to what this person said to me, there doesn’t have to be any tangible experience that makes one fall into depression or most mental illnesses. Someone can have the happiest life on this earth, yet their brain can fall ill.
After all, that is what mental illness really is. It’s an ailment of a major organ…The brain. You wouldn’t tell someone who has a heart ailment to “just exercise”. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to “just eat healthy” if their body needs insulin. You also wouldn’t tell someone with a broken bone to “just be grateful and happy for the blessings in their life” when their bone clearly needs mending. Those responses shouldn’t be given when a person expresses vulnerability in their struggle with mental illness either.
Mental illness is real and needs to be taken seriously.
Now that we have an idea of what mental illness really looks like… is mental illness weakness? Does enduring mental illness mean that a person is weak?
Had you asked me this question a few weeks ago I would have shouted from the rooftops that mental illness is NOT weakness; however, I’ve had a slight change in my perception after a sermon that was preached at my church recently.
I still firmly believe that those of us who wrestle with mental illness are some of the strongest people you will ever meet. I just think that where we get our strength from is important and says a lot about who we are.
In the case of my personal journey with mental illness, I would not be alive today had I not had the strength of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.
When I am in some of my darkest seasons of life, battling my mind day in and day out, dreading each morning, I pray to God to give me the strength to face whatever comes that day. On the days that I don’t say this prayer, I feel fragile and dare I say, weak.
I’m not going to sugar coat by saying that this prayer automatically makes me feel strong enough to face my mental anguish. There are certainly days when I say this prayer and still feel overwhelmed; however, the days that I do make a point to say it, I feel peace knowing that I am not fighting all alone in my own strength.
The reality is, I could sit here and boast about how strong I am to endure a panic attack lasting hours and continuing to work, but I would be lying to say that it was in my own strength.
Those of us wrestling with mental illness are NOT weak people. We are people struggling to find the strength to face each and every day but we don’t have to find the strength on our own.
My strength to face each mental battle must come from the Lord or I will not win each daily fight. It is in my weakness that God shines through and gives me the strength I need.
Where is your strength coming from? Is it coming from your own self or from something far greater than yourself? Are you just barely surviving or are you resting in knowing your strength doesn’t have to come from your own accord? These are important check in questions we should all be asking ourselves in the midst of each and every battle no matter the cause.
I’m not perfect. I don’t have all of this together. I still have days in which I can barely muster a word to God. I take heart, however, knowing He knows exactly what I need without me saying a word. That alone gives me strength.
Thank you for reading my rambles.