Most of us have heard about bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety, and while a strong stigma still persists, and more education is still needed, these are all illnesses which most of us recognize. However, mental health is a complicated subject which exists on an ever changing spectrum for each individual person. And while you may not have a full blown mental health condition, that does not mean that you are not deserving of help. Peer Educator Melissa shares her story of what it is like to deal with a mental illness as a high-functioning person and the way by which she came to accept her own deservingness of treatment and help.
THE INVISIBLE STRUGGLE OF HAVING A HIGH-FUNCTIONING MENTAL ILLNESS
By Melissa Newton
Growing up I had family members and friends with severe mental illnesses and learned small ways how to show them love and support, and I learned how to see some signs that they were struggling. I recognized that these loved ones always deserved more support, love, and care, just as people dealing with physical illnesses did. That being said, there were sometimes that I wasn’t sure of the best ways to support them. How do I help someone who has depression? Bipolar disorder? Anxiety? This can be quite challenging but there are resources out there to know the signs of when someone is struggling, and I slowly learned them.
My own life was different. In high school I averaged two hours of sleep each night but no one knew unless I told them. I was anxious about everything and became an extreme perfectionist ,while also dealing with unexplainable visual hallucinations and body image issues. Eventually I realized I had trichotillomania, which is a compulsive hair pulling disorder related to OCD. Hours upon hours I spent focused and obsessing over my body and skin, and it caused physical destruction and injury to my body. And I simply could not stop.
I felt like an absolute mess, but none of these issues were very noticeable to other people. My friends and family never talked much about any of the things I was struggling with and I never wanted to bring it up. After knowing what more severe mental illnesses were like, I never felt like mine was worth discussing or that I needed help, despite feeling awful, lonely, out of control, and terrified. I thought I was just a weirdo. But I had a 4.6 GPA in high school and I still had wonderful friends, and so I could not actually be struggling, right? I could beat it on my own.
This mentality—that if others could not see my problems they did not exist—kept me from taking care of myself. I did not seriously seek any kind of professional help or even talk to my friends more openly about my mental health experience until college and I really wish I had earlier. Many people had told me that mental illness only really exists if it is debilitating for the person and affects all aspects of a person’s life. I felt like a zombie on a daily basis and had panic attacks often, but I had very happy moments and was academically successful, so I thought that professional help was not for me and that the label did not apply to me.
Eventually I talked about it to people I trusted and asked questions. I accepted how I was really feeling. I slowly started seeing a therapist. While these steps felt awkward at first, I quickly found that it was the right thing to do. I feel much happier and now I have a lot more freedom. I feel comfortable. While my symptoms have not completely disappeared, I do not feel alone or stuck anymore.