My Invisible Illness

I am sick.

No, it’s not the kind of sick that you can catch. I’m not contagious, and if you happen to have these illnesses too, then I’m sorry to say that you were already prone to developing them before we had the pleasure of chatting. This illness isn’t easily seen, and though society is working on it slowly it’s currently even less easily talked about. These illnesses can be outright crippling if I don’t keep on top of it, and unfortunately, because of financial issues, I can’t afford my medications at the moment. I’m far from “on top of it” right now, and my illnesses just get worse and worse because of it. I’m falling apart, and it’s only a minor comfort to know that I’m not the only one suffering it in the world.

My illnesses? Anxiety and depression.

The smile I wear when I’m outside of my room is a mask, a disguise for when neurotypical people are around me and don’t want to deal with the ever-imposing emptiness that weighs down on my mind. The mask can be genuine; I can laugh until I cry with my friends, and I can devour a new book series in a little over two weeks without my illnesses bothering me once. No matter how I try to hide it, though, it’s still there--an infectious spore taking away my serotonin until I’m nothing but a husk moving about the world, trying to find my place. Neurotypical people try to understand, try to say that they feel sad or anxious sometimes too, but for them it’s easy. They can get over that feeling and move on, a concept I still can’t grasp no matter how hard I try to. This tingling under my skin as the load of  work and school grows larger and larger until I can’t be out in public.ut when I do get some solitude I’m only left alone with my thoughts, and that swirl of depression comes like a fog until I’m second-guessing everything I’ve ever known to be positive in my life.

How do people shrug that off? I don’t understand, because I’m unable to do so myself.

I feel bad when I have to email professors about a fake illness for why I missed their class when really, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed because of the anxiety and depression weighing me down, but how do I know who will understand if I mention my mental illnesses? To neurotypicals, anxiety and depression is just seen as an excuse that can easily be moved past. That’s the thing, though: these illnesses are invisible. For all I know, all of my professors are neurodivergent like me and would understand if I need a day to getwell enough to do my best work. You can’t often tell who has a mental illness simply by looking at them. They can wear that mask too and look completely healthy and happy.

We, as a people, need to normalize mental illnesses, no matter our personal experience with them.

I’m not the only one weighed down by these illnesses. There are thousands of people out there just like me, and thousands more with different mental illnesses that should be validated and understood. Why do we shy away from understanding our brain? Why do some of us refuse to acknowledge that the brain is an organ and can become ill just as easily as any other organ in the human body? Perhaps if we normalized the view of these illnesses in media, it could spark a conversation. For example, the Tony-winning Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen showcases the titular character as having the symptoms of anxiety and depression, though his illness is never outright stated, and the show as a whole--spoilers--centers around dealing with suicide. The show’s success has sparked conversation on mental illness, so why can’t other platforms do the same?

I don’t have the solution, and I doubt a singular person ever will. I just wish, for my sake as well as the sake of others like me, that mental illness could be talked about outside of memes and that it could be understood like any other illness out there. Mental illness is just as serious as the flu, and should be taken just as seriously. So here I am: I laugh and I cry, and I can have as much fun as humanly possible, but that doesn’t make my mental illnesses go away. They’re part of me, and I have to deal with them as I try to function in a society that tries to ignore their existence and importance. That’ll never change the fact that it’s there, and probably will be for as long as I live.

My name is Storm Wright. I have anxiety and depression, and I am sick.