My Mental Illness Is Not An "Excuse," It's a Reality

            I push through clouds of haze and sadness, grasping at smoke to find the words to express how I’m feeling. My numb hands weigh heavy on the keyboard—my strokes slow and sloppy, as if my fingers are dragging through mud. There’s a distant alarm ringing in the back of my mind, loud enough to hear, but too far out of reach. It begs me to wake up and be productive, be useful, be something. It’s like one of those nightmares where you’re being chased, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t run and you know you’ll be caught. Only this is not a dream—this is my life.

 

            I’ve always suffered from anxiety, specifically OCD, and depression. Growing up, anxiety was a constant—it blared in my mind, always telling me what could go wrong or what I should be doing. Depression came in waves, feeding off of change and periods of uncertainty. Managing these two unwelcome guests has been something I’ve always struggled to do, but recently, the task has felt nearly impossible. My long-term medication wasn’t able to help any longer, so I began the difficult journey of finding the right meds once again.

The first attempt made me sleep through every alarm and doze off throughout the day, resulting in worsening grades and a lack of focus. The second made me anxious and irritable; unable to concentrate. When anxiety hit, I was rendered immobile, unable to attend class or even leave my bedroom. I started a new course of action today and have noticed no difference—I may not see one for several weeks—leaving me stuck in this contradictory cycle of drowsiness and panic. I see a therapist regularly, but I often find myself at a loss for words; unable to articulate how I’m feeling, let alone understand why I’m feeling that way.

Small tasks feel monumental, and I often find myself on the sidelines at best in any social situation. My grades have dropped, my involvement in extracurriculars has become nonexistent and my communication with those I love has been strained. I’ll cry after a day of fun with a friend and feel like a burden on those I love when they try to understand why. So much of my energy is spent trying to keep myself under control that there is none left for anything else. I have moments of happiness or amusement when I’m doing something completely free from responsibility, such as watching TV or going for a walk with my dogs, but when the show ends or I get back home, I’m forced to face the reality of my situation—I am not well.

            But how do I explain that to the people that rely on me? I left my job because I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my boss, and I find myself telling professors I was out sick or at a doctor’s appointment because that’s more acceptable than the truth. I know what everyone says—in fact, I say it to myself too: “try harder,” “push through it,” “you can’t just shut down.” Trust me, no one is as upset with me as I am. But what I’m learning to accept is that I have an illness, and I have to do what’s best for me. Mental illness is real, and it should be treated with the same respect and care as any other illness.

            Next semester, I am taking my classes online in order to focus on setting a regular schedule of proper sleep, nutrition, family time, exercise, and therapy. I’m going to find the right course of medication and ways to cope with this difficult time in my life. I will refuse to put myself in turmoil because of one class or one professor, and I will refuse to let my happiness and self-respect rely on being in everyone’s good graces. I will not be afraid to say no if something is too much to handle, and I will no longer let myself feel guilt for putting myself first. No, it will not be perfect or instantaneous and I will not be ashamed of that. My life is mine, and I refuse to live it in fear any longer. I will take the steps to get better, no matter how challenging they may be, and I will not feel guilty if that interferes with someone else’s expectations for me. I know that I will recover and the world will feel colorful again, but until then, I will love myself enough to acknowledge my mental illness and treat it with the respect and seriousness that it deserves.