I saw a meme today that said “Trying to explain mental illness to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to explain color to a blind person”
I’ve had this same thought many times. And it frustrated me in the past b/c I didn’t want it to be true. I figured there had to be a way to explain it. Then I tried. I even had a blog post on here about it. But I wasn’t happy and eventually deleted that post. And then on my drive to San Rafael this morning, it finally hit me:
Having anxiety/depression is like being nauseous/queasy. Let’s say you wake up in the morning and your stomach just doesn’t feel right. You may or may not know why. It could be something you ate. It could be the flu. It could be a new medication. The list goes on. Or you may, simply, not know. Maybe there is a flu going around, but you have not heard about it yet. Or you were in a place where someone had the flu, but you didn’t know.
So, what do you do from there? Maybe you take Tums or some other medicine. Maybe you try to eat something. Do you go to work? Or, if you have plans, do you still attend the event? You haven’t gotten sick yet. You may feel better after you eat/take medicine/get up/etc. BUT….you may also get sick. OR…if you have the flu, you may be contagious.
You have control over your behavior/actions. You are functional. But you are in pain. So you may be irritable or short with someone. Or maybe mid-conversation you have to run to the bathroom real quick.
Eventually you feel better. You’re back to your normal self and you go on about your life. Maybe you avoid a certain food in the future. Maybe you change up your medication. Maybe you eat with your medication. Maybe you do nothing b/c you still don’t know why you felt queasy or how you got the flu in the first place and you are hoping it was just a fluke.
So, how is anxiety/depression like this?
I wake up and I don’t feel right. I have that feeling, in the pit of my stomach, like someone I love is going to move away and today is the day and I’m sad about it. My eyes are watering and I know I’m going to cry. I may or may not know why I’m about to cry. Maybe someone I love is moving. Maybe some other life event is happening. Maybe I ate the wrong food or my medication is off. Or maybe I don’t know the cause at all.
There are other feelings, too. Cloudy head. Spinning. Etc. but I will continue on with what I wrote above.
So, what do I do from there? I can breathe. I can try meditation. I can take my medication. Do I go to work? If I have plans, do I attend the event? I’m not “sick” I may feel better as the day goes on. The sun may come out, someone may make me laugh. BUT…I may also get worse. I may cry all day. I may have a panic attack. When I’m driving. That may cause an accident.
I am responsible for my behavior/actions. I am somewhat functional. But I am in pain. And I don’t know how to stop crying. Or I may be angry or short with someone. I may have to excuse myself to the bathroom while I have a panic attack or I try breathing.
Eventually I feel better. I’m back to my “normal” self and I go on about your life. Maybe I avoid a certain food in the future. Maybe I change up my medication. Maybe I schedule a therapy session. Maybe I do nothing b/c I still don’t know why I felt like crying in the first place and I’m hoping it was just hormones or a fluke.
I have been diagnosed with anxiety/depression/ptsd. I can only explain my experiences and my feelings. I know there are a plethora of other mental illnesses out there and I can imagine they are similar to me, but I really don’t know. I hope this gives someone trying to understand mental illness a better idea of what it is like.
Just like someone who feels nauseous/queasy cannot “just feel better”….someone with anxiety/depression cannot “just feel happy” It doesn’t work that way.