It’s Okay If They Don’t Understand

There’s a lot of stigma against mental illness, which only makes living with mental illness even more difficult. It brings feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt about how your mental health is controlling your life and yet everybody else in your world seems to be taking the reigns of their own lives just fine.

Those people that treat mental illnesses in other people like a physical illness are the people that have probably never experienced it. They’ve never had depression that keeps them in bed for days or the body dysmorphic disorder that makes them have showers in the dark. They’ve been lucky.


Some of those lucky ones can think that mental illnesses are:

  • a lack of will-power
  • what defines the person
  • curable only by medication
  • stemmed from a bad up-bringing
  • for attention-seekers
  • an excuse not to be responsible for yourself.

All wrong of course – mental illness is a disease of the mind. They take control of the brain; the computer-like organ inside your head, controlling every thought and feeling you have; and change some of your behaviours.

Mental illnesses can happen at any stage in life to anyone, can be cured by therapy and self-care, and depending on the severity, can let people live an almost normal life. I say ‘almost normal’ because most of us with mental illnesses can hide them pretty damn well – a statement that has recently been made with a make-up for depression tutorial.

I find it unbelievable when I meet someone who hasn’t had a mental illness. To have never hidden in bed because that’s the only place that feels safe or never had suicidal thoughts seems crazy to me (excuse the pun). I can’t imagine what that sort of life is like, so no wonder that many people can’t understand what my life is like.

Some of those who don’t understand do their best by trying to treat it like a physical illness, because that’s the only sort of illness that they can relate to. They know that hot water bottles make tummies feel better and that resting when you’ve broken your leg is the way to recovery. They know that a headache can be dehydration and that exhaustion can be from not eating right or not sleeping enough. Without the experience of a mental illness, they’re not sure how to treat you or how you wish to be treated.

 

If somebody saying the wrong thing when it comes to your mental illness, yet you know that they have good intentions at heart, then I think it’s important to remember that they simply don’t understand what you are going through but are trying their best to make you feel better the only ways they know how. I’d rather somebody who tries to help rather than being scared away by the stigma of mental illness altogether, thinking that they can do nothing for me because it’s “all in my head”. FYI: it is in my head because that’s where my brain is.

Even though it is infuriating at times, it is okay for somebody to not understand mental illness. Not everyone has experienced a mental health problem and therefore not everyone can be empathetic. Just remember that there are plenty of people that you can talk to that will understand (like me), and that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’d like to understand mental illness more, here are some good reads:

18 Comments

  • Great post. I appreciate that people can’t understand mental illness – looking back it is hard to relate myself to who I became when I was ill, how much harder is it for someone that’s never been there? – and there are people that are curious about trying to understand. Then there are others who are happy in their ignorance and will spout opinions as facts about how to ‘get over it’ – don’t get me started on those people…

    • Thank you! And yes exactly. I just know that in my own experience, even though someone I knew was saying the wrong things, I tried to remember that their heart was genuinely in the right place. Thankfully I didn’t experience too many people that said to ‘get over it’ – but perhaps that’s because I didn’t tell many people, in fear of such a response!

      • I have found the vast majority of people I know to be very supportive and curious to want to try to understand. I think part of it comes from the fact that they say ‘you’re not the type of person I’d expect to be depressed’ so they genuinely wish to understand.

  • I was thankful that you clarified your comparison of mental illness vs. physical illness, being acute, healing, short term sickness like a cold, cannot apply to anyone suffering from a chronic condition like mental illness,
    I am severely chronically ill, which has caused depression and anxiety, and the stigma of both chronic illness and mental illness- any long term affliction is so isolating. Thank you for being candid about your experience; I enjoyed reading your post.

  • Hello, your post was great, Imust admit I’ve had the thoughts of not coming out of bed staying in it for days and go m.i.a. for an indefinite time, just never thought about it as suicidal thoughts.

    • Glad that you liked it. The two things (suicidal thoughts and staying in bed) don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, it’s just my personal experience of it.

  • Great post! I don’t think people realize what an impact their words can have. We just have to remember to take away the power of those words to change how we feel – or at least that’s what I keep telling myself!

    • Yeah definitely! And to just remember that not everyone knows what to say – because there is such a stigma about mental health, people feel like they shouldn’t talk about it or bring it up, hence they don’t really understand how to deal with it or what to say to somebody who is suffering.

  • What a wonderful post! I’ve struggled with anxiety for quite a while now, and I can say that one feels helpless and lonely as nobody seems truly get what its like. Love your blog’s layout btw. 🙂

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  • Once again, great post. I, too, find it hard to believe when someone says they haven’t struggled with any form of mental illness. I think people believe it has to have blown up to crippling proportions to consider themselves “struggling with” a mental illness. Around the age of 18 I started having spells of anxiety that came out of nowhere and circumstantial depression. It’s such a lonely and hopeless state to be in. I’ve been really impressed with more bloggers and writers being a voice for those who are currently on this path! It’s a difficult one to walk alone.

    • Thank you!
      And yeah, it’s so great to see so many bloggers be open about their mental health. I hope it does make people feel less isolated and that they can talk about it if they want to!
      Thanks for sharing your story too 🙂

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