People who suffer from mental illness are not "antisocial" or "sad" stereotypes. And there is no one face of mental illness — it could affect a friend, a parent, or even yourself.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, MTV News wants to know: What does mental illness look like to you? What do you wish people knew? How did you, your friends, or your loved ones get through tough times? Share your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let's #changetheconversation.
At 16, mental illness looked like lunches alone, sleepless nights, and embarrassing outbursts for no apparent reason. By 18, mental illness looked like knowing I needed to find help. But it wasn’t until I was 21, just after rereading a worn-out copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, that I finally got the help I had known I needed for years. In my first therapy session, I spilled my life story to a stranger in a small room.
"You don’t want to die, and you’re not crazy," the therapist told me.
In that moment, I felt lighter knowing that my mental illness didn’t have me — I just happened to have a mental illness. Some people suffer from mental illnesses the same way some people suffer from diabetes. None of us asked for either.
I learned that I live with anxiety, and that anxiety isn’t just stress. Anxiety is feeling at home in bathroom stalls and empty halls. Anxiety is actually believing you’re in danger in normal situations. Anxiety is having to ask your friends to take you home, or not being able to go out at all. Anxiety is feeling your thoughts race alongside your heartbeat and failing to make either stop. Anxiety is a fog in your head and a fire in your veins. Anxiety is hell on earth that never gives warning of its arrival. Anxiety doesn’t have any rules or boundaries: It can hit you whenever, wherever.
Ironically, however, I want nothing more than to live fully and completely. I want to backpack across Europe, learn how to surf, fall in love, and try to eat an extra-large pizza by myself. I want to get into a car and drive to the opposite coast and start a record label.
While I try not to let my anxiety control me or hold me back, I have to work with it. I know that I love traveling, but I also know that if I don’t plan the whole trip ahead of time I’ll have a panic attack and put myself and everyone around me in an uncomfortable situation. I've previously tried to "do it afraid" — to act through my fear — and it has paid off, but I also have to put my health first.
My anxiety often isn't visible to others, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’ve been in a room full of friends and felt like I was going to die unwanted and alone. Some misperceive the way I act when I feel this way as "uptight" or "no fun," but what I want to do and what I can handle doing aren't always compatible. This incompatibility is made even more frustrating by the knowledge that my perception of reality doesn’t match the actual reality of many situations. I have accepted that my anxiety doesn't make sense, but still have to push myself to look at these situations as speed bumps that might slow me down rather than walls that will stop me altogether.
I am a young adult with anxiety, but I am also a full-time college student, a writer, a dreamer, a nonprofit owner, a hard worker, and many other things — all of which speak more to who I am than some bullet-pointed WebMD description. I can’t honestly say this experience gets better every day, but every time I thought I wouldn’t survive, I did.
Having anxiety has taught me that it’s OK to have a mental illness and it’s OK to ask for help. To others with anxiety, I say: Keep fighting for yourself and the life you want to live. There will be nights that feel like they'll never give way to morning, but they will. You might wake up with puffy eyes and a tense body sore from the physical pain mental diseases often cause, but I hope those moments remind you to simply be happy to still be here. We all want you to be. Keep fighting. You’re not alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, visit Half of Us for resources and ways to get help.