January 24, 2018 by Cláudia
People who struggle with mental illness have to face many preconceived ideas but probably the most harmful is that having mental illness is a sign of weakness. There is a common misconception that is people tried hard enough they could curb it and if they are not getting better it is because they are not putting enough effort into it. Furthermore, there is a generalized idea to develop any kind of mental illness in the first place is indicative of a character flaw, of a weakness. If someone was more confident/resilient/strong they would never have developed mental illness.
This is a quite hurtful assumption. My own mother has agreed with this assumption, even though she is supportive and wants me to get better. This is a hurtful assumption because it disregards all of my inner struggle and all the strength that it took to overcome every challenge. It may not seem so from an outside perspective, but for someone with depression, replying to a text, taking a shower or reading a book are extreme victories.
It is mostly a matter of perception – because it is so intangible, mental illness is not perceived to be as serious as other diseases. You cannot see anything wrong with the person and through your worldview, their claims seem a little overdramatic. I get it. It is impossible to know for sure what someone else is going through. But suffering from mental illness means that the mind is sick and therefore the worldview is distorted.
Having to deal with mental illness is already a tough enough struggle without outsiders belittling what you are feeling. A big part of mental illness if feeling that you are not entitled to feel the way you do and this general behaviour just furthers the isolation. When the mind is sick, it deeply affects every single action and thought. Flawed thought patterns short circuit creating pain, despair and emptiness. There is absolutely no effective way of explaining it to someone that has not been through it.
It is not the same as being sad and it certainly won’t go away if you just “think positive”. People mean well and if you get that type of comments then just take a deep breath and try to not take it too personally. But if you don’t really understand mental illness, please consider it as an illness – not a state of mind. The brain’s chemically imbalanced, the self-esteem is low, as well as the hope and will to do anything at all. The world is seen through a negative filter. So please understand it is not going to go away with a simple solution.
Our society has created the idea that strength means to overcome obstacles and keep going strong no matter what. Wavering, doubting or being vulnerable are seen as the opposite of that.
But honestly, trying to “overcome” past traumas without admitting pain or self-doubt usually leaves you with suppressed traumas that end up resurfacing later. Negative experiences affect our minds – this is not a weakness, it is the normal function of our psyche. We can be resilient to a certain point but some experiences are traumatic (in the sense that they leave a significant imprint on our conscience). The definition of trauma sometimes causes confusion. We traditionally view trauma as something out of the ordinary – sexual assault, an accident, violence – but really every event that leaves a mark on us is traumatic. And there is no way that these events are not going to cause us pain or confusion, it is only natural that they do.
Strength has been recurrently associated with not being affected by past or present problems. But I have come up with an alternative definition: strength is facing our problems (both inside and outside our mind). It is facing our problems despite being afraid of what we might find. If we feel too overwhelmed, it is asking for help. It takes a lot of courage to look inside and even more to realize something is wrong.
To everyone who’s struggling with mental illness, you are a strong warrior. Never let others make you believe that you are not. Be proud of what you’ve achieved and forgiving if you have not achieved as much as you’d like to. Mental illness is constantly telling us that we haven’t achieved anything. But that’s not true – it’s just the illness planting flawed thoughts in our heads. Everyday that you’ve survived mental illness is a day to be celebrated. Every time you got out of bed, every time you took a shower, every time you’ve prepared a meal… Every single act of self-care is a small victory worthy of pride.
Our current mindset makes us believe we should appear to be strong. I say we should actually be strong and there is nothing that takes more courage than being real with how you feel.