Hey, guys! In honor of my 16th birthday today I thought I would share 16 things I’ve learned about mental illness from my time here on earth. One realization for every year of my life. I’m going to be honest, I don’t like birthdays very much; at least not my own. This one is especially stressful for some reason. I woke up at 1:30 am worrying that my anxiety would never allow me to take the SAT or even my driver’s test. This worrying has carried into my celebration today, and I’m reminded once again how much I am unable to control my life. Hopefully, I can get my medication dosage right and start making progress in therapy soon. Anyway, let’s get into what I’ve learned in the past 16 years.
1. Mental illness is common
I had no idea until recently just how common mental disorders are. An estimated 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It really isn’t as rare as a majority of people think!
2. People are very misinformed about mental illness
I have met many, many people who truly do not know anything about mental illness. I’ve even tried to explain it to them before, but a lot of people don’t really care to learn. I’ve been told “Just pray about it,” or, “Don’t be anxious” more times than I can count.
3. Anxiety and depression can cause weird physical symptoms
For the longest time, I’ve had strange physical symptoms, like headaches or nausea. I didn’t realize that these symptoms were not caused by a physical illness, but a mental illness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and your doctor hasn’t found a source, it could be anxiety or depression.
4. There is no shame in having a mental illness
After I got past the stigma and realized how many people suffer from mental disorders, I accepted the fact that there is no shame in having a mental illness.
5. There is no shame in seeking help
I honestly don’t know where I would be without treatment. The fact that the stigma is keeping people from getting the help they need deeply saddens me. If you had high blood pressure, you would get medication from your doctor. If you had a broken arm, you would get a cast. If you had bad eyesight, you would get glasses. In the same way, treatment for mental illness shouldn’t be shamed, because it is a necessity for many people.
6. It’s okay to set boundaries/ say no
There are people who simply do not understand or respect boundaries. This is why it is so important to clearly state what you are okay with and if you feel comfortable in a given situation.
7. The stigma is real
The stigma surrounding mental illness and the lack of awareness for mental health has gotten so much better in the past few years. With social media promoting mental health and support, the stigma is slowly fading. This doesn’t mean, however, that the stigma is completely obsolete. There are still many people who have yet to confess to suffering or seek help because mental disorders used to be such a taboo topic with older generations that have carried their views on mental illness to our newer generations.
8. It’s okay to take a mental health day
The stress that we have to deal with every day from juggling school, work, social lives, and anxiety/depression is definitely cause for a break every now and then. It took me a while to realize the world won’t end if you give yourself a rest sometimes.
9. Progress takes time
Progress is relative. For some people, Medication and therapy start working within the first couple of weeks. For others, it can take months to make any progress. No one person has the same experience, so it important to keep going until you find what’s right for you and start making progress.
10. Exposure therapy is hard work
Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy where the client faces their anxiety triggers over and over again until it no longer triggers them. I went through extensive exposure therapy last year, and it is a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy and perseverance, but it was worth it in the end.
11. People with mental illness look a lot like people without mental illness
Mentally ill people can’t always be spotted in a crowd. Not everybody who is depressed has circles under their eyes and cuts on their arms. Not everybody with anxiety hyperventilates and shakes 24/7. Mental illness is not always easily identified, which is why it’s so important to be kind to everybody. You never know who might be suffering.
12. There is no cure for anxiety
I have tried desperately to find a medication that would cure my anxiety. I didn’t find one. This is because anxiety has no cure. It’s a disappointing fact, but coming to this conclusion is necessary for recovery.
13. Medication and therapy can help a lot
While there is no cure for anxiety, it is treatable. As I’ve mentioned many times before, a mixture of medication and therapy has been found most useful. Don’t give up, because treatment is available and effective!
14. There will be really good days and really bad days
Ups and downs are a very natural part of life. No one is always happy, never experiencing a moment of sadness or anger. The thing is, with anxiety and depression, these hills and valleys of life can be disproportionate and feel more detrimental and severe. The goal with treatment is to level this out and make your baseline emotion more positive.
15. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health
A majority of people don’t understand the importance of mental health. I truly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health; in fact, mental problems can cause physical problems, and vice versa. Treat your mind and body well, because they are equally important.
16. You have to be the change
This goes hand-in-hand with number 7. If you don’t like the way that mental illness is portrayed or talked about, do something about it. From talking openly about mental health to your friends to donating to mental health research fundraisers, there are so many ways in which we can be the change.
Thank you for reading!
So, there ya go: 16 Things I’ve Learned About Mental Illness in 16 Years. I’ve gotten through 16 years of life, 11 of which have been spent fighting anxiety. I’m excited (and a little bit nervous) to see what the next 16 years have in store. Don’t forget to follow the Instagram for this blog, @theanxiousteensofamerica, and the Facebook group. Thanks again!