I think something a lot of people take for granted when they consider mental illness is the different impact it has on different people. There are plenty of pamphlets that list all the symptoms to look for in your friends and yourself, but truthfully someone might not display any of those. I personally have suffered from depression for the latter half of my life, probably starting at around twelve. (I use the past tense suffered but depression isn’t some fleeting thing that will disappear like the flu.) I was a homeschooled kid up until I was thirteen so the transition from my fictional ideas of school and the realities definitely impacted my mental health quite a bit. I was not in the best mental state during my first year of high school. I was tormenting myself for anything you can think of, the way I looked, how unintelligent I felt, how much money I had, how many friends I didn’t have, and so on. Meanwhile, the less than nice population of my high school was also reinforcing those ideas. There was never a safe place, never a confidant for me, and never a day that I wanted to wake up. I’m thankful to say that the summer before I started high school I found God and via His provided strength was able to survive the torment of school.
I go into all of these details to say that as I’ve suffered and fought against the monster that is depression. But maybe no one could tell. My parents and family certainly didn’t confront me with a pamphlet. This fact has often made me question whether or not I’m depressed. No one knew so that must mean it was all in my head, right? Oh wait, that is mental illness by definition. I never self-harmed or made an attempt on my life, which would have been a clear sign of my struggle. When I shared my experiences with others who also suffer from depression, they sometimes brushed me off. “Everyone has a hard time sometimes” or “There’s a difference between depression and high school angst” which, are both valid statements, that much is true. The simple fact is you have no idea what another person is struggling with and what their mental state is like. It is not enough to justify writing off someone else’s pain or your own. Who are you to tell me that my struggle isn’t the same as yours therefore I must be confused? Mental illness isn’t a cookie-cutter situation.
My point in all of this is to explain that your feelings are valid. Your depression, your anxiety, your bipolar disorder, your everything, might not look like that of someone else but that doesn’t mean you’re less than them. You’re whole and entire and full of life. Don’t let people talk down to your differences. And definitely don’t talk down to yourself. Life isn’t a competition of who can suffer more, it’s a journey of self-improvement. Thank you for not stopping.
*Artwork by Sasha Pacek