Mental illness is like any other illness. Part of you is sick, and needs a trained medical professional to help you get better. The difference is when something is physically wrong your body tells your brain, “Hey something is wrong!” and your brain agrees. It says, “Yes this is serious and we need to find a doctor to help us!” And you go in and do tests, take medication, and all the other stuff that goes along with getting sick. You make sure you will survive.
When you suffer from mental illness your body tells your brain, “Hey something is wrong!” But it is the mind that is ill, and it replies, “No we are ok. You are overreacting. Everyone feels this way. You don’t need to get help. Don’t go to a therapist, just don’t.”
Then once you convince yourself it is fine the depressive/anxious thoughts sneak in and take over. They suck you into the why nots, the what ifs, the could have beens. Suddenly these intrusive thoughts pop into your head, often at night, with no warning and no control.
You suddenly remember something stupid you said 10 years ago. Something that at the time wasn’t a big deal, but it suddenly crushes you with regret. It haunts you. You regret decisions you made or didn’t make. Worries that have little to no chance of happening keep you awake at night. It can be any little thing. With nothing that happened to bring on the worry, it just popped in your head and latched on deep.
Among so many other things, you may worry about losing family members or friends in tragic ways. You regret not be braver and going for something you really wanted. You think of every stupid thing you ever said, or did, and wish you could go back in time to change every mistake. As you try to sleep you suddenly regret it all. These were all things you had moved on from long ago. Things that maybe didn’t even bother you when they happened. You were ok with the decision you made, maybe even happy about your decision. You had forgotten about it for years.
You relive it all again, but in your anxious mind it is torture. You can’t not think about it, no matter how hard you try. The mental illness scanned your memories and found the most obscure thing, and suddenly there you are obsessing on how you could do things differently. Your older wiser self finds regret in the things you could have said, if you had just been your older wiser self at the time.
For some people this goes on until they break and are forced to get help. For others, like me, you hit the point where the healthy part of your mind, the rational part, finally wins and you become self aware. You realize you are suffering from something more than normal anxiety or sadness. That your thoughts are uncontrollable and you need to find someone that can help. I got the help I desperately needed, and overall I am doing much better. It never truly goes away, it just lies dormant.
For quite some time now I had been doing really well keeping my anxiety and intrusive thoughts away. Recently it has been harder. I don’t know why. Nothing major has changed in my life. It could simply mean I need to get on a higher dose of my meds, or that I just hit a rough patch. I have been struggling with regrets and worries I know aren’t logical. That is what mental illness does. It takes your logic and laughs. It whispers to you all sorts of things. All while the rational mind is always there, always fighting for you. It tries so desperately to bring you back out of the darkness and the shadows.
There is a song by Elliott Smith that resonates with me (really most of his songs speak to my soul, because he was a lyrical poet who died much too young). The song Waltz #2 (XO) has a verse that puts in words how I have felt when my anxiety is out of control.
“You’re no good / You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good / Can’t you tell that it’s well understood / I’m here today and expected to stay on and on and on / I’m tired / I’m tired…
It’s OK, it’s all right, nothing’s wrong / Tell Mr. Man with impossible plans / To just leave me alone / In the place where I make no mistakes / In the place where I have what it takes”
How you feel less than. How you feel so tired. How you tell yourself nothing’s wrong. How Mr. Man (anxiety/depression) takes thoughts and makes them impossible. How you want the anxiety/depression to leave you alone. How you want to find that place where you are at peace with your life. “In the place where I make no mistakes. In the place where I have what it takes.”
If any of this sounds familar to you I implore you to get help and always know you are not alone in this fight.