Wisdom//

A Few Thoughts on Living Through Mental Illness

It’s a miserable, terrifying storm—but it can get better.

Camilo Fuentes Beals / EyeEm/Getty Images
Camilo Fuentes Beals / EyeEm/Getty Images

The recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade are tragic. My heart goes out to their families and friends. And to them. The magnitude of pain they must have been experiencing is unimaginable.

I’ve got recent experience with mental illness. If you want details, you can read this essay I wrote a few months back. Whenever the topic is in the news — unfortunately, almost always because someone has lost their life to it — I usually get overwhelmed with a rush of thoughts and feelings.

Sorrow for the people who suffered. Fear that I’ll end up back in that kind of indescribable deep and unbearable hole. Gratitude for everyone who has helped me on my journey to recovery. An urge to use my platform to raise awareness and share what has been helpful to me. Doubt about sharing anything: Am I just doing this to make myself feel good? If I exert control over my condition will it come back to haunt me with a vengeance? Who am I to really have anything to say anyways?

All of that stuff is up there, tumbling around in my head. But whatever. Here are a few thoughts on mental illness, borne out of my own suffering and ongoing recovery.

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Mental illness is f***ing terrifying. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Those who haven’t been there can’t understand your pain. It’s not their fault. It’s just that the texture of the pain is unimaginable.

Often, the syndrome makes you hate yourself. It’s the syndrome, not you. So hold on to that half a percent deep down inside that is saying “just hang in there.”

The syndrome also swallows time, making it seem like what you’re experiencing is forever. It’s NOT. Think impermanence. It’s a miserable earth-shattering storm, but it WILL pass. Though it may not seem like it, recovery is possible. Even probable. 

People who say the suffering will make you wiser and more compassionate may have a point, but when you’re in the thick of it, ignore all that stuff. Just focus on getting through.

Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be ashamed. 

Get help. Get help. Get help.

If a loved one is experiencing mental illness, go light on advice and heavy on presence. This is HARD, too. You WANT to give advice because you think it will help. But, unless you are a pro or have suffered yourself, just being there is almost always the best way to help.

It may seem like you are alone, but you are not. When I opened up about my experience with OCD/anxiety/depression, people I NEVER would have guessed came to me w/their remarkably similar stories. BUT, if you do open up, some will come to you w/rubbish advice, like “think positive.” Ignore them.

Be patient. It’s a 9-inning game. Not every inning will be a good one.

I’ll close by reiterating this: GET HELP. It really CAN get better. I’m terrified just saying this for fear my shit will come back with a vengeance but only 10 months after being totally despairing I’m managing pretty well. Because of medication and therapy. If you’re reading this and none of it makes sense or is completely overwhelming or is just causing more pain, I feel for you. I really do. Consider calling the national suicide prevention lifeline (1–800–273–8255) to start the process of getting help right now.

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Thanks for reading. If you found this valuable, please follow me on twitter @Bstulberg where I share my writing.

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