Home 2018 Collegiate Magazine The beauty of mental illness

The beauty of mental illness

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Erika Urivez on the grounds of GRCC. (Najd Ayari/The Collegiate)

By Erika Urivez

It’s not beautiful. It’s not something to be romanticized. It’s not something to be brushed off to the side and ignored either. Mental illness simply is. It’s stagnant and unyielding, but for some who are fortunate enough, it may disappear in time. But for others, it simply is.

It’s not something that’s easy to be discussed either. Social media can be an outlet for some to openly share their journey of highs and lows and can be used to vent about all the thoughts that may be racing through their minds. But that’s not how it is for me.

It’s hard to talk about. After all, I don’t even completely understand it all the time. When I would attempt to discuss it with my parents, they would brush it off as an illness of the Devil that could easily be kept at bay. It wasn’t a physical illness after all, it wouldn’t cause harm in such a way. Until it did.

They can’t be to blame, though. I’ll let society be at fault for that.

In previous generations, mental illness wasn’t taken seriously and even the slightest difference in one’s mind raised questions of evil. People were forced into asylums to be taken care of, only to have it be made worse in most cases. Even the famed Kennedy family had their secrets dealing with mental illness. John F. Kennedy’s little sister, Rosemary, was born with a mental deficiency due to birth complications. The family understood how stigmatized mental illnesses were around the time in the 1920s, so they had her privately tutored at home. This led to her being kept hidden from the public, institutionalized and later having a lobotomy done to her that would change her life forever. However, that’s only one example of someone being sent away for such a reason.

People didn’t fully understand mental illness and still don’t to this day. This could explain the many stigmas surrounding the various disorders of the mind and may be why some people aren’t as open to discuss their mental problems like they might with their physical issues.

You can’t see the disorder with your eyes.

Reactions are often mixed because of this. Either people will believe you or, after a lookover of your physical appearance, you might hear phrases similar to: “you don’t look mentally ill,” “happiness is a state of mind, just think positive,” or maybe “don’t worry so much.” None of these are acceptable, however it is difficult to distinguish who may actually be affected by a disorder and who may instead be using it as an adjective, thinking a small inconvenience in their lives therefore means they’re suffering from a serious mental illness. This could contribute to people not fully understanding what, for example, depression or anxiety may be. It affects everyone differently, depending on what type of disorder it is exactly, and how the person handles it on a day-to-day basis.

You can’t see the thoughts filling up the person’s brain, exceeding the capacity limit and overflowing into the endless abyss of their mind, inching closer and closer as if to burst but instead, it somehow continues growing. You can’t see those thoughts sprinting through their head in a tornado of chaos until it makes them fall to their knees, clutching their head, squeezing their eyes shut and digging their nails into their scalp because the mayhem going on in their head is too much to bear. It can cause dizziness, making it hard to even stand straight at times.

Anxiety.

There’s been times that I’ve almost passed out and the thing about mental illness is that it doesn’t care what setting you may be in, public or not. It’s happened in class and at my work, when a sudden feeling of adrenaline overcomes my entire body and suddenly I’m in a fight or flight mode. My hands might start to shake, my heartbeat increases to the point that it’s as if I can feel it pounding against my chest, and the thoughts seem to be never-ending. They scurry throughout my brain until I feel my head spinning and my breathing quicken.

It’s even happened during seemingly normal conversations with friends or family. The thoughts may return and suddenly the voices take over, whispering my worst fears in my ear until they vibrate throughout my mind in an endless song that plays on repeat. It may be triggered, but it also may come out of nowhere. Unfortunately, at times, the cause of the overwhelming feeling is unknown. All that’s known and all that is felt is the unbearably heavy feeling that keeps pressing down against my shoulders, against my head, my chest, my whole body. At the same time, it’s a numbness and some days, it wins.

Panic.

Ironically, the numbness paves a way for more emotions to enter. It’s as if I’m standing in a pit that seems to sink so far beneath the earth’s surface that when I look up, I can barely reach. Even if there’s people right above me, offering their helping hands, they seem to be miles from my reach. It’s an immense feeling of sorrow, of shame, of helplessness that seems to have not one escape.

Depression.

You can’t see behind the glowing smiles and the cheerful status updates on social media, what may be occurring behind the smile, behind the screen.

Social media allows for a mask to be worn, another identity that gives the opportunity to take on the role of a persona that may be real or fake. You’d never know what may be going on in that person’s mind, even if their Facebook statuses always have a laughing emoji attached or if their Instagram feed is full of an aesthetic life of smiles and adventures.

As the list of disorders that I related to heavily began to grow, I worried. After speaking with a couple psychologists and having my fair share of the same discussions with different therapists, I began feeling more helpless. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me and why this was happening. Being the way I am and having a desire to understand everything, I had to figure it out.

I’m a quiet person. I keep to myself fairly often, a lot of times by choice, but also because it’s the outcome of being how I am. I’m very attentive, and I observe what’s around me, taking it all in. In conversations, I notice the smallest gestures or the slightest expressions that hint at certain moods. I see the world as being masked and in this generation, it’s hard to find genuineness, in my opinion. I make attempts to see through people’s masks, but often, I only find suffering or those who have their masks glued tightly to their faces.

Everyone has something they’d rather not let the world see.

Too often I allow my curiosity to get the best of me and attempt to pry off the masks, hoping to find the good in everyone, the realness. I’m too hopeful, but at the same time, I’m too pessimistic. Going back and forth between the two confuses my brain, often causing sudden shifts in my moods throughout the day that could last from minutes to hours. It causes unstable relationships with those around me, including myself. My goals are constantly changing, along with my own confidence. It causes impulsive behaviors or actions that aren’t always healthy and implants the idea that since I’m so unsure of myself and those around me, others are too.

Borderline Personality Disorder.

What I have is not beautiful. Staying up throughout the night with thoughts that seem to press on into early in the morning when I finally pass out is not beautiful. Mental illness is not beautiful. But here is what is.

The moments when you overcome the feeling, the moment when you finally win. The disorder may never go away, but what’s beautiful is when you learn how not to let it take over your life. It’s when you learn how to keep it at bay and halting it from getting in the way of your possible opportunities. By choosing to romanticize or ignore the truth of what mental illness is and how it affects one’s life, you’re not fully accepting it and facing the reality. Once you come face to face with what it is you or someone you know might have, from there you can begin to consider possible treatment plans or life changes.

When you start to realize that you can overcome it, you begin to realize your strength. And once that’s understood, it’s as if you can overcome anything.

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