Rain or Shine: Our Loved Ones And Mental Illness

I’ve lived with me for a long time.
I wake up to me. I eat with me, talk to me.

I’ve lived with me for a long time.
But you haven’t, and that’s what worries me.

Because I know how I can get, how sometimes I’ll wake up and not want to get out of bed.
And sometimes I’ll get sad almost out of the blue and sometimes I know why and sometimes I don’t.
And sometimes I’ll forget my pills.
And sometimes I won’t want to go out. And sometimes when I do I’ll get nervous, won’t speak, and stare at my shoes.

And I know that sometimes I won’t want to eat and I’ll clutch at my tummy and wish I were smaller.
And sometimes I won’t want to do work.
And I know I compare myself to people around me and worry I’m not good enough and say it and believe it.
And sometimes I’ll just want to curl up in my bed and stay there for as long as I can.

I know how I can get.

And so I worry that one day I’ll be too much for you, that one day, another sad face will be the last straw, that you won’t want to deal with anymore quiet answers and sad eyes. I worry that one day another reassurance will be the last one and eventually you’ll get tired of picking up pieces.

But remember that I love you, deep down to my soul and no matter the day or the circumstance I will always love you: when I’m quiet or sad or curled up in my bed I will always love you. I will always need you.
You are the light that brightens my days. You are the smile that creeps across my face. You are my happy places

And if I could, I would make it so you’d never have to put me together.
But if I have to break down in front of anyone, it’d be you.
And I promise that no matter how I feel today, tomorrow, or the next day, no matter how sad I get, I’ll always need you. And I may not be whole, but my whole heart is yours.

Sometimes the scariest thing about having anxiety, depression, or any mental illness is the idea that your illness will push people away. Eventually, even though they say they’ll always be there for you, people will get tired of making you feel better and picking you up and dealing with your bad days.

When I was first diagnosed with depression at seventeen, my parents were supportive and understanding. But after a few months, when I had mornings where I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed, the understanding from before seemed to have worn thin. It wasn’t words of compassion anymore being raised up the stairs to me, it was “Get yourself together,” or “Maybe if you didn’t spend all day in bed you wouldn’t feel like this,” or, “I’m tired of you using depression as an excuse.”

And I’d get angry at them for not understanding or sympathizing with what I was going through but at the same time I couldn’t blame  them. I’d wake up sad and would barely eat. I wouldn’t talk as much as I used to. I’d come down for a glass of water then go back up to my room for the rest of the day. Eventually, I’m sure, they just felt tired of trying to make me feel better and it not working.

I knew it was difficult, having a daughter with depression, just as it would be difficult having a friend with depression. So I hid my feelings from my closest friends and put a smile on whenever I was with them so I’d seem as normal as possible, as put together as possible, so they didn’t have to put me together themselves. But it was always in the back of my head: I can’t do this forever. I can’t keep hiding myself for forever.

Eventually when I went away to college, I was lucky enough to meet a girl who I trusted with my whole heart that I was comfortable enough to open up to. But even after being close to her for almost a year, I realized that I was still scared of her getting tired of hearing me complain or hearing me tell her that I couldn’t do it anymore, or cheering me up or telling me that I’m enough. “It’s not your job to do that,” I’d tell her. Because it wasn’t. Even though she was my best friend, even though she said she wanted to be there for me, her job wasn’t to keep picking up my pieces. And I worried I would suck all of the happiness out of her when I had my worst days and I didn’t want to do that to her, or anyone that I loved – in friendship or romantically.

Just as I had feared pushing my closest friends away, I started to consider myself impossible to be in a relationship with anyone. Because who would want to be in a relationship with someone they’d have to constantly pick up or put together? Who would want to date someone that needs reassurance that they have purpose and worth? Who would want to be with someone that sometimes just can’t see the light when they’re having a rough time?

No one, I always thought. And I wouldn’t ask anyone to, I’d tell myself.

When I finally did meet someone who wanted to be in a relationship with me I was terrified of him having to deal with me and my depression. As we started to get more serious I thought to myself, “Oh God, I can’t let him get too close or attached. He shouldn’t have to deal with someone like me.” Eventually I told him about my depression and he said he would be there with me every step of the way, to help me, to support me, listen to me, and most importantly, love me.

Since then, I’ve had my rough days. I’ve had my days where I cried to him over the phone about not being able to do anything or about how I felt like a failure. I’ve had my days where I would be nervous to be around other people because I was too anxious and didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’ve had my days where he’s asked me what was wrong and all I could answer was “I don’t know.”

But he’s stayed. Just like he promised.

And my best friend stayed. Just like she promised.

So to those who were in the same place I was, afraid to open themselves up to others for fear of being too much for them, I beg you not to close yourself off from the people around you. Don’t think that no one wants to deal with you and your illness. Because when people truly love you, they’ll do anything they can to see you be the best you possible. They want you to thrive and they want you to be happy. Don’t be discouraged and think that you have to go through your hardest times alone. Talk to your loved ones about you feel. Trust the people that you feel are true to you and let them in because you’ll end up closer to them than ever and will know you have a true companion. Allow yourself to be helped and to be loved.

And to those who love others suffering from a mental illness, to boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, and parents, know that the people you love who are suffering from something are still the same people you fell in love with when you first saw them. Your daughter is still the loving little girl you raised. Your best friend is still that vibrant, ridiculous, and caring person you first wanted to be friends with. Your boyfriend is still the sweet, doting, funny man that you fell in love with when you met for the first time.

What drew you to us in the first place is still there. We’re still that person.

Some days, our illness might get the best of us, but our true selves are still there. Know that we know you are doing your best to help us and make us feel better and pick us up when we’re down. Don’t take a depressive episode or moment personally. Chances are we’re being affected by things that have little to do with you and even though we might not want you to see us down or depressed, we know that if anyone will understand, it will be you. Be patient with us. Know that we’re trying to get better. Sometimes we’ll hit snags or slip but we want to be better, for ourselves, and for you.

And don’t get discouraged or think you’re not trying hard enough to make us feel better if we don’t cheer up the moment you attempt to cheer us up. Sometimes our episodes don’t go away that easily. But know that we are thankful that we have someone who cares enough about us to even try. Plenty of people have left us to sit in our hard times alone, but not you. You love us enough to try to make us happy. And even though we might not feel better immediately, please know that you trying matters. Because it means you haven’t given up on us. And when we know there’s someone in our corner, days don’t get as dark as they used to. And we get better, because we have you.

For more info and tips on showing love to someone with depression, check out this article by The Darling Bakers.


The S Word: The “Selfishness” of Suicide

A month ago, many were shocked by the news of Maddie Yates, a high school student from Louisville, Kentucky who committed suicide after posting a video about her decision to do so on Youtube. 

And as events like these do, it brought up many peoples’ thoughts and feelings about suicide. And what always seems to pop up, amongst the outpouring of love and apologies and sorrow, is the one person who takes it upon themselves to call the person who took their life selfish for doing so. “Think about your family,” they say. “Think about the people who love you. It’s selfish of you to do that to them. Maybe they should have thought of them before doing something so selfish.”

And I can understand the concept. How could someone think about one of their family members finding their body lying motionless and still find the gall to kill themselves? How could someone imagine the pain their family and friends would feel in their absence and still go through with their suicide? How could someone be so selfish?

At the age of fifteen, I was hopelessly depressed, and had been for at least a couple of years, though undiagnosed. Four years earlier my brother, my best friend and idol, had passed away, slapping me out of a place of innocence and into a harsh world without him. Now fifteen, my parents sent me to a new school that I hated where I had very few friends that felt more like a prison than a high school. I barely saw my former friends and was kept in my house except for when I went to school. I grew to feel worthless and alone. Every day was painful to go through and eventually, I thought of how I could escape it all if I just took my own life. My parents could be rid of the burden I was becoming on them, their lifeless daughter, roaming aimlessly, haunting their home. Everything would be better for us all 
if I were dead.

It was a recurring thought, one that first came into my head a few months after my brother died at the age of eleven, thoughts that turned into action. They were the darkest parts of my life but I’ve made it through to the other side, though not without mental scars to remind me of where I have been. When I hear about others who have taken their lives those scars throb in pain for the ones who saw no other escape. But those scars set on fire when in the presence of someone who insists on the selfishness of a person who took their own life. And though I speak from experience, I speak objectively to the need of change when it comes to how some view these individuals. For there is trouble in the thinking that people who commit suicide or attempt it are selfish, and it comes about in two ways:

One, the idea that these people don’t think about their families and their friends when they think about or make the decision to take their lives. The biggest problem: it is almost impossible to assume the feelings and thoughts that these people might have unless you have been where they are. It is so simple to say, “How could you not think about your family and how they would feel, what this would do to them?” when you’ve never hit that bottom.

Even Maddie Yates had trouble struggling with the idea of selfishness in her video, possibly convinced because of the words of others that insist that people who think about it or plan to take their own lives are selfish, but her words don’t express selfishness. They express pain, a loss of hope; they see no other way:

“I know this is selfish. You know, the doctor prescribed Prozac for depression and anxiety, but those are just fancy words for “selfish”. I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me and I really do love them too. But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea because it’s like someone’s on the 12th floor, and the room behind them is on fire. And they’re standing on the window ledge and they have a choice whether or not to jump and get away from the fire or just stay and die a slow, excruciating death. It feels like that.”

She felt that there was no other way to escape the pain she was feeling, the hopelessness, the loneliness. She saw no other solution but to continue suffering and let her pain burn her alive. And that’s what being suicidal is like. No one immediately jumps to taking their lives on a whim. It’s a perceived solution that comes about after being battered and battered, over and over again until your heart and mind are weathered and worn and you can’t go on.

People who think about attempting suicide or who commit it do think about their families. They sit on their beds staring at the instruments they might use to take their lives. Stare at them and think about the ones they love. They think about their mothers and fathers trying to explain to their little brothers and sisters why they won’t see their big sibling anymore. They think about their pets who will go looking for them. They think about their friends who will all wonder what they could have done. And the visions of the people they love being crushed by their death hurts. It pains them immensely. Imagine that burden, the burden of knowing you could hurt those you love in such a way. Why would anyone put themselves through that? Because it’s the only way to escape the burden of the pain they are feeling. The love of our families and friends is one that can lift us up but if you are stuck in the deepest hole you’ve ever been in, stuck there for years, that pain can hurt you and hold you down even more.

The other trouble with thinking that those who think about or commit suicide are selfish is a familiar one, related to the troublesome way that many people view those suffering from mental illness, the idea that suicidal people are thinking about suicide with a mind like theirs – a healthy mind. But the mind that is seriously considering suicide is not a healthy mind, like that of the person who can decide how selfish the committing of suicide is. A person who commits suicide is often depressed and suffering mentally. They are suffering from an illness that is affecting even the one organ that controls everything about their bodies, the central command center. Calling a mentally diseased person selfish for thinking about or wanting to commit suicide is like punishing a sick child for vomiting on their bedsheets. It is a symptom of something serious and sinister under the surface. No person is programmed to want to take their own life. What person would want to? Unless their mind wasn’t working the way it is supposed to. Unless their mind is affected by something that would convince their mind that the only solution for the pain they are feeling is to kill themselves, to take themselves from the people they love.

Some people say of suicidal individuals, “I’ve had rough times too. I’ve had a hard time and life hasn’t been easy for me. It’s not easy for anyone. But I didn’t kill myself. Plenty of people haven’t.” But this type of thinking emphasizes the difference between the mind of someone who suffers from a mental illness and the mind of one who does not and this is what we need to understand and explain. Individuals who think about or commit suicide are people who need help. They are suffering from things that alter their minds in ways someone without a mental illness couldn’t imagine. Mental illnesses distort the mind, make it see and hear things that aren’t there, and feel things it shouldn’t. They turn capable people into sacks of skin that can barely get themselves out of bed and out their front door. 


Instead of punishing these people and calling them selfish, we should look into fixing what’s wrong. Instead of punishing them for exhibiting a symptom, let us go to the source and help free them from those symptoms. These people are not selfish, they are ill, hurting, and often alone. They don’t deserve our judgement but our help, our open arms, our open ears.

We might not be able to save those who are already gone.
We might not be able to save Maddie.
But we can save people like her, like fifteen year old me. 
We can save so many others, but first we must put away our pointing fingers and be willing to give them our whole hand.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, seek help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
You have worth. You deserve to live. The world needs you. We need you.