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Trying to Function with a Mental Illness–Even During the Good Times

I’ve struggled with significant OCD and depression for a little over 10 years. When it first started, I could barely function at all. I managed to, but it took everything I had, and my athletic as well as my academic performance still suffered (I was in high school).

Since then, I’ve completed counseling and got on medication. I’ve also learned through the years what makes me feel better and what makes me feel worse. I’ve learned to manage myself. As a result, my mental health has improved considerably.

Things aren’t perfect, but I’m pretty happy with my situation in life. And yet, my mental illnesses still make it hard to function. For instance, as I write this my mind constantly wants to look at the coffee table to make sure my phone isn’t frozen on the home screen. In two years of having an iPhone that has never happened. But that’s the irrationality of it—I still feel the need to check, even though I know it’s a silly thought. As a writer, it doesn’t help that I’m always wanting to check something. It makes concentration very difficult. I just make myself push through.

Two of the worst parts of my day are leaving for work and going to bed. It’s hard for me to leave my house, and I dread it. My OCD kicks in, and I feel the need to check every door, light switch, electrical outlet, candle, and faucet, as well as the oven and stove. I often check multiple times, though the feeling remains—even when I leave—that I forgot something and need to go check again. I force myself to keep walking to my car, and the first few minutes of my drive are spent fighting off the feeling that something bad will happen in my house while I’m gone.

Here’s something that people with depression will relate to. Due to the nature of my job, I work in the mornings and in the evenings—I have the middle of the day off. Every day between 11am and 2:30pm I feel drained, although some days are better than others. I force myself to get up and go back to work. And this is coming from someone who sleeps around eight hours every night, eats well, maintains healthy relationships, isn’t particularly stressed, does outdoor activities, is married, doesn’t feel lonely, is involved in church, reads a lot, lifts weights regularly, and does cardio exercise regularly. I check off all the “healthy” boxes, and I still feel tired.

For me, this is the reality of living with mental health disorders. I’ve accepted it, but sometimes I still feel like I can’t win. I mean, isn’t exercise supposed to give you energy? But I played basketball last Thursday and Saturday, and I felt ridiculously sluggish on Sunday. This morning (Monday), I woke up and realized I slept an hour past my alarm. It definitely went off, but I don’t recall hearing it at all. What the heck? Would it be better for me not to exercise? I even read somewhere that team sports (like basketball) are supposed to be the best exercise for depressed people. It makes me happy when I play, but then I’m exhausted the next day—like, I’m in good shape and I can still barely move exhausted. I guess you can’t get a pure, through-and-through “win,” so to speak. With mental illness, even when you follow the rules there’s still something not working right. That’s the way it feels, at least.

If you looked at me at my job or at church, you probably wouldn’t think I struggle with any of this. I function pretty well…it just takes all my energy and focus, and I make myself do it. But there’s pretty much no part of normal functioning that I take for granted anymore.

We often assume that if people look like they’re functioning okay then they are. But we need to be aware that it takes some people everything they have to reach that point. We need to look deeper than the surface level and be understanding.

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We’re All Hurting. So Why Don’t We Talk About It?

Let’s be real: we’re all hurting. If not, then I maintain you’re in the minority.

 

After starting the recovery process years ago, I noticed how many people around me were hurting. I saw the benefits of recovery for myself and realized most people would also benefit from recovery and/or therapy.

So why aren’t we more open about our problems? Why aren’t more people in therapy or recovery groups?

For one, there’s still a stigma around therapy and recovery. For many people, if you tell them you’re in recovery or therapy, they immediately wonder what’s wrong with you and if they should even be around you. Your reputation is instantly tarnished. This is despite the fact that those same people are hurting inside because of a break up or the death of a loved one.

We want to display a good image of ourselves. We want people to think we’re smart, we’re beautiful, we’re upstanding, we’re successful, we’re godly. In short, we don’t want others to think we have problems.

But that’s the thing: we all have problems. We’re all trying to look perfect for each other, yet none of us are. It’s a big masquerade.

Many of our problems simply come from hiding behind these masks. We’re lonely, depressed, anxious, grieving, hurting. If we’d just open up and receive support, we’d feel better. Many of our wounds would be healed. We’d be happier.

Instead, we feel crushed by the pressure to appear perfect—like we have it all together. We feel trapped because we’re terrified of others knowing the truth. And it eats at us. Because of this, some feel they can’t go on another day, which is one reason why seemingly perfect people fall from grace overnight or take their own life.

I pray that our society—including churches—would be more transparent about personal problems. I pray it would become more “mainstream” for people to discuss their issues. I pray we would throw away the masks and be real with each other. I pray hurting people would feel less terrified of coming out into the open. I pray the stigma around therapy and recovery would end. I pray we would truly connect with one another.

 

There’s freedom in honesty. There’s freedom in true connection.