what i want you to know about mental illness

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Emily Haymond.

I don't know what to call myself after 7 years on an intensive healing journey.
Mentally ill is not a term I like to use anymore. (I want it in the title because it makes my point.) I'm not saying mental illness is bad. So what? So I'm mentally ill. I'm just saying I like to see myself as much more than that. My life experiences are much more than any diagnosis. They have incredible meaning - even sacredness. Of course, if you want to talk mental illness, I have a lot to say. I know much. I have a lot of compassion and admiration for my fellow brothers and sisters toting heavy labels - like bipolar, depression, schizophrenia (there are lots more; whatever the brand, mental illness has a weight, a STIGMA, a struggle).

Mentally ill people are extraordinarily beautiful. We are passionate. We are creative. We feel deeply. We're not weak - we're strong. The truth is, we all are, all us human beings all. But extremes in suffering leave their tell-tale mark. There's a certain point at which I can tell in a conversation that someone knows what it is to suffer in their mind. It has something to do with the sudden ocean of empathy that swells up behind their eyes in casual moments or the cuttingly perceptive observations behind their humor or the way they laugh at themselves quietly like they know themselves all too well.

What I want you to know is...I suffer. More than you know. And no, I can't just snap out of it. And I can't just get over it. And I can't just change my attitude. And I can't just pull myself together or just calm down or "just do it". I pass for normal - in important ways, I am normal. I'm just as human as you, maybe more (or more aware of it). So you think when I express raw emotion or pain, you can correct it, fix it, shut it down - give old-fashioned "get to work" advice. That's probably what you were taught. Maybe it's worked for you. I'm SURE it's how you talk to yourself. But when you talk to me that way, it's kind of a tragedy. Because I work as hard as anybody - at being a person every day.

Something I've learned from about 10 years of excruciating internal battles: there is a reason why I feel the way I feel, and it isn't because I didn't try hard enough or because I made a wrong choice or because I'm a bad person. And this is my own personal passion: IT ISN'T RANDOM CHEMISTRY!! Something happened to me. And that's important because I am not just a body. I am also a mind and a spirit. When one suffers, they all suffer, and I'm not just going to accept the way I feel right now or treat with medication the rest of my life. It's different for every mentally ill person, of course. For me, the more I learn about myself, the less conclusive I am about anybody else. I used to think, "What's wrong with me?" Then I started to ask, "What happened to me?" Now I sometimes think "What didn't happen to me?" would be a better question. I've been on medications - several, thank you - and I think they have an important place in the treatment and recovery of the mentally ill. So don't get me wrong.

I just have a story. There's a reason for my pain. And what I want you to know is - I have something to offer the world because of what I've been through. And no, I am not crazy. (I call myself that more than anybody, I'm sure, but that's because I want to beat anybody else to it. And now I use "crazy" as a slang term to describe almost anything I have strong feelings about I don't know how to quantify. It's kind of like "wow".) I'll tell you what I have to offer: love. A whole lot of depth and spirituality and an understanding heart.

Yes, I can be healed, I have been healed, I am healing, and I will use what I've learned to help heal others. I am changing all my old, negative beliefs about my life and about myself to fresh positive ones, and everything will happen in its time. You can't force me to "get better" by force of will, but you can connect with me, listen to me, share with me, see me for who I am.

And I am getting better! Not only that, but I believe I am whole. Everything I've been carrying around about being ill and broken and lost and wounded is just a temporary illusion - very real to be experienced, but possible to wake up from. If I were meant to, I could be healed all at once. But I believe I am meant to have this journey of self discovery. And now, I believe I am meant to be myself.

SO if I don't get out of bed one morning - if I behave erratically - if my emotions roller coaster out of sight - if you don't understand what I just said - if I said I'd do it yesterday, but today I don't - stop. Don't think. Feel. Your friend is going through something. It's amazing. It's terrifying. It's a wild ride. But she wouldn't have her life experience taken away from her. It is damn beautiful.

If you're wondering what you can do to help - a little human connection is a blessed thing in this world. I like to self-disclose so that others self-disclose. I like to look people in the eye. And I will admit, there have been countless times that some well-timed kindness and comfort touched my heart to the very center. Once, I was screaming and crying in a public bathroom, and an angelic stranger - a pretty college girl - came up and offered me some warmth and assurance, shared with me an emotional time in her life, told me it's healthy to let it out, and then went and brought me a cookie. Her name was Faun. I'll never forget her. Hugs cannot be overestimated.

If you're in doubt about how to treat me or others like me, say a prayer. That's how I get through, and the more prayers the better. If you pray for me, you'll likely know what to say, but if you feel like saying nothing, just a look of love means a lot. We all need love. It is fear that drives us apart and drives us to terrible things, terrible places inside It is love that saves us. Always.

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