Let me preface, and this is important, by saying mental illness is real. It is prevalent. It affects more people in your life than you realize. It’s incredibly real and hard and some days impossible to deal with.
Now, excuse me while I begin to sound like I don’t believe that.
I went to a small private Christian school kindergarten through senior year. Thirteen years in the same rooms with 22 of the same people. I remember the chapel where a very beautiful, very well-accepted, well-liked, popular, and by high school standards successful girl spoke about her struggle and triumph over her eating disorder. She broke out. She did it. I feel the need to placate to you (and myself) about how that’s not something that just goes away forever, but I’ll let it slide. Hooray. She did it.
What so many young women in that school heard was “stop eating. That’s how you make friends in high school. That’s how you look like she does. That’s how you get a boyfriend. That’s how you make a sport team.” Moreover, they also heard “if there’s no tragedy in my life, I’ve made no conversion to Christ.”
The next year there were more eating disorders in our school. Percentage-wise, compared to public schools, I know it had to be a greater number.
After the closing of a musical I remember being in a car and hearing from an older student her story. Her struggle with an eating disorder and her triumph over it. It’s not my story to tell. Her story is not my story to tell. She, too, was popular, pretty, high school successful.
The next year many of the girls in my class, in that car, were affected. It tempted all of us. It crawled into our ears and crept into our brains like the yeerks in Animorphs. It moved through our class like a virus. It became almost trendy. I wasn’t stronger than anyone else. I didn’t resist because I felt so okay with myself. I did not like myself, hell, I was jealous of everyone’s self-control. I envied what would make a great story of triumph soon.
I was selfish and didn’t for a moment consider that my friends were sick.
What I see now in my life is a similar thing. A trendiness to mental illness. I’m all for identifying the things in our lives that break us and shape us. Working on those things. Trying to get healthier. Being open about them. We need to.
It scares me though to watch it slowly come into everyone’s hand like a brand new Lisa Frank folder as they self-diagnose. “I exhibit some of these symptoms and can work harder to prove the other ones. We’ll just say that’s what it is. I will live as this broken person.” While someone in their life struggles and survives and carries on quietly and strongly, someone self-diagnosed has decided to parade around wearing their illness like a new fuzzy sweater from Limited too.
Understand, I know I’m not in therapy anymore, and I should be. Could I afford it, I might be again. I hesitate so often to tell any piece of my story, because I don’t want it to be an inspiration to get sick. I don’t actually want to be an inspiration at all. I tell my story for my own sake. If it helps someone else, huzzah, and I really am so glad. But I speak for me.
As I watch mental illness get more voice, as it should, I’m so excited. It’s important. As I watch mental illness get more voice, I curl up in a ball of fear watching as youth after youth, woman after woman, creates a pain they do not need to carry. It’s not theirs to carry. Mental illness, in all of its forms, is heavy and painful and some time seemingly completely vanished. It tears and it breaks and it shoves and it does not relent. It is mean. It is cold. It is lonely. It is not a prize. It is not a yo-yo or a hacky sack or a tamagotchi. It is a battle.
Something I’ve always struggled with, and I’ve blamed a lot for this, but ultimately it’s my fault, is that if something isn’t wrong something is wrong. And I see it happen around me. There’s nothing glamorous about mental illness. There shouldn’t be anything trendy about it. If you want a trend, buy a Yikes pencil. If you have a mental illness, please, seek the help you need and deserve, not an audience.
(the irony of writing about this in a public forum is not lost on me)