Mental Illness: How to Cope

Most people who have mental illness, especially depression, are described and portrayed unfairly. I have overheard conversations from the neurotypical boys in my school talking about some poor girl:

“She called me crying at like 3 A.M. saying she was gonna kill herself.” Neurotypical Boy 1 says. Of course, he’s laughing with his friendhe doesn’t deal with this problem. 

“She’s psycho, man. Block her. Next time she calls, ignore itshe always has someone else she can bother.” Neurotypical Boy 2 says while snickering.

That’s the thing, though; she probably doesn’t have anyone else to “bother.” It’s not just depression that is stigmatized; it's bipolar disorder, anxiety, derealization, and more. Personally, I have been where that poor girl was at 3 A.M. I have been there so often that I could describe to you the color of the walls, whether it was humid or coldI have been there. This is such a cliché thing to say, of course, but clichés are clichés for a reason. 

Now, let me give you some context before I delve into the advice and tips I have for others suffering from mental illness. In 7th grade, I wrote my first poem; this poem gave me insight into how I was really feeling. My writing has much improved since then, and I’ve also grown as a person. I remember scrolling through the #selfharm tag on Tumblr and crying all night, having no motivation to go to school, just going through the motions until I realized I needed help. So, I told my mom I needed to talk to someone, and that conversation went a little like this:

“Mom, I think I need to like… see someone.” I told her.

“Like a therapist? Why? Are you okay? What happened?” She questioned me, interrogating me like I was being investigated for the crime of being depressed. She did get me help, though, and so I started therapy. The first therapist I had was not the right fit for me, considering that I started self-harming after starting my sessions. It never got severe, and I’ll spare you the detailsI was scared to hurt myself, even though I thought I deserved the pain. I switched therapists, and this woman was and is absolutely amazing. I could be honest with her; I could tell her about my first time smoking, getting drunk, sneaking out… as long as I wasn’t putting myself or anyone else in danger, it stayed between us. 

Honestly, therapy saved my life. Lots of people bash on therapy and say it doesn’t helpit only helps if you actively want to get better and are honest with your therapist. This is the first piece of advice I’ll give: if you don’t go to therapy, go to therapy. If you don’t like the first therapist you have and find yourself feeling the need to lie about certain things, that person is not the right fit for youfind another one. It could take going through two or six therapistsa tedious taskbut once you find someone who you can open up to, it’s worth it. 

I know that we all have friends that we can open up to, but it’s not really the same thing. Sometimes, our friends cannot be a rock for us because they need to be a rock for themselves. It’s unhealthy to be codependent on a best friend or romantic partner. Let’s say there’s a fight between the twowhat happens next? If you depend on them for happiness and stability, that is taken away from you in an instant. 

It’s not just people we can depend on, it’s outside sources in general. One thing my therapist taught me was that there are internal and external sources of happiness. External sources are things like concerts, friends, and materialistic things; internal sources are organic thoughts. In 8th grade, for example, I remember I was looking forward to a Charli XCX concert in a few months. I had thoughts like “I’m not gonna hurt myself right now, because I want to see Charli XCX and I know I’ll be happy in that moment.” Internal sources, however, are the things that drive you to keep on living. We all have them, whether we are aware of them or not: “I’m not gonna kill myself right now, because I want to work on myself and start helping people with my poetry, and I know helping people makes me happy.” Inside sources of happiness coincide with coping skills. The next tip I’ll give is to try and dive into yourself, to dig deep into where you are most vulnerable. You have to be honest with yourself, even if it makes you uncomfortable. To reach these inside sources, you must healthily express your feelings. Writing, drawing, photography, painting, meditation, reading, physical activity, and even sleeping are some healthy coping mechanisms. 

Thirdly, rid your life of toxicity. Surround yourself with positivity, even if that means getting rid of the only “friends” you have. I’ve been in toxic friend groups before, crying every day because they would hang out without me. They told me I was “too negative” and it was “depressing to be around me." Well, that’s what happens when someone is suffering from depression (soon after this I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). I felt excluded and like they didn’t care about me, and I was right. I kept them in my life for a few months before I realized I deserve better. I deserve good friends, ones who reciprocate the love I give to them. I'd kept them because I was afraid to be alone. 

Being alone is not the worst thing in the world. When you’re alone, you have the chance to fall in love with yourself—find out who you really are, explore all the nooks and crannies of yourself. I mourn all of the time I lost by sticking with toxic people instead of finding out who I am. I don’t regret anything anymore; instead, I mourn things. I don’t regret making a certain decision, but I can still recognize that the outcome absolutely sucked. I got rid of every “what if” that would run rampant through my brain—you can’t change the past, and you can’t live your life wondering what would have happened. You should take into account everything you did wrong, take the lessons you learned, and implement the new things you know into the nowinto the present. I could say you could be doing this so you can control your future, but you can’t do that either. It’s necessary to have aspirations and goals. However, if you go on every day thinking about what will happen, you will never get the chance to appreciate what you have in the moment, and that is something that to be mourned later. 

Mental illness is a struggle that many people deal with, yet most of us are too afraid to admit how we feel. It’s little stuff that gets ingrained in our mindslittle hints of judgement here and there that tell us depression, bipolar disorder, derealization, anxiety, etc. are things of which to be ashamed. For example, in 9th grade, I remember my English teacher talking about mental illness and how it affects “other people” or “them." Instead of taking into consideration that there are students that have mental illness in her very classroom, she grouped those that do into an outcast society, making me (and I’m sure others) feel like we are not in the right place. 

The last “tip” I have is to try and adjust your way of thinking when it comes to happiness. Happiness comes and goes, and so does pain. The journey you’re on will have bumps, yes, but bumps go up and they go down. Maybe some particular part of your life is a steep, downhill slope, but you have to think about how much higher you will go the next time you are on your way up. Not to be super neurotypical, but it will get betterjust don’t forget that sometimes it will get worse. 

Through it all, you have yourself. You have friends, family, and maybe a romantic partner, but you have to be able to count on yourself. I wish someone had told me the things I have written in this article a long time ago, but I will reiterate: I mourn the time I lost, but I do not regret. There’s a cliché that I once hated: “Stop and smell the roses.” I do not hate this quote anymore, but I would reword it: “Stop and smell your favorite flower, stop and do what makes you happy. Stop for a second, a minute, or an hourstop for however long you need until you can truly smile again. Stop because our stamina is not unlimited; stop to heal yourself.” 

By Faith Chandler

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