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“It’s all in your head," “Stop worrying," “I wish I had OCD, my house would be spotless," “You don’t LOOK sick." Those of us with mental illnesses have heard these, and various iterations so many times that for the most part, we can block them out. Mental illness IS in fact in our heads, therein lies the problem. If people can’t see it, they assume it isn’t real. Unlike illnesses that are widely accepted and have outward symptoms such as cancer, colds, broken bones, and such, you can’t see a mental illness unless it has taken hold and caused you to leave marks. There are no outward bruises or tubes and wires, just an ongoing battle in your head.
I happen to suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Severe Generalized Anxiety and OCD tendencies (not to be confused with OCD, that is an illness far above what I have). I just have a need to constantly create lists, and for certain things to be in certain orders, such as money needs to face in a uniform direction or it bothers me. You don’t see scars. You don’t know how when I text someone and they don’t reply I can’t fathom the normal "they are busy" my mind jumps to either "they hate you and don’t want to talk to you" or "there has been an accident and they are seriously hurt or dead." I can get the slightest bit of criticism, even constructive, and it plays in my head for days. A simple headache? No, it’s clearly a brain tumor. I don’t want these thoughts, I can’t eliminate these thoughts. Just the spinning vortex of negativity that sends me crashing into a spiral, that, if I am really lucky, I can catch before it is a full blown panic attack.
To some we are seen as attention seekers, drama kings and queens, or just plain lazy. I can tell you how after losing my most recent pregnancy and discovering five people were pregnant less than a month after, that my depression hit so bad that I missed a day of work because I could not move to get out of bed. I can tell you that when I had a major panic attack, I spent another work day at home crying continuously and throwing up. I become easily irritated and snappy and don’t want to. I don’t like having people think I am mean spirited when my anxiety gets too me. Often, that is not believed. It is thought that we just want a day off work or are hateful. Trust me I need the money. I have bills that do not care about my mental, physical or emotional health. I love people and want to help serve them.
The side of me you don’t often see dreams of saving the world, of opening homeless shelters to get people back on their feet, or feeding the needy. The side that gets buried underneath all of the crap that comes with my mental illnesses. The fatigue that plagues me and renders me unable to do even small tasks at times. Instead I get told to shake it off, stop worrying, things aren’t as bad in my life as in the lives of others. I know that, and trust me I wish I could change how I feel. But much like you would never tell a cancer patient “It’s not that bad," “A walk will help," “Have you tried not having cancer?” telling those of us with unseen illnesses is counterproductive and only results in us feeling worse about ourselves.
Until we fully remove the stigma of mental illness, I realize this will never go away,. However I will continue advocating for those who suffer silent illnesses and judgment for those illnesses. We know this is all in our heads. We fight battles every day that those without mental illness will never be able to understand. We are stronger than we are given credit for, and as a result often more empathetic. We are trying. All we ask for is for people to at least stop delegitimizing our fights.