A Letter to My Mental Illness

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Dear You,

To start this off, I’m not beating around the bush here: you can suck sometimes. A lot. I used to think of you the way a disease-prone man thought of a rash—dangerous, and something to scrub yourself clean of at the first possible moment. You’ve made me question, and often lose, relationships. You would settle in to the corners of reasoning, to the point where I expected—no—sought out signs that something was going wrong. People would feel me growing distant, growing cold and would demand to know why. I would rarely have the capability to explain what happened, other than knowing it would fail. And then it would. I let you get in the way of my own happiness.

Even now I struggle to recognize what thoughts belong to me and which ones belong to you.

You cause stress between myself and my everyday life. You make me scramble to meet deadlines and important events because at occurring intervals the weather or a trigger or some force of the wind causes you to rear back and bite into me, hard. Even in the chance that I manage to pull myself out from under you to attend to responsibilities, I feel left with the distinct notion of letting people down.

But I never seemed to have the capability of bringing you up. Sure, I joke about you in terms of self-deprecation or substance-fueled loosened lips, but when it matters? Oh, f—k no. To speak about you in terms of explanation or context meant submitting to weakness. No matter how many times I tell loved ones that mental illness does not equate a fault on a personal level, trying to apply this compassion to myself felt like applying an alien skin to my own. And then I would realize that it feels unnatural to give myself sympathy, and I spiral.

Because of you, I have thoughts about myself that no one deserves. You made me into someone I didn’t recognize, someone I didn’t like. You made me strong, but at what cost?

However, I’ve come to learn something about you. Something that a lot of people might not enjoy, and some people might not agree with given their own experience and version of you. For whatever rhyme, reason or origin, you make up a part of me.

When you first appeared, or when I first noticed, I used to think you were the result of bad environment and unhealthy amounts of teen angst. I read, hungrily, of all the ways people had you and had gotten over you. I remember tears at the last lines of It’s Kind of a Funny Story: “Breathe. Live.” So much hope had existed within those two simple words, and I eagerly searched the author to see what else he had done. Only to discover that he had lost his life in 2013. Because of you. It felt as though my heart had thudded to a slow, deafening stop.

In that moment, I realized that I would likely have to deal with you for the rest of my life. I was in the throes of simply trying to figure out what you were, and now I had to live with you forever? My mind immediately rejected the thought, rejected you. And after everything that’s happened, could you blame me? At the time I felt only misery, and fear of what you would do to me. The feeling has since changed, however. Instead, I feel a form of resolve. Consider this my version of waving a white flag.

I no longer consider you something I have to fight or overcome. It’s not to say that I let myself drown or let you overwhelm me. For now, I think of you as something I live with but do not struggle with. While you make up a part of me, I do not let myself become nothing but you. And so, it’s gotten better. I no longer feel like a stranger in my own body. I no longer feel afraid to speak of you in terms that others will recognize. You no longer exist as a monster in my closet, but as an ailment that simply needs addressing. Some people have conditions they need medication or physical therapy to treat. I have you. I feel vulnerable sharing this, but I no longer feel fear. And I suppose I can thank you for that.

Thank you.

 

Natalie is a senior majoring English and Creative Writing and minoring Art History at the University of Iowa. She has an affinity for cats, caffeine and being unnecessarily dramatic in her hand gestures.

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