June was yet another month that simply seemed like a series of overwhelming days without end. I celebrated my birthday, solidified plans that are going to change my life, and spent time with family and friends, and somehow still felt as if the world was ending 95% of the time. I spent a lot of this month wishing that I was invisible. The world seems a friendlier place when no one is looking at you. This made me think about the “invisible” factor of mental illness and how ironic it is that when I look in the mirror all I see are my illnesses, when most others just see me.
Mental illnesses are often referred to as “invisible illnesses” because they are not usually visible in the same way that other illnesses are. This is a large part of how they have remained so stigmatized; people often do not fully understand or believe in things that they cannot see. Though much of the anguish created by mental illness churns beneath the surface, there are many visible signs available for those who look closely enough. Obviously, everyone’s mental illnesses manifest in their own ways. These are some of the tell-tale signs of my illnesses.
My depression looks like bad skin, greasy hair that smells like horses, Chewbacca legs barely covered by tights that are more than likely to have holes in them, and eye bags the shade of mud puddles. It looks like me in bed at 3 pm, unable to lift my head above the covers even though it’s too hot to breathe. It looks like cancelled plans and days spent hermitting in my bedroom because anywhere else would simply be too much. I fade away until I become invisible.
My anxiety looks like fingernails chewed below the meat, lips bleeding from picking, hair over my face so no one sees the full dimensions of my cheeks, baggy shirts, and a hunched back. It looks like me in bed at 3 am unable to fall asleep, tossing one way and then another for hours. It looks like me having to leave the get together hours earlier than I’d like to so I can stop embarrassing myself by existing around others. I make myself disappear.
My OCD looks like a room, clean, not perfect, but obsessively kept with every single thing in its exact place, while my whole car looks like a trash can stuffed with little bits of things I find or just can’t throw away. It looks like me having to decide between throwing something in the trash and having a panic attack, which is essentially choosing between my need for clean and my desire to hoard clutter. I bury myself until I can no longer find me.
These are just the most obvious manifestations of the compulsions and anxieties that haunt my brain. Everybody has a different landscape to their illness. Sometimes we will do every single thing that we can to hide the little inconvenient bits of ourselves that would give away how much we are suffering, and other times we hope that someone dear to us will see the things we cannot say or the things that poke out of the corners we can’t tuck quite right and ask us “Are you okay?” or “How can I help?” Sometimes what a person needs most changes from day to day, if not minute to minute.
If you know someone close to you has a mental illness, my most sage advice is to be patient, open, and kind. If they open up to you, be ready to listen and empathize. No one expects you to give them the answers, they just want someone to hear them. If they don’t open up to you, don’t take it personally. Maybe they can’t give words to their problems yet, or maybe they are fighting a battle that they don’t wish to share. More often than not while we are trying so hard to shrink ourselves and become invisible what we really need most is just for someone to see us.
P.S: I hate pictures of myself because I can see every ounce of my unhappiness when I look into my own face. But since I’m talking about invisibility, I felt like it would be appropriate to [insert problem area here].