If you listen to the media and how it portrays mental illness you would think that sufferers look different than other people. You might expect them to look crazy or scary. Dirty or aloof. Awkward or zoned out.
For instance you might think that people with depression look sad....or that people with PTSD look unhinged. You might expect people with Bipolar Disorder to look disheveled or manic....but the truth is that underneath all of the pain and emotional dysfunction and confusion, we are all only human. We don't have our diagnoses printed on our heads in big bright letters. We do not wear our disorders pinned on our sleeves for the world to see.
Look at this picture for example: this is my mother who is a wonderful human being that just so happens to suffer from PTSD, Chronic Depression, and Bipolar Disorder.
You would never know by looking at her that these are her daily struggles. That sometimes just to get out of bed in the morning seems like an insurmountable task.
And this one: You might never have guessed that both of these people suffer from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
That I suffer panic attacks and have medical and germ fears so badly I fight them on a daily basis or that she (my grandma) worries and obsesses about things until she gets so full of anxiety she cries. That we both avoid certain triggers that make us uncomfortable. That we both suffer from a tremendous amount of undeserved guilt and shame.
We look fairly normal. We look like the millions of other people that walk the earth. There is nothing in these pictures that show our trials and our struggles. We look like everyone else because in reality we are so much like everyone else. We just happen to have mental illness.
I grew up in a family full of strong women. Compassionate, loving, kind, but also fearless. Not because we were born to be fearless but because there was no other way to be and survive. We are women that have lived through abuse. We are women that have lived through mental illness. We are women that have fought for our lives and triumphed because there was no other option available and we are too stubborn to back down.
I guess what I am trying to say is that depression doesn't always show on your face. You can be a smiling face to the world but be wounded and alone on the inside. You can be Bipolar and look like the neighbor that cooks out on Tuesday nights. You can be OCD and be the mailman that wears that funny little safari hat in the middle of summer. There is no "mental illness look". There are no physical traits that show our pain or our issues. We look like everyday people because we are everyday people. We just have different struggles to deal with.....
The media would have you believe that people that suffer from mental illness look like glazed eyed ax wielding murderers. They would have you believe that we look like kidnappers and boogeymen. They try and paint pictures of us that are neither helpful nor factual. We are not the thing that goes bump in the night. We are not the monsters hiding under the bed. We look like a thirty five year old woman and her fifty six year old mother on their birthday and their seventy five year old grandmother. We look like a beloved always smiling for the public sixty three year old comedian and actor. We look like soldiers coming back home from war. We look like doctors, and lawyers, and car salesmen. We look like children, and parents, and siblings because we are all of those things..... We look like other people because we are other people. We are just ordinary, regular, everyday people that just happen to suffer. We are no different and we are no less magnificent. We are still beautiful. We are still worthy. We are still lovable, courageous, intelligent, fascinating, purposeful individuals except maybe we are just a little bit stronger. A little bit more aware of the struggle of others and maybe just a little bit more compassionate about it.