Having Mental Illness…Can Be Good?

In this closing post for Mental Health Awareness Month, Kristen reflects on what she’s learned during a month of posts by people she knows. And in that time, she discovers that having mental illness isn’t always a bad thing. 

Suedle of Kristen in green t-shirt shaking with hands up, sue and Kristen hugging each other in the middle shaking together, green dragon with STIGMA on its shirt roaring at them - this is what having mental illness feels like

Hatching an idea

Sometime in March, when we started planning for Mental Health Awareness Month, Sue had this idea to tell a story with our posts – just one story of one person experiencing mental illness. In true Committed fashion, we began brainstorming what this might look like, and so it grew. What if we told this person’s story through the voices of the people around them instead? So many of our posts for Committed are first person experiences of mental illness. What if we showed what it was like having mental illness from the perspective of someone who knows or even loves someone else with it?

The idea comes to life

And so my mind immediately started churning. Who would I ask if we were going to my story for this? And I came up with a number of people that could provide something. Maybe they could do a blog post, a podcast or a video. These could shed light on what it was like to know someone with mental illness – to know me. At that time, I was purely in idea-generating mode, so I got excited – this could be really cool. It could also be a great way to show that even if mental illness doesn’t affect someone directly, it can still have an impact. I immediately shot off an email to about fifteen different people to see who would bite, and then went on about my business, considering that part of my work done for the month.

“What have I done?”

Then the first blog post came back. Before I even opened it, I thought to myself, “What have I done? I don’t want to know what people think of me and my depression and anxiety! This was a horrible idea. This was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea.” I waited almost an entire day before opening the document to read it. And then, once I did, I started breathing again. This was, well, it was frankly one of the most accurate descriptions of me that I could have hoped for. Then again, this was my best friend – it would make sense that she would be so on the mark while still being supportive. What would happen when my boss sent me hers? Or I talked to my son?

Having mental illness…can be good?

And then another post came in, and another. Soon I realized what they all had in common – besides me and mental illness, of course. These posts were less about me, and more about how knowing someone with mental illness – and more importantly in some cases, someone who was open about their mental illness – had changed their lives. And they had all been changed in some way – for the better. Some found it was easier to be open about their own illnesses. Some used what they learned to help the people they work with and supervise. And some were just more aware about the challenges of others. But all of them gained from me sharing my experiences.

Now what?

Now that Mental Health Awareness Month is over, what do we do? How do we take what we’ve learned and apply it? We are educators, after all. Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • Print off The Committed Project Toolkit and use with your co-workers or staff
  • Try doing the Spoon Theory activity yourself or with others to gain a better understanding of how it feels to have mental illness (password: GiveMeTheSpoons)
  • Use one of the posts from The Committed Project blog to start a conversation – the more we talk about it, the less the stigma can hurt us
  • Continue to read about mental illness and talk about it – all year long. It doesn’t go away for those of us who have it, and we can’t contain our experiences to one month.

We hope you’ll continue to check out The Committed Project for more great stories, resources and information about mental illness in higher education professionals. Mental illness affects us all the time – we need to keep discussing it.

About the Author

Kristen Abell is one of the two co-founders of The Committed Project and is our Executive Director of Awareness and Advocacy. Kristen blogs frequently about the issue of mental illness, especially her depression, and this month The Committed Project featured her story during Mental Health Awareness Month. She is extremely relieved that this microscopic look at her life is over. She’ll continue fighting the stigma around mental illness in higher education as long as she can.

Describing Mental Illness in Language that Matters

by Kristen Abell

Although I had already been thinking a lot about the topic of how we use emotions to describe mental illness, a friend of mine recently shared a Twitter thread in which someone discussed the idea of depression as “extreme sadness.” They quickly refuted the idea that they experienced depression that way – instead, it often looked like irritability, anger, apathy, etc. This led me to express an idea that I’d been mulling over: the idea that “sadness” in depression looks a lot different than sadness for someone who does not experience depression.

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Inside, I’m Still Nine

by Jessi Robinson

Recently, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and did something I have long wanted to do: I got my hair foiled in non-natural colors (blue and green, to be specific). My hairdresser and I were both excited about the adventure, and we were pleased with the result. My wife was beyond happy; knowing this was something I’d hemmed and hawed over for a while, she was not only happy I did it but also loved the outcome.

Three days later, I arrived in my office. I knew that the color wouldn’t be an issue, no matter what anyone thought, but I was nervous about those thoughts and reactions. The compliments came rolling in. EVERYONE loved my hair; even people I don’t interact with commented positively.

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Earn Your Superhero Badge!

by Kristen Abell

Recently I read Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy which chronicles her life with mental illness, and I found myself actually jealous of her for a moment. Not, as you might think, because of her spectacular writing prowess. That would have been far too logical. Instead, I was jealous that she has such a fascinating array of disorders. I mean, who was going to want to read a book about someone with a measly little case of depression when they could read about someone with depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other issues? Yep, you read that right – I was jealous because this chick has more crazy than me.

Something I try to remind myself of when I start to feel discouraged about sharing my story is how there is no one else who can share it quite like me. Continue reading

Today, I Called in Sick to Work

by Sue Caulfield

Today, I called in sick to work.

I don’t have a doctor’s note (although I could probably call my therapist to get one). I didn’t really give a concrete reason, just, “I’m not feeling too hot.” When my boss says, “It’s quiet here, don’t worry,” it should make me feel better.

Instead, I feel guilt. I feel shame. I feel weak. I feel useless.

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My Mental Illness is Not Your Fault

by Alexandria Pizziola

The task of creating a life for oneself is hard work, and it’s a task that I and people my age are faced with on a daily basis as we move to make the world view us as adults. The stress and pressure that accompany this act of finding our footing are large and unrelenting factors, and when I get together with or phone my friends, a variation of the following is nearly always uttered:

Why do I feel this way? This isn’t how I should feel; my life is great! Maybe I just need to try to be happier. I must be doing something wrong.

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The Right Thing

by Kristen Abell

On Saturday night, Santa Ono, the president of the University of Cincinnati, shared with an audience of 200 people – and then later with his Twitter audience of 70,000 – that he had tried to commit suicide at two different points in his life. Because of the work I do with mental illness in the higher education profession, it doesn’t feel like I can let this pass without comment. That being said, there’s something absurd about the fact that we get excited and celebrate someone in a position of power sharing such a difficult personal story of mental illness. Continue reading

How I Found My Okay: Trusting Someone with Your Anxiety

by Sinclair Ceasar

You wake up. You don’t want to get out of bed because your thoughts won’t let you. Later you’ll want to explain this paralysis, but you’re ashamed of it, and you don’t quite understand it. You feel powerless. Your choices are to either start your day and face scary people and scary things, or to stay in bed forever. I hate waking up to this.

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I’m Not Ready…Yet: Why I Won’t Publicly Own My Depression

The author of this post chose to remain anonymous.

I’m not ready….yet

A year ago at this time I was doing what I had been for years – ending another semester, looking forward to the summer, and thanking God that I had made it through another school year alive. You see, for most of my life I had been managing…strike that…masking…depression and anxiety. No medication, no therapy since college, just maintaining on the belief that I had nothing to be depressed about so feeling depressed was wrong. Continue reading

Breaking Free of Stigma for Our Students’ Sake

by Lisa Latronica

From the time I was a small child, I was called a worrier and perfectionist by all the adults in my life. Teachers commented on how particular I was with my work, and my mom often told me to let small things go. I never really understood any of this, as it was a way of life. I didn’t know any different. Didn’t everyone feel like this? Continue reading