What 'They' Don't Tell You When You're Given a Mental Illness Diagnosis

Autumn McGarity
Watercolor, silhouette of a woman

“They” tell you you’re bipolar II. Borderline. Anorexic.

“They” tell you that you have PTSD. GAD. Insomnia. Hypersomnia. RLS.

What “they” don’t tell you when attempting to treat this “new” diagnosis: sometimes, you’ll be a guinea pig. An elaborate laboratory experiment. A space monkey. An unsolvable mystery.

“They” write you a prescription; the first of many to follow. Eventually evolving into a colorful rainbow cocktail of pills. The longer you carry these diagnoses, the more your “med regimen” begins to resemble a truly haunted Halloween candy stash.

What “they” don’t tell you are the myriad of side effects that you will face from both the diagnosis(es) and the medication.

“They” don’t tell you that you will feel as though you have lost pieces of your unique self. Your creative fire. Your quick wit. Your desire… for everything, anything and anyone.

“They” suggest therapy. DBT, CBT, CPT, EMDR, ABT, MBSR, MBCT, NLP, TF-CBT, Jungian therapy, Hypnotherapy, Gestalt therapy… the list is seemingly unending.

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As is your pain.

As is your darkness.

As is your frustration.

“They” don’t tell you that even after extensive, intensive work and treatment, hours of therapy and enough medication to poison a small island; that you still will not feel whole.

That lost relationships are never found again.

That reality hits hard, when you realize who loves you and wants to be with you no matter what; and who is along for the ride when it’s convenient and life is stable.

That when the aforementioned reality hits, you realize how unbalanced so many of your relationships are.

“They” don’t tell you that you are permanently unforgiven for inadvertant transgressions that your mind has taken great lengths to repress, due to the overwhelming guilt and shame of putting anyone (other than yourself) in a difficult position.

“They” don’t tell you that people who were once closest to your heart will claim to love you again, “when you’re better,” failing to grasp that most mental illness diagnoses are managed, not cured.

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That there is no “better,” per se, that there will always be ups and downs and spirals and even possible crises.

That there are no guarantees when it comes to any mental illness.

“They” don’t warn you that you will still feel and still be stigmatized against because of these diagnoses that you carry with you like a scarlet letter. That facing the stigma can actually be worse, especially when it comes from a trusted professional.

“They” don’t tell you that so many do not even acknowledge mental illness in the same way other illnesses are acknowledged.

“They” don’t tell you that you will feel and will be truly left behind.

That you will be judged.

Made to feel unwanted. Burdensome. Unlovable.

“They” don’t tell you that you will routinely face the things you fear most in this world, like abandonment.

“They” don’t tell you that many people cannot see past the mental illness. That you are no longer “you” to people you’ve known your entire existence. That people who you thought would always have your back will disappear; leave you in a heartbeat, with a flick of a sharpened razor and the sight of bloody wounds that extend from your surface to your innermost core.

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“They” don’t tell you that when you reveal your life story, the few who do stay are often praised for “staying with someone like you.”

“They” don’t tell you that those who were once closest to you will say, “I feel like I’ve lost you already.” That many will then distance themselves, ignoring you for the burden and disease that you feel that you are on the world.

“They” don’t tell you that many days, you feel as though you are a toxic plague; routinely placing those you love most in danger of contracting your dark energy. That many days, you will want to curl up into a ball; quarantining others from your thoughts of death and suicide.

“They” don’t tell you that while you’re losing yourself, you’ll also face losing those you would have hoped would always remain loyally by your side.

Because, that’s what you would do for them.

Or, would have done, if they were not gone.

“They” don’t tell you that every day is a new battle.

That getting out of bed is a feat.

That taking a shower is a feat.

That everything from your mind, to your heart, to your bones and joints will ache without reprieve.

That putting on a brave face and a smile for others’ benefit takes any ounce of energy you may have left after finding your way through the minefield that is (most) individual’s “normal” routine.

“They” don’t tell you that while solitude is solace; it is deeply lonely. That it is like living alone in a bunker, post-nuclear apocalypse. That how your mind processes situations and how you perceive the world seem vastly misunderstood.

“They” don’t tell you that you when you gain a mental illness diagnosis, that you lose your voice just a little bit more. That the darkness you’re tapped into is just too abysmal for anyone to bear to listen. That sometimes,  even professionals don’t know what to do with you after a certain point. That you might not feel like you can share your pain to the fullest extent with anyone, even those who might be willing to listen, for fear of losing them forever too.

“They” don’t tell you that with each new loss, you lose another piece of your soul.

That you relive old losses through the new ones.

That you will begin to fade.

That you will forget who you were without the pain.

That just when you think you’ve found happiness or joy, any number of variables occurs, and reminds you of how fleeting those emotions are… and how ever-vigilantly the darkness persists.

“They” don’t tell you how achingly difficult it is to find a reliable, trustworthy mental health “team.” That you’ll work with over a dozen psychotherapists in the span of a few short years, only to find one that has helped you heal, even remotely.

That you’ll fight the same battle with psychiatrist after psychiatrist, each one having a different opinion on what works for you; even though you’re the only one in your body, living your life, and who through much trial-and-error, knows what will help and what is a futile endeavor.

“They” don’t tell you that the hypomanic highs, the intense and beautiful creativity and passion; comes paired with constant plaguing thoughts of death, suicide and passively planning your exit most waking hours of your day.

That you will be so down and feel so truly hopeless, death indeed seems like the best option — when really, all you truly longed for was peace in this life.

A day wherein you have the energy to get out of bed.

A morning and evening that aren’t flooded with anxious, racing thoughts.

A day without vivid flashbacks, a night of restful sleep sans post-traumatic nightmares.

A day wherein you don’t wish to harm yourself.

A day wherein you can look in the mirror and really love yourself; for everything you are and everything you are not.

A day wherein you believe the encouraging words you give to others.

A day wherein you can utilize the wisdom gained through adversity.

A day where you want to keep fighting the battle, no matter how trying the war of life can be.

“They” are no one specific.

Faces have become a blur, voices echo.

No one can prepare you for the minefield that is this life with mental illness.

“They” don’t know how to say, “Stay. This world still needs you.”

To those who can relate: My heart is with you.

To those who can relate: Stay. This world still needs you.

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