A lot of times there is a (spoken and unspoken) stigma that those who fight mental health problems are somehow weak or not as capable as those who are mental illness-free. It’s almost as if those who perpetuate this stigma think anyone foolish enough to succumb to a mental illness must not be smart enough, resilient enough, or emotionally tough enough to “sidetrack it.”
That simply isn’t true.
The high achievers
In one of my first group therapy sessions, a comment was made to the effect that people who suffer with OCD are often very intelligent and successful. Mental illness doesn’t necessarily prey upon the weak, as some might assume.
But I’m not here today to talk about the causes and risk factors surrounding mental illness. Instead, I want to talk about how strong you have to be to constantly battle a mental health problem. Recently on Twitter, author Matt Haig said in reference to a statement made my Donald Trump, “Trump says veterans with mental health issues aren’t strong. Living with mental illness takes more strength than he will ever know.”
The strength to keep on
Without veering into a political discussion, I just want to emphasize and focus on the last sentence in that tweet: how living with a mental illness requires strength. Stamina. Persistence. Diligence. It especially demands all of these traits if you are actively pushing and fighting back against the mental illness.
I remember sitting in a more casual group session one Saturday morning in Seattle next to a man I had seen at another group session before. I can’t recall the exact words we exchanged, but it was something along the lines of us wishing that we would suddenly stop doing our compulsions out of pure exhaustion. I think I said something about how I was waiting and hoping for the time when I’d just quit or give up because I was too tired—I just wouldn’t be able to go on. But that didn’t happen. The OCD pushes, and pushes, and pushes you until you are so frustrated and upset at yourself for allowing it to go that far. And then it pushes again.
So no, living with a mental illness is not a game for the lazy. It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally draining and yet somehow you keep going. Even when it steals your sleep, your appetite, and your lifestyle—you keep going. You summon the strength from somewhere to continue to live. And when you hopefully find, accept, or receive help, you can start using that massive amount of strength to regain territory from the mental illness. At least that’s the goal. Easier said than done, right?