Seven honest stories of mental illness, stigma, and recovery to read this Mental Health Awareness Month
When we condense the complexity of mental health into numbers, we risk depersonalizing this very human experience and contributing to social stigma. Here are seven personal stories you can read online this May.
Every May for Mental Health Awareness Month, social media platforms overflow with statistics and information about mental illness that, while important, can provide an over-medicalized outlook on the complex reality of living with any of these conditions. When we condense the complexity of mental health into numbers, we risk depersonalizing this very human experience and contributing to social stigma.
So, I’ve collected seven personal stories about life with mental illness you can read online this May.
Anxiety Chronicles — The Lily
The Anxiety Chronicles are a striking collection of short personal accounts submitted to The Lily, the revived women’s section of The Washington Post. Their goal with this column is to represent diverse perspectives on how women experience anxiety disorders. Last week’s article, for example, came from a French teacher in Oregon who wrote about the physical symptoms of her panic attacks and general anxiety. A post from February detailed one Southern woman’s emetophobia and social anxiety, and a story last year from a Creole self-care advocate explained how her trauma and panic attacks in childhood led to imposter syndrome and depression as an adult.
Finding the Face of Depression in a Mirror — HuffPost Personal
The structure of this essay reveals the therapeutic element of creating your own narrative as someone living with mental illness. For example, writer Craig Tomashoff waits to disclose that he’s battling depression until he’s several paragraphs deep. The introduction instead focuses on his reaction to comedic actor Robin Williams’ death by suicide, which Tomashoff says happened two weeks to the day after he received his own diagnosis. Reflecting on how Williams kept his sadness under wraps while making the rest of America laugh helps Tomashoff come to understand his own illness. His honest, darkly funny writing will resonate with anyone who has struggled to admit that they’re struggling.
“How’s Amanda?” A story of truth, lies and an American addiction — The Washington Post
It’s not first-person, but the blend of story and science in this article explains how heroin addiction changed one woman’s life in light of the national opioid crisis. Recovering addicts face particular challenges within the mental health care system because not all experts understand it as a disease, and seeing Amanda deal with the stigma shows how discouraging that message can be. Overall, the story focuses on her effort to stay clean long enough to be accepted into a new treatment program featuring naltrexone shots. These injections can help curb addiction by preventing a high from heroin, and Amanda believes that’s the only way she can end her 11-year addiction. Hers is a long, suspenseful, and emotional story that provides an important glimpse into life in recovery.
Avoiding stress and getting enough sleep are crucial to managing bipolar disorder. However, as a tax attorney, this author said that seemed nearly impossible when she first received her diagnosis. Many individuals with bipolar disorder lose or quit their jobs due to behavior that’s often perceived as erratic. Instead, this writer learned to work with some of her unshakeable symptoms, such as unpredictable mood swings, disorganization, and memory problems, to thrive in a fast-paced environment where supervisors don’t always understand her needs.
In this article, mental health therapist Nick Holt wastes no time getting to the point. He starts off with a phone conversation between himself and a young man calling the crisis hotline where Holt recently became a volunteer. By walking us through his trained responses and how predictable the caller’s thought patterns have become to Holt, he shows how certain risk factors and ways of thinking may influence suicidal ideation. During this particular phone call, though, he learns that preventing it might boil down to something a little more basic: empathy.
OCD, My Exhausting Best Friend — The New York Times
Wajahat Ali is a Muslim-American playwright and lawyer as well as president of the Before Columbus Foundation, a nonprofit promoting multicultural US literature. In this short piece, he explains how he came to realize that the intrusive thoughts from his obsessive-compulsive disorder stem from his natural instinct to protect himself. He characterizes OCD as a well-meaning “best friend” who wants to help him avoid harm but never warns of real danger, only perceived threats. Ali also speaks to experts about the clinical side of OCD, so his article is informative as well as personal.
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward — Pacific Standard
Loving someone with a mental illness can be just as difficult as facing your own, and this story of one couple’s experience with psychosis will show you that in gripping detail. Using powerful prose, author Mark Lukach describes falling in love with his wife, Giulia, and experiencing the changing dynamics in his marriage as he cares for her throughout hospitalizations, personality changes, and paranoid delusions. This story is well worth a read for anyone interested in the role of mental health conditions in otherwise happy relationships.