What It’s Like

Hey there mister Tin Man
You don’t know how lucky you are
If you’d ever felt one breaking
You wouldn’t want a heart

-Miranda Lambert

I wept my way through a funeral last weekend. Obviously, that’s normal, but I barely knew this young man. He was loved by many people I care about and they spoke of him with admiration and respect. Last week this man lost his battle to mental illness and took his own life.

At his memorial service I cried for two reasons:

  1. I felt the sadness of those who will miss him for the rest of their lives.
  2. I could physically feel this man’s pain.

I know that doesn’t make sense. But it’s true.

And even though I’m not at that point and I don’t think I ever will be, I know a little bit of what that would feel like. 

Maybe you already know this from experience or from the people around you, but if you don’t, I want you to understand: mental illness is torture.

At least, it’s what I imagine physical torture to be like. They tie you down or lock you in so you can’t escape, and they hurt you over and over again. And then, when you are broken and bleeding, they tell you they won’t stop. They will never go away until they get what they want. You lose hope.

That’s mental illness. It’s a voice lying to you, telling you to be afraid or hopeless or wildly manic or to binge. It’s not usually a perceptible voice (although that happens too) but it’s there. And it feels more real than hugs or food or success or safety.

For me, the voice tells me I am doing it wrong. Like, everything. Life. And once I am overwhelmed and hopeless and crushed from trying to figure out what I am doing wrong and how to fix it, the voice tells me I will always feel this way. That I might as well give up because the pain will never end.

Every mental illness feels a little bit different, at least according to an informal poll I conducted among my friends. But the common threads are that it feels real and you can’t get away from it. Some things can quiet the voice for a while, like alcohol or medication or a fun evening with friends, and sometimes there is slow healing and change, but there is no guaranteed cure.

At this point, I don’t have a neat and tidy wrap up for this post. I don’t know what to say here to end things. So I’ll close with a note for each of you:

To those of you who love someone with mental illness: Please know that it is not the torture that takes us down, it is the feeling of being stuck here in this chamber forever. Whether it’s an extra hug or helping us find a good counselor, trying to help us change the future is really all you can do. And we need you. 

To my fellow mentally ill, beautiful humans: You are not alone. I know that doesn’t really help, because you are the only one in your head. But know that we are in this together. We may be in different torture chambers, but I am right next door. I hear you. And I am sorry this is where we are. But I believe that we can outlast this. There is hope, because things do change. You are not alone.

6 thoughts on “What It’s Like

  1. Esther B. Bader November 22, 2019 / 10:50 am

    Beautiful, Ashleyne, about a very ugly subject. It gave me some needed insight as I volunteer here in a cottage residence for disadvantaged kids, and I struggle to understand why they behave as they do. We really have no idea what they’re dealing with in their heads and hearts.

    • ashleyne November 22, 2019 / 4:32 pm

      I’m so glad it felt helpful, Esther. Thanks for taking the time to invest in those around you!

  2. Teresa November 22, 2019 / 1:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Ash. It’s really brave of you to share, and eye-opening for your readers. I have a family member that suffers with PTSD, and I really don’t understand what he’s going through. He seems to treat it with alcohol, which makes me really sad and scared for him. I hope that spending some time focusing on your physical health helps you deal with this illness. I certainly like seeing you at the gym! (And I’m always up for a hug!)

    • ashleyne November 22, 2019 / 4:33 pm

      Thanks, Teresa! I so appreciate your kind words and smiling face!

  3. Rebecca November 23, 2019 / 9:40 pm

    Thanks for your honesty, Ashleyne. I can relate to your descriptions of mental health, as someone who has struggled, survived some really low seasons, and still has to fight some days when the tendencies surface. I’ve also felt the pain of losing someone to mental illness. Your struggle is real and oh so challenging. But please know, there is hope. You are not failing at life. You are enough. You are a beautiful, cherished friend, with so many gifts and talents. Your identity is that of a beloved daughter of the Almighty God, not your illness. I’m always available for you, Friend. Sending you a virtual hug!

    • ashleyne November 29, 2019 / 2:38 pm

      Thank you, friend. I so value you and your words. 💙

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s