Mental Illness is Not a Choice


Five years ago, I found myself calling in sick for every shift of a very part time job.  I struggled to play and engage with my young children.  Every task and conversation required tremendous effort.  I felt sad and hopeless.  I knew I was drowning but I could not save myself.

My doctor diagnosed me with depression brought on by perimenopause and diminishing estrogen levels.  She prescribed an antidepressant and several lifestyle changes.  After six months, three medication changes, four dose adjustments and immeasurable grace, patience and kindness, I surfaced.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I was diagnosed early and responded quickly to treatment.  I had a handful of people in my life who understood depression and helped me keep my head above water during my darkest days.  So many people live with mental illness their entire lives with varying success of treatment and little or no support.

And I am angry.   I am angry that despite our best efforts to educate people, there is still a terrible stigma attached to mental illness which only deepens the feelings of isolation and loneliness for those battling it.  I am angry that there is a time limit on our compassion for those struggling with mental illness.  I am angry that people suffer alone.  I am angry that people continue to say hurtful things.

Know this:

  • I don’t just need a good night’s sleep
  • Yoga and vitamins are not the answer
  • This is not a case of mind over matter
  • A fun night on the town will not do wonders
  • I do not have any happy thoughts to think

Trust me if it was as simple as any of these I would have done all of them over and over again until the emptiness and despair were distant memory.

Don’t judge me or try to fix me or offer advice unless you know what the hell you are talking about.  I don’t want your ignorance to result in more guilt, shame or self-loathing.

I need you to listen to me.  I need you to educate yourself.  I need you to ask how you can help.  I need your compassion.  I need your love.

You know someone with depression, anxiety or PTSD.  You know someone with a mental illness.  They are within your reach.  You need to hear, support and love that someone.  We need you.  Even on the days when it is impossible to accept your love.  We need it.  No one should fight this battle alone.

Mental illness is not a choice.  I did not choose it.  It chose me.  The question is how will you choose to respond  when someone confides in you about their mental illness?


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