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What Mental Illness Is Really Like

Alice Sullivan is a teacher and aspiring writer based in Prague. She writes about mental health, intersectional feminism, and travel.

There is a stigma around talking about mental health. Yes, it is acceptable to advocate for mental health and encourage self-care now. However, the ugly side of many mental illnesses is frequently overlooked.

I am getting more confident to talk openly about my mental health, but it can still be a struggle getting others to actually understand. I may not pretend to have a sickness bug to avoid confronting my boss about a mental health day anymore, but it still feels frowned upon to admit to having some of the lesser-known symptoms.

In the lockdown, everyone was feeling a bit down whether you had existing depression or not, and in some ways that brought more understanding and awareness to taking care of our mental health.

With a second lockdown approaching for many of us, I wanted to bring attention to some issues I am experiencing with my mental illnesses. I don’t think a lot of neurotypical people understand how draining having a mental illness can be.

The quiet streets of Prague in lockdown

The quiet streets of Prague in lockdown

Lack of Self-Care

A lot of people love to talk about how having a nice hot bath, a candle, and a face mask is a cure to their bad mood. That is often the case, but for people who suffer from severe depression, it isn’t that simple.

When I am in a depressive cycle, I often haven’t showered for multiple days or when I have I haven’t washed my hair. I haven’t done my laundry in a long time, so I don’t have clean clothes to wear. The trash is building up in my room because I haven’t had the energy to take it out. It becomes overwhelming and there is too much to do, so you do nothing.

I have recently started to come out of this spiral, but it took a lot of strength and effort. Firstly, I did one load of laundry on Friday. While that was being washed, I picked up all the trash on one side of my room and put it into bags. I ate two meals on this day, which is an improvement from my 5 PM depression meal I had been getting used to.

On Saturday, I cleared my desk, did another load of laundry, and went grocery shopping. On Sunday and Monday, I didn’t really do anything but I did feel better for having a clearer space.

Today, I put away my dry laundry, took two bags of trash out, and went to Tesco to buy another bed sheet. I didn’t have a spare one that fits on my bed while I wash my bedding and the thought of going out has been too difficult the last few days. I also started writing this after having no inspiration for a while. I forgot to eat today, but I am going to try a vegan place nearby on my way to the shop.

It is really difficult for me to maintain cleanliness and look after myself the same way a non-mentally ill person would. I have always been embarrassed by my room and would rarely invite someone over. I have been told I am lazy, disorganized, and messy my entire life.

Even while I was travelling from hostel to hostel, my living space would get messy. Living in a hostel for a month and having to organise my things when I leave was hell.

This was especially bad with a capsule bed where I could close the curtain and pretend the mess wasn’t there. I also would rarely spend time there, so it didn’t really matter and I could avoid it.

Poor Eating Habits

I have to set alarms to remind me to eat and drink when I am not with other people. I don’t know many other people who have this problem, but when I am alone it can get really bad.

Living at home with Mum, I would see her eat and remember that it was time to eat, but would need reminders to drink water. When Mum would go to work, she would sometimes come home to find me sitting in the exact position she left me in. I had forgotten to eat or drink all day.

While traveling, food was a social event, or I would be excited to try a new restaurant. It was easier to not forget, but I did often fall into the habit of eating one meal in the late afternoon before work and then eating some drunk food at 2 AM. It was a bad habit, but it was just how my life was at the time.

It was better when I worked in a different hostel where I could eat all my meals there. If I was hanging out in the common area, I would often meet people and see them eat, which would remind me if I hadn’t eaten.

Sometimes you gotta order from your local vegan buffet to replace those lost nutrients

Sometimes you gotta order from your local vegan buffet to replace those lost nutrients

Now, I live alone in Prague. I try to eat one meal before work and one meal after work, however, when I began to lose control of my self-care, I wouldn’t always have time to eat. My lessons wouldn’t finish until 6 PM, and I would try to stop at a vegan buffet on my way home, as I wouldn’t have the energy to cook for myself.

Sometimes, I would buy lunch on my way to work and eat what I can before or snack between lessons to keep me going.

Since lockdown began, I would say it is more common for me to forget. When I was in my teaching routine, I would eat before and after my lessons. However, this week it is the Autumn holidays and my habits are getting really bad again. It is a constant struggle to stay on top of my own self-care.

Intrusive Thoughts

For me, it is uncomfortable to talk to other people about intrusive thoughts. If you don’t experience them, you wouldn’t know how unsettling and disturbing it can be.

My thoughts usually revolve around self-hatred or telling myself that nobody would care if I die. It’s more than just the anxiety that someone doesn’t like you. Your thoughts actively sabotage everything you do by making you genuinely believe things that are false and change how you would normally react to something.

Sometimes, the thoughts come as a compulsion that is difficult to ignore. This could be self-harm or suicidal ideation. It’s similar to that feeling when you are in a high place and your brain is telling you to jump but in every situation.

My mentally ill brain also likes to convince me that every situation I am in is unsafe. When I walk to the supermarket, I think of every single possibility where I get kidnapped or murdered every time a person in the street passes me.

Editors note: If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in crisis, you can get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline.

If you live in the United States, try the

Befrienders Worldwide and the International Association for Suicide Prevention are two organizations that provide contact information for crisis centers outside of the United States.

An important reminder from Hope With Mental Health

An important reminder from Hope With Mental Health

Sometimes I don't even realise that the things I do are related to my mental illnesses until I read something online or spoke to a neurotypical friend about it.

Realising that your brain works differently from the people around you can be overwhelming. Mental illness is talked about more openly but is also used as quirky things for memes. Some can be really helpful to find something to relate to and understand that other people suffer in the same ways as you.

Just remember: If you are going to support mentally ill people, you have to support the ugly, difficult symptoms with the same energy you do the common ones.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.