There are some silver linings to mental illness. For example, my anxiety disorder made me so concerned about failing in college that I obsessed about the material even when I wasn’t studying. My anxiety disorder also causes me to double-check the house before I leave, which is annoying as heck, but at least I can leave knowing I didn’t leave the stove on. And there is always the truth that no matter how bad my depression or anxiety might be, chances are someone somewhere has it worse.
But to be blunt, I’m not them. And comparing my darkness to theirs minimizes my own experiences. And telling someone that there are others who have it worse sends the message that unless you are the most hopeless case in all the world, your feelings don’t matter.
Let me say this clearly, that is complete bullshit. Your feelings matter. You matter.
It took me a long time to learn that. It is still something I struggle with. And especially early on in my recovery, I felt like people were constantly telling me that I needed to cheer up, that I needed to look on the bright side. Well, guess what? The bright side doesn’t always need to be looked upon.
It is okay to not be okay. That isn’t just a cliched sentiment, it is a battle cry for all those who’ve been through the darkness, who know that the darkness will come again, and who recognize that is okay. For me, I remind myself that it is okay to not be okay because I’ve survived every bad day before and I can survive this one.
And if you want to support someone living with a mental illness, telling them to just cheer up or to just look on the bright side is almost universally viewed as being unhelpful.
For me, support is just having someone acknowledge my darkness, someone who is willing to sit with me through the pain. Telling me that I need to just bounce back ignores that pain and is likely to send me further down the rabbit hole of depression. But everyone is different, so if you know some who is struggling, ask them what helps.
Don’t tell them to look on the bright side. Simply be their bright side.