You don’t understand my mental illness and that’s OK

Here goes nothing.

I think all too often we forget that empathy and understanding are not synonymous.

There is nothing more offensive and nothing that minimizes a mental illness more than to tell someone that you understand what it feels like. The fact is that you don’t. I used to have a more gentle and arguably more classy approach but I think brute honesty is needed.

I was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Disorder a.k.a Bipolar Disorder over two years ago. In all technicality, I have been diagnosed Bipolar II which for clarification means I experience hypomania (a less severe form of mania) and more depressive episodes. Bipolar Disorder can worsen over time and even develop into Bipolar Schizophrenia. I’ll go into more depth with all of that another time. The gist of it being this disorder can very easily spiral out of control.


So I hope it is already making sense why I get upset when someone tells me they understand. I have talked at length to some of these people, including my partner and I’ve been told from their side it is a genuine desire to try and offer comfort, to make me feel less alone.In fact, it does the exact opposite. I appreciate their good intentions but if  I have to hear one more person tell me that they’ve had very similar experiences then I might instantaneously combust.

Here’s the difference. I do not deny or object to depression in other people. Nor do I deny or object to times when they have more energy than usual. Everyone’s moods fluctuate. Mostly everyone experiences highs and lows and maybe pretty consistently.
The key difference is that my highs always end in lows. Very low, lows. I never know when I am going to feel a certain way or how long any mood will last. The same can be said for ‘normal’ people but they do not experience that sudden shift. The shift between ecstasy to the absolute depths of Hell.

I know I am going to be okay… eventually. The problem is that each time I experience hypomania or a depressive episode I get more tired. Then times strike when I don’t want to have to deal with any of it anymore. The doctor’s appointments, taking my medications, ordering new prescriptions, sleeping and waking up at the same time (circadian rhythm plays a huge role) staying on a routine, doing self-help books, writing about it, practicing mindfulness and the list goes on.

It just amazes me sometimes. I feel almost guilty for writing so passionately about this but I would never tell anyone with an illness I do not have that I can understand what it is like. Not in a million years. I want you to know, whoever you are that it is hurtful to hear that. At times I have convinced myself I am not Bipolar. At other times I have completely embraced and accepted it.

I am not ‘normal’ and I cannot live a ‘normal’ life. I have withdrawn (dropped out) of school twice, quit my job twice and moved back home twice. And if you knew me you would know it was not my decision and I fought it each time. I wanted to move out, go to college and work. I wanted to support myself. Independence has always been my goal. I’ve learned that I can’t do it by myself. It isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just how it needs to be for me to be healthy. I am okay with who I am but please never tell me you know what it is like to be me. I will accept your individuality and I hope in return you will accept mine.

I want to thank those of you who have tried to comfort me. I want you to know that it is okay to not understand me. It is more than okay. Your love and support are all I ask for.

your friend,

Photo Credit:unsplash-logoTânia Soares


28 Replies to “You don’t understand my mental illness and that’s OK”

    1. Thank you for reading. It comes off a bit aggressive but everyone is going through their own unique struggle and that should definitely be respected but I am here for anyone. I think a supportive community is so vital for good mental health.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. When I became serious about learning about my diagnoses and what I could do to help myself deal with them I learned an important thing. A whole group of people can have the exact same diagnosis yet still experience the symptoms of them in different ways. We can relate to one another in some ways and just feel for each other and encourage one another not to give up with other things that we don’t understand. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Beautifully put! You condensed my lengthy and ramble filled article into an articulate paragraph. I fully agree. I think my frustration really comes from the sort of comments that minimize illness. Especially if the person commenting isn’t actively listening. I hope I didn’t come off too aggressive or bitter. I really appreciate your comment 🙂 sending my best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No you didn’t seem too aggressive or bitter. I’ve actually just been thinking about this today and had just come to this conclusion just prior to reading your post. So it was just fresh in my thoughts.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Okay that is comforting to read, truly. It’s a good thing to remember. I hope you are doing well and I also hope your conclusion has helped you in the same ways it has helped me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing such a truthful and empowering post. It takes a lot to speak your truth and make awareness of the hard struggle that is mental health . I think people can empathize with one another but never fully or truly understand another persons struggles when it comes to mental health. Comfort is a subjective thing and what works for one person doesn’t always work for another and I totally understand not finding comfort in people saying they can relate or understand when they haven’t been in that actual situation. I also think it’s so very important to not minimize anyone’s truth or struggle. Bipolar disorder like many mental health disorders is a hard thing to understand and manage. All people can do is show up and give love. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was such a wonderful thing to read. Thank you so much. Your words are truly so touching and they really mean so much to me. It comforts me a great deal to know that you understand and that’s the thing we can understand in little ways and that goes a long way. Sending you my best 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so true. No pain can ever be felt at the same death. Even if the cause is the exact same, no two people hurt the same and I hope the world gets that soon. Thank you for this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi – this captures exactly how I feel and experience my own illness… And you’ve very aptly described the changes we experience – the highs and the very very low lows. I am told regularly that I don’t have Bipolar and that I imagine it. I was even told to stop taking my medication and be strong. This has the same effect on me as “Shame, I know exactly how you feel”. If you have Skype, the angry emoji that explodes demonstrates what happens in my mind and heart when I’m told this. I’m battling to blog at the moment – I am experiencing a slight depressive relapse and I don’t know if people should be exposed to only deeply sad, trying to be happy me. I’m enjoying your blog and the shift in your writing though – so keep it going.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My heart goes out to you. To be told that you don’t know your own feelings has to be one of the most offensive and trying things to overcome but just from your comment I can sense that you are a very thoughtful and reflective person. There will always be those who doubt and my philosophy is to keep them out. Easier said than done. I encourage you to blog, blog, blog. Make sure to put any disclaimers and trigger warnings but also make sure to seek professional help if your lapse turns for the worst. You have a very supportive community behind you (including me!) And I am here rooting you on (not your depression of course) I look forward to reading your blog (no hurry) sending my best.


      1. Big smile and a big Bipolar high five, hug and let’s be honest, we might even squeeze in a cry. Because I think that often we live in a beautiful nightmare. I DO have a treatment team, go for therapy weekly and am on meds. Life’s circumstances however have dealt me a blow. But because of people like you and my other supports, it will not knock me out. In fact, I usually end up being stronger. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow what an endearing and genuine reply. Thank you so much. You offer me the same, if not more support and fuel for me to keep my head above water. We have a truly beautiful community. I am happy to hear you are being well taken care of and I am happy to know we will all continue to take care of one another. Best wishes my friend.


      3. Thank you friend. You said that magic word – friend – and even combo’d it with community, which means so much when its dark. Im privileged to be a part of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The first step, and the one so often neglected, in coming to understand anything (especially someone else’s experience) is to admit that we don’t understand.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love what you say about accepting individuality. It’s true that no two people will have exactly the same experience as each other. I have friends who deal with their depression differently than I do and I think that’s lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is something tragically beautiful about how we all endure pain differently. Thank you for your lovely comment. Sending my best.


    1. You’re an absolute love. Thank you so much for your kind words. Sending my best.


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