Many people suffer with mental illness without even knowing it because some symptoms are things all people face from time to time. Many of us have sad days, feel lonely, have negative thoughts, feel hopeless, struggle with expressing feelings, and more. How do we tell if it’s just a natural feeling or mental illness? Sometimes people with mental illness have lived their lives for so long in the hole that they think their darkness is natural.

   For a big part of my childhood and all my teen years, I felt a deep darkness within my soul. I didn’t know how to describe my feelings and thoughts, so I kept them deep within me. This led to breakdowns and angry fits. I thought I was just different and what I was dealing with was who I was. I saw myself as an angry, sad, and lonely person. My mom always told me I saw the glass half empty. I thought it was part of my personality.

   When my cousin died, the hole became deeper. My feelings were out of control. I dipped further into sadness. The feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and lack of energy increased. I had always struggled with sleep, but it suddenly became impossible. I sat up all night drowning in my thoughts. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what. I told my family I was fine when I was dying inside. How could I tell them something wasn’t right with me when I didn’t know what it was?

   One day, at college, I went to a table set up with information on mental illness. I knew my grandmother on my mom’s side had mental illness, but I knew very little about it. I picked up a pamphlet on depression. In it I found that I had most of the symptoms. Suddenly everything made sense. I knew at that moment I had been suffering with a mental illness and I needed help. I looked back at my younger years and realized I had been sick for a while.

   I learned that a lot of the symptoms I felt were feelings people have dealt with at one point or another in their lives. The difference is I felt them on a daily basis and all at once. Nothing seemed to ease them. I also learned that for people who have mental illness the darkness, the feelings of worthlessness, and other symptoms were more powerful than what healthy people feel.

   In other words, when you fall down into the hole of darkness and no matter how hard you try you can’t climb up, when sadness blankets your soul, smothering you, when your negative thoughts flood your mind relentlessly and emotions stab your insides over and over again until you’re drained of energy, you have a mental illness. This doesn’t happen once in a while; it happens daily. When nothing can shine the light within your soul, then you know you need help.

   There are many different mental illnesses, but if you notice you have feelings, thoughts, actions that you struggle with on a daily basis and you find it hard or impossible to function, tell someone and find help. Mental illness is treatable, but you must first recognize and accept you have a problem.

   When I learned I have mental illness and recognized the symptoms, I worked hard to reach for recovery. It was a long and difficult path, but it was worth it. Now that I know that I have an illness, I work hard daily to stand tall within the light.

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