I live with a mental illness that affects my mood every day. I live with a mental illness that will never go away, it can’t be cured, so I just have to learn to manage it. I live with a mental illness that makes me sad, angry or numb a lot of the time.
But sometimes I feel happy.
Those moments are usually fleeting. I have Borderline Personality Disorder, so I experience mood swings throughout the day. I can be smiling and laughing one minute, and then crying the next. I can feel great about my friendships and then suddenly feel like everyone hates me and is whispering behind my back. Most of the time, it isn’t rational, and I know that, but knowing this doesn’t change much when my mind is brilliant at convincing me otherwise.
The problem is that when I do have those small snapshots of joy, the ones that I want to tug close and never let go of, it can feel shameful. It can cause me to doubt my mental illness.
Do I really have it that bad if I feel happy right now? Am I really struggling if I feel happy for an hour? If I tell people that I feel good, will they stop believing how bad it can get?
But mental illnesses aren’t always a constant state; in fact, they usually aren’t. So having a good day doesn’t mean that you’re not mentally ill.
Firstly, let’s acknowledge the fact that even if someone looks happy, you don’t know what their experience is like. It isn’t too difficult to fake a smile and laugh, a lot of us have grown highly experienced in this. Just because someone looks happy, it doesn’t mean that they actually are.
So someone laughing at a joke, or having a good day, isn’t some kind of evidence. You can’t hold it against them or make assumptions - “they’re clearly not that depressed then!”. You have no idea what is actually going on in their head. They may be minimising their own struggle in an attempt to make you feel more comfortable. They may be trying their best to hold everything in right now so they can spend some time away from their mind.
You don’t know. You just don’t know what someone is feeling. So if someone looks like they’re having a great time, they might not be; they might still need your care. Be there for them and don’t mention how happy they seemed that one time, because now is what matters.
Bottling up all of your emotions is exhausting and makes you feel responsible for the effect you have on others. In addition, it can be damaging to your own health and emotions.
And on the other side of the coin, are people who have a mental illness but do feel happy at that moment, day, week or month. It can happen. You can have good times just as likely as you have bad times.
But feeling happy now, surrounded by people you trust and love, doesn’t mean you always feel this way. Likewise, laughing at a joke doesn’t mean that you won’t go home and cry later. Emotions can be temporary and fleeting; in fact, they usually are.
It isn’t fair to judge someone by only their brightest moments, just like we shouldn’t judge people’s lives from their social media reels. There are twenty-four hours in a day, we’re probably awake for about sixteen of them, and a lot can happen in that period. So if someone seems fine when they’re with you, don’t assume they always have to be that way.
If you feel happy now and sad later, then both of those emotions are justified. You don’t have to hide the one that suits others better. Feeling as if you can’t demonstrate your good moments is an awful experience. You should be clinging to your joy and making the most of it, not shoving it away in an attempt to feel realistic. Your experience is whatever it is; you don’t have to shape your mental illness to suit the assumptions of others.
Living with a mental illness is an exhausting and isolating experience, so when you get those good days, grab them with both fists. Don’t hide your happiness in an attempt to be ‘believable’, as the people that matter will believe you either way. If needed, explain that to those who matter most to you. Explain that your mood can fluctuate and make you feel good then bad, discuss recent times when it was hard.
You don’t have to excuse how you feel; you just have to deal with it the best that you can, perhaps with the help of treatment, support and other tools. Having a good day doesn’t mean that you won’t have bad days; it just means that you’re getting the briefest break from the hard times.
However you feel is how you feel, whether that’s happy or sad, whether it makes sense to other people or doesn’t. Don’t feel like you need to package your experience neatly into what people stereotype depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses to be. There is good within the bad, which doesn’t deter from how bad it can get. How you feel right now isn’t always an accurate depiction of how you can feel at other times and can also be a cover for your true feelings. Embrace your emotions, whatever they are, and find the people that let you do that.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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