• Rachel Paige

Maybe Maybe Maybe

Recovery is great, but there is one problem with it. It’s common for people with mental illnesses to question if the illness ever existed when the symptoms begin to ease. The idea that people with mental illnesses are “faking it for attention” is everywhere. Even if it’s not said aloud, it’s implied each time we’re told to try harder.

When enough of the world around you says you’re faking, you begin to wonder if it’s true. Especially when medication is working and therapy is helping and the mental illness is no longer taking over your life.

What if it never existed?

I’ve wondered that. Here’s the thing: I have depression, but currently, I am not depressed. If I were to take a depression screening questionnaire right now, it’d say I’m fine. But I’m not. If I stopped taking my meds tomorrow morning, if I threw them all away and decided I didn’t need them anymore, my depression would come back.

Same with my social anxiety. I still feel that every day, but not to the extent I used to. And at times I wonder if I was faking. Maybe I was just shy. Maybe I just wanted attention. Maybe I was using it to get out of things I didn’t want to do. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…

I wasn’t faking. If I stopped taking those meds tonight, it’d all come rushing back. You know how I know? Because that’s what happens on the rare occasions I forget to take my meds.

I’m going to compare this to physical problems, because I like doing that. Let’s look at glasses. I wear them and my vision is not perfect. But when I wear my glasses, I can see fine. Was I faking having bad eyesight? No, obviously not. If I take my glasses off right now, my vision goes back to exactly how it was before.

The same thing happens with medication. I don’t think about my eyesight all the time, because it’s handled. I don’t think about my depression and social anxiety all the time either.

I’ve mentioned that in high school, I got anxiety attacks that felt like heart attacks. I was in the ER for them several times. I was told time and time again nothing was wrong with me, and I began to wonder if that was true. Even after we decided they were anxiety attacks, the thoughts remained.

Because during those attacks, I knew, deep in my mind, if I took some deep breaths and concentrated, the attack would go away. But I couldn’t do it. Or… wouldn’t do it? Maybe I was just faking all of those. Maybe I never had an actual anxiety attack. Maybe I wasted everyone’s time. Maybe… Maybe… Maybe…

They were real. They were real and they were terrifying. It didn’t matter that I knew on some level what was happening and how to fix it, I couldn’t. Because I was having an anxiety attack. A real one.

I haven’t had a full-blown anxiety attack in over six months. I used to get them at least once a week. Sometimes I’d have several in one day. The only difference is I’m treating them. If I stopped doing that, they’d come back. It doesn’t mean I was faking then and it doesn’t mean I’m faking now.

Progress is great, but when symptoms disappear, it’s easy to forget the illness is still there. I still have depression. I still have social anxiety. They are both well controlled, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone.

They exist in me. On some level they always will. I’m not faking; I’m just doing well. It’s a good reminder for myself and it’s a good reminder for others as well. Just because someone with mental illness is doing well, it doesn’t mean they’re cured. The next time they can't get out of bed, or they have an anxiety attack, they aren’t faking. They’re just dealing more obviously with an illness that never left.

I wasn’t faking. I won't be faking. It may feel like my depression and anxiety are gone at times, but they aren’t. I’m just doing a good job controlling them.

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