The unbearable invisibility of being mentally ill

For years I worked with brain injury. Depending upon the cause, damage to the brain can mark the survivor with more or less obvious physical impairments. But frequently the greatest impact leaves no obvious trace on the outside. The injury takes its most significant toll on memory, behaviour and fatigue.

Not unlike mental illness.

Copyright JM Schreiber 2014
Copyright JM Schreiber 2014

For many who have never had direct experience of mental illness the tendency is to imagine the extreme – psychotic, eccentric, suicidal behaviour. But the reality is so much more complicated, so much more subtle and, on the outside it is often so apparently normal. Especially for those of us who live with anxiety and mood disorders.

We look like other people. We have lives, families, jobs when we are well enough. But sometimes those things are tenuous. And yet there is this inability to step away from the condition and observe it, no CAT scans or MRIs to chart the progress of the illness or mark remission.

Copyright JM Schreiber 2014
Copyright JM Schreiber 2014

Recovery is a slippery concept. It depends so much on how we feel.

And the deeper we look the harder it is to know exactly how we feel.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

5 thoughts on “The unbearable invisibility of being mentally ill”

  1. I was just wondering what ‘mentally healthy’ people spend their time thinking of. Even when I’m stable it’s a constant mental checklist. Your post is spot on. This is a weird kind of invisibility that I just have to get used to.


    1. I was stable, more or less for the better part of the past 16 years and when hypomanic elements started to return (probably to cope with the incredible work stress) I had assumed I was well beyond mental checklists. Realizing finally that I had tipped into full blown mania was a shock. Now I feel like I am at ground zero again, trying to find a baseline and make sense of the pattern of illness for me now.
      Thank you for the comment and I have returned to follow.


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