The Emotional Labor Union
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Voices as Power

My Brain on Mental Illness

My Brain on Mental Illness

When you live with mental illness, and you’re cognizant of it, every day is like watching yourself in third person; watching with horror as you follow a pattern you swore to kick; watching in the backseat as you spurt verbal diarrhea on an unsuspecting person who doesn’t need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s over analyzing every thought, every move, and text you send. It’s a never ending prison of spiral staircases that only lead down to a pit of molten lava in your brain.

Hi, I’m Beth. I live with Major Depressive Disorder, ADD, anxiety, and disordered eating.

My therapist has come up with the most accurate description of me... ever: “Beth, you’re the type of person who goes to ride a bike before you know how & then gets mad because the bike isn’t on a tight wire over a fire.” So, I’m also incredibly stubborn.

Truer words have never been spoken.

If I break down all the mental illness stuff of mine, it boils down to this:

Having ADD causes a lot of anxiety because I lack a supreme amount of impulse control over my behavior (read: I’m often “too much”) and my brain works about 500-miles/minute so I sometimes can’t even catch my own thoughts as they’re whizzing by in my brain space. So, this anxiety creates a lot of depression (though, I have depression in the form of chemical changes and not just “I’m blue”). This depression causes my ADD to go out of whack, because people with ADD feel things on extreme levels. So when I’m up I am UP, but when I’m down? Oh boy... lord help the people I vent to.

THEN the only thing I feel I have control over, is, you guessed it! Food.

At least with ADD, it makes me a functional human when I’m going through a super depressive episode. Most people can’t even tell that I’d like to die, and that’s probably the really scary part to my loved ones (or your loved ones if you can totally relate to this). Having ADD means that I can’t sit still -- I need to keep going. I’ve learned to allow myself to “give in” to the depression when I just can’t continue anymore, but then I only allow it for a day and then up and at ‘em, again! It’s good but frustrating at the same time.

I can’t keep my brain from moving at top speed all the time but when I’m in a depressive episode, while I’m quite functional, the functionality of my brain changes from a million ideas that I can’t quite catch to a brain that can’t focus on anything. At all. So, in those down moments, when I could be getting a lot done, I cannot. It’s like my brain is bleeding out (terrible analogy, but there you go) and I can’t hold anything in. Nothing matters and yet I can’t stop. I. Can’t. Stop. Stop what? Moving, I guess. And this is why people can’t really tell when I’m suffering. I hold it in because I’ve been the burden; I’ve been the person that people have to scoop up off the floor and take to my therapy appointments every day because I’m done. Done.

Sometimes, the craziest thing about depression is that I won’t even know I’m in an episode until I check in with myself-- “Hey, Beth. Why are you so tired and everything feels like a bag of sand?”

Ohhhh yeah. I’m in an episode.

I’m THAT functional; I hide it even from myself.

I have friends that hate all these labels, but for me it’s important to understand what each thing is so I can be armed with tools to battle it in my own anxiety-riddled brain. Being armed is part of the battle and I think it’s an important part. It helps quell the fear-based anxiety that is always there. Knowing what it is helps to stop a spiral from happening, or at the very least, able to prevent myself from spiraling out into crazy town.

A typical pattern, for me, goes something like this: I’m feeling great! I’m on top of the world. I believe good things are meant for me and I will continue to pursue my dreams! (A week or so passes and nothing good has happened.) Well, this is frustrating, but it’s okay-- I’ve got this. (A small amount of time passes.) Why can’t I get a date? Am I going to wind up alone? Why don’t men want me? Why doesn’t the man I want, want me? I’m a good person, right? Why am I not going out on auditions? Why does my body look this way? When is my show going to sell? Why can’t I find a job I enjoy in the meantime? Will I ever be happy? Why do I feel like I have to apologize for myself all the time? Who am I really? Am I a good person? Am I a burden? How did I not succeed in killing myself a few years ago? Wow, I really am a horrible person if I couldn’t even make that happen. How much is morphine online? If I stock up on it now, when I am ready I can just go peacefully. Do I have my affairs in order? Why was I born? I didn’t ask for this! (Some time passes.) Okay, I can do this. I’m on top of the world!

Every. Damn. Time.

Let’s be real though -- it’s way more nuanced than that, but yeah. You get the point.

What’s super crazy is that most of my self-worth is wrapped up in one of a two things. Either with how the man I like views me or my ability to entertain a populous. If neither one of those things isn’t happening (which is the case all the time) then good luck to me!

Being on this weird roller coaster we call “life” I find it incredibly important to “therapist up”. Seriously. Even if you’re like “oh, I’m fine”, I implore you to find a therapist to speak with. It might take you a few tries, too, to find the right fit and that’s okay! Even if you only go in once a month for a check up, think of how freeing it is to talk to someone who isn’t there to offer you advice or judge you (at least not to your face). In talk therapy, you get to talk it out! Figure out what’s going on with you, find your patterns and miss-steps, and then learn tools to help you cope with them.

I feel the most powerful whenever I walk out of a therapy sesh. I feel armed with ways to fight my own damn brain and that feels good.

Being a human is weird. It’s tricky and convoluted and no one has a clue as to what they’re doing. However, being able to label an emotion in its truest form and understanding where it’s coming from truly helps battle anxiety and depression. Logic is a wonderful thing, but until you can master your emotions, you have zero control. Emotions are a tricky bitch, so remember this:

Be gentle with others. Be gentle with YOU.

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ELU Contributor

Beth Nintzel is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles, CA. You can check out her other work at or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bethnintzel