"Psycho." "Crazy." "Insane."
We've all heard someone use one of those terms to describe another person's behavior, or even said it ourselves. As harmless as the words seem, they carry a lot of weight, especially for people living with a mental health condition — around 1 in 5 Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
BuzzFeed Life reached out to 17 people living with mental health conditions to learn more about the challenges and stigma they face.
1. Getting a diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s the correct one.
2. It can take years, and lots of research, to understand how your condition actually works.
“I knew from age seven that I wasn't like other kids. I was always worried about dying, stressing about school, and very withdrawn. At 13, I started having panic attacks. It wasn't until 18 that I went to see a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, GAD [generalized anxiety disorder], PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and borderline personality disorder.
"When I was 20, I started researching my mental illnesses and looked into my family’s mental health history. It was the best and worst thing for me. My father, grandmothers on both sides, and a couple of aunts had diagnosed mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder was at the root of all their issues as well.”
—LaLa B., 28, life coach — bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder
3. Perhaps that’s because no two conditions are the same.
"There are as many kinds of mood disorders as there are kinds of people. Just like no two chicken pox are the same, there just is really no one mental illness. That means we all aren't the pilot who will take down the plane, or the mass shooter, or the girl who can't stop crying.
"Symptoms look different in each person. Solutions are different for each person and what works at one stage doesn't work later on. Before kids, antidepressants worked great. Then my body changed and I'm trying to figure out something else. I wish relatives, friends, and co-workers would stop putting depression in a tiny box with one recipe for health."
—Therese B., 44, founder of Project Beyond Blue — bipolar disorder 2 and treatment-resistant depression
4. Sometimes taking medication can make you feel worse.
5. Often, there is no quick fix.
6. Your condition can affect every aspect of your life.
"There are weeks when I don't shower or leave my apartment. When I feel OK and clean up, I feel a bit better."
—Danielle F., 54, applied for disability — major depressive disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and severe insomnia
7. It can affect you physically.
8. ...and socially.
"[My conditions] seem to have destroyed the very possibility of [a relationship] because when push comes to shove, any woman who wants to end a relationship with me can always use my condition as an excuse."
—Robert S., 53, proofreader — generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, depression
9. Intimacy can be challenging.
"My eating disorder affects intimacy — both physical and emotional — in a more significant way than anything else. I find it incredibly hard to accept compliments or to believe that my partner is attracted to me because my body is so disgusting in my mind.
"Borderline [personality disorder], in particular, makes relationships tough because I have a hard time holding on to facts about myself for a long time. So he might tell me that he loves me one day, and I can believe or accept it, but that knowledge seems to fade away and I question it over time."
—Olivia J., 25, freelance writer and marketing specialist — major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, eating disorder not otherwise specified, borderline personality disorder
10. And parenting downright exhausting.
11. It can strip you of your personality.
"Depression has stripped me of many of the qualities and quirks that make me, me. What's left is a husk of a person — someone I don't particularly like, so how can I expect others to like me?
"In the midst of my depression, I hate myself. It is very difficult to even tolerate yourself when you can seldom muster a shower and your personality has disappeared. I used to be a major tinkerer, always with a drill or paintbrush in hand. But depression has turned me into an inert lump, unable to cook for my family or even keep my hair clean.
"I feel totally disconnected to most of the people in my life and truly lonely for the first time in my life."
—Susie C., 48, stay-at-home mom — major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
12. And leave you wondering who you are.
13. Or questioning your potential.
"I was diagnosed with learning disabilities after transferring from public to private school in the third grade when I was eight years old. My first thought was I must be stupid. Already feeling shy as the new kid in school, the diagnosis only added my shyness and embarrassment."
—Zach V., 26, founder of Project Uplift — learning disabilities and ADHD
14. You’re tired of being labeled by your condition.
15. You are sick of people downplaying what it means to live with your condition.
16. You just want to move on and feel better.
"I struggled and still struggle with feeling not mentally ill enough to deserve help, telling myself I'm just lazy and overdramatic and looking for things to blame my problems on, and as a result I kept those problems to myself for years. I did so much unnecessary damage to myself and put myself through so much extra stress because I convinced myself this was just how I naturally was and how life was supposed to be for me. Those are the kinds of lies depression tells us and the kinds of lies anxiety latches on to. They're in no way the truth."
—Chelsea P., 26, — currently unemployed — depression and generalized anxiety disorder
17. It’s time to end the stigma.
"Stop calling us bipolar or schizophrenic. Stop labeling us. You don't say someone is cancer or diabetes. I'm not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder. We are people, not diseases. Our diseases don't define us, and people shouldn't use them to define us either."
—Joe, 40, applying for disability — bipolar disorder 1, anxiety, depression