Pretending to Be Okay

Like many with mental illness, I will always put on a brave face when I am at work or with people who are not in my inner circle. It is what I call the “I’ve got it together” look. I guess, everyone does that a little bit, whether you have a mental illness or not. Especially at work, you want to demonstrate to your boss and colleagues that you are a viable part of the team and that you deserve that salary. A few years back, I thought I kind of still “got it together” at work despite suffering some major anxiety from some health and personal issues. To me, I thought I was doing ok.

Fast foward to today, and I am chatting to one of my coworkers who knows about my mental illness. She told me that she felt I have really “blossomed” in the last few years and that I looked so much more relaxed lately. We often refer to mental illness as an invisible illness, but I realized no matter how I tried, it is impossible to completely hide it. We often imagine how we project ourselves to the world, but we really don’t know how others see you until they tell you. So is it even worth hiding your mental state? I don’t think anyone could live with all their emotional states in full view all the time. However, I really don’t think it is necessary to be smiling and pretending to be ok all time. Everyone has their ups and downs and to bottle all that up is certainly not healthy.

Who Isn’t Scared of Dying?

Who isn’t scared of dying? I certainly am, and perhaps, it is the root of most of my anxiety. I assumed everyone was scared as well. Yet, when I posed this question to my friends and family, many did not seem that worried. In fact, many answered that “everyone dies” and since it is going to happen sooner or later, it is best not to think about it too much.

For most of us, the thought of dying is probably just a passing thought. Recently, I had a bit of a health scare. To be honest, my doctor pretty much told me that there isn’t much to be worried about. However, as an anxious person, even if there is a 1% chance of death, I pretty much think I’m dying. I literally had a big meltdown at my doctor’s office and called my husband sobbing. What if I was really dying? What would I really want to before I died? Maybe I would want to go on a trip. Maybe I would want to follow a crazy childhood dream.

I thought about this question for days and I realized if I found out I was going to die soon, there is probably nothing out of the ordinary I would want to do. I probably would just want to stay put and just spend time with my friends and family. Miraculously, as if the world was listening to me, Keanu Reeve’s video about what he thinks happens after death starting going viral on the internet. He was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s show and was asked the the age-old question of what he thinks happens after we die. His answer was not what everyone expected. He said that “I know that the ones that love us will miss us.” Even Stephen Colbert couldn’t argue with that. In the end, I realized it wasn’t about what “I” wanted to do before I die. What was more important were the memories I left with my loved ones.

Doctor Anxiety

For me, going to the doctor brings on the worst anxiety. I have had to take anti-anxiety medication in the waiting room and have even cried through entire appointments. Like anyone with a chronic illness, there are some days where I wonder what it would be like not have anxiety. What it would be like to be a “normal” person? I especially feel this when I see people calmly sitting in the waiting room or people who can say “if there is something wrong, it is better to find out earlier and fix it.” It would be so amazing if I could sit in that waiting room with acceptance and positivity about what was going to happen next.

Of course, till this day, it is not anything like that. Mostly, it is me trying to convince myself that I don’t have cancer or some terminal illness. Then, I clasp and unclasp my hands like a million times, feel like I am going to throw up any minute, and can’t even sit still in my chair. Even though, all logical reasoning points to the fact that I will unlikely die, I will somehow convince myself that I will be that 1% exception that will. That is how anxiety works because you end up being fixated on the unlikely. It is frustrating and completely illogical. I’m still working on it, and I don’t know if I will ever enter a doctor’s office with zero anxiety. However, I realize I can’t just enter a medical institution when I finally have to go to the emergency, so the battle continues.

25. Silent Witness

Many things evoke memories, including songs, smells, and photographs. For me, I own an air plant, which often makes me reflect about my mental illness journey. I have had the air plant for a little under ten years now. It has always sat on my desk somewhere. Kind of like a silent witness of my last ten years. Sometimes, I have this irrational thought that if it died one day, my life is going to take a downturn as well. Kind of morbid, I know.

The state of this air plant often mirrored how I was doing at the time. If it was growing and thriving, I was probably doing well mentally. If it was curled up and dry, it meant that I had not remembered to water it. I was probably having a tough time and having trouble even maintaining my basic needs. When I felt better, I started to wonder why my plant didn’t die from lack of watering. Later, I found out my mom was spritzing it occasionally. I just hadn’t noticed.

A couple years ago, the roots got so dry, they even broke off. I thought it was going to die for sure, but somehow, I noticed one day, they had grown back. Talk about the perfect metaphor for how I have felt the last few years. Revived and thriving, I dare say, a little bit. Hey little plant, don’t give up, hope to see you for another ten years, at least.

24. More Compassion, Less Judgement

I just came back from trip to Los Angeles. Of course, there were plenty of fun adventures, like going to Universal Studios, and eating way too many tacos. However, I also came back with some memories that made me feel uneasy and contemplative. We decided to do a taco tour that included a trip to a location in downtown Los Angeles. If you are familiar with their downtown area, you will be aware that many homeless people reside there.

At one point, we had to drive pass a street which had quite a few homeless people living on it. As we passed by, my Los Angeles relatives talked about how scared they were driving on that street. This struck me as quite weird as I was not as scared as they were. Afterwards, I asked them why they were so scared. They recounted stories they had heard about homeless people that had pushed people into the street or injured someone. I was pretty speechless during this whole conversation. The only words I could muster were that “no one chooses to be on the street, I don’t think.”

When I was hospitalized, I slept next to mental illness patients from all walks of life. Having gotten to know them, I can tell you they are not all dangerous. Instead, I found most of the far from that. Obviously, I don’t suggest you put yourself in any sort of danger. I am just saying that we should be more compassionate and less stereotypical of those who are homeless. If you ever walk or drive past homeless people, instead of thinking they are all dangerous, try to envision them as individuals, as one of us. Each person has their own story and we have no idea what lead to their life on the streets.

23. Into the Flame

I have been addicted to a Korean drama called “Mr Sunshine” lately. The story follows a noblewomen who is secretly a part of the Righteous Army in Korea. As Joseon (Korea’s former name) is slowly taken over by the Japanese, she fights to keep her homeland free. Of course, there is a love story and other plot twists as well. No, I don’t think I can be part of any army. However, I particularly love the main character’s choice to live a life where she can say she walked “into the flame” and shone brightly. In this way, she felt she was able to live the best version of herself.

Nowadays, talking about putting your life on the line daily, might seem quite dramatic to many people. Even though there are still many wars being fought in the world, I have been lucky to not have seen war in my country. However, I think there is something to be learned from this Korean drama. Have we done things in our life where we walked the tightrope? Have we done things that in our life that risked our life just a little bit? I don’t support reckless behaviour, but have we even hovered near that “flame” at least once in our life?

I would like to think that hovered around that “flame” a little bit. My first brush with mental illness occurred after my first breakup. It took a while to recover from that, but I decided to date my husband knowing that the extra stress of relationships might be the catalyst for another bout of depression. I even attempted to have a baby knowing that it will bring on a lot of stress and possibly trigger my mental illness. I don’t know if every time I walked near the flame, I succeeded. However, I definitely felt more empowered by the fact that I even tried. Hopefully, I could look back one day and feel like I “shone” a few times in my life. 

22. The Neurotypical Brain?

I have been loving a show lately called The Good Doctor, which is about a doctor who is on the autism spectrum. During one of the shows, they mentioned a medical term called neurotypical and my ears perked up for some reason. “What is neurotypical?” I asked myself. As someone with a mental illness, I have been told by my doctor that I am pretty much like everyone else, except I have a bit of anxiety. Was it true or was he just being nice? However, hearing words like “neurotypical” make me think the later. I will probably never be labelled neurotypical, would I?

Medically, neurotypical is actually a word used to describe individuals who are not autistic. However, in my mind, it also made me think about myself. Obviously, I figure that there is something not typical happening in my brain to cause my anxiety and depression. What would I do if I were neurotypical? Would my life be different? I sometimes I think about this and I really don’t know. If I were neurotypical, I figured I would probably go and do everything I wanted to. I hope I would be making a greater change in the world for good because I wouldn’t be held back my insecurities and fears. I think I would be like that. However, I look at many neurotypical brains around me, and I don’t see them all living their best life. Honestly, I can’t decide if being neurotypical or not has anything really to do with happiness, success, or finding the meaning in life. I guess each road we take brings its own challenges whether you are neurotypical or not.

21. Feeling Like Myself


Our fight or flight response keeps us safe, protects us from danger, but for some of us, perhaps it keeps us too safe. It makes us not want to go anywhere or do anything for the fear of having deal with the anxiety. In the last few years, my anxiety levels have been quite stable. Over the years, I have been on and off medication. When I have not been well, it has forced me to live in survival mode. I literally trim down my life only down to the essentials. During my roughest patch, basic hygiene was all I could accomplish. As I got therapy, I was able to slowly get back to work, but I was literally still working at a bare minimum.

Over the last year, I think I am finally reached a stage where I want to resume some activities I had given up due to my illness. I am not sure if this is even the right thing to do. Should I have pushed myself earlier or is this a better time now since I feel quite stable? To be honest, I don’t even know what the right timing means? I just felt like feeling like the “old me” again and I think that looks different for everyone.

Part of my job entails me to present to groups of people. I decided not to jump in and do a ton of public speaking. I decided to just pick one situation where I had a bit of confidence in and that was presenting at a general meeting. With anxiety, sometimes you want to be over-prepared so you feel that nothing bad will happen. However, I think in order to get better and face your fears, you have to be prepared enough but not break down every second of a 5 minute presentation. So I had a vague idea of what I wanted to say and just prepped it a few times in my head. I honestly thought I would be super nervous, and I was, but I thought I would just do it. Of course, it was fine. Unfortunately, recovery sometimes will push you out of your comfort zone, but believe me, it feels amazing to make a little dent into that fear.

20. Does Hearing About Suicides Affect Me?



In the last few months, the news was flooded with the suicides of two celebrities. I have this habit of checking up on celebrities who have mental illness. Are they ok? And if they are, somehow it makes me feel like I will be ok too. I figured if they can do it with the burden of their celebrity status, certainly I can face my own issues as well. However, on the flip-side, I can also understand how difficult it must be to deal with their mental illness under such media scrutiny. So as someone with mental illness, do their suicides affect me? The simple answer is “yes.” After hearing the news, I felt sad and distraught. I felt like someone on my mental illness community had fallen.

Whenever I hear about a celebrity suicide, I always want to know why. Did they get help? Did they have the support of their friends and families? Certainly, with their wealth and power, they could have anything they wanted, whether it be the best psychiatrist or the best treatment. However, as many of us know, mental illness doesn’t discriminate and money doesn’t buy happiness. So I understand. As someone with mental illness, I can empathize with what they were feeling and I can understand why they did it. But why? Why did they? I was so desperate to truly understand their desperation, I even tried to conjure up those suicidal thoughts I used to have. However, I realized that when you feel more stable, those feelings can’t just be accessed like a switch anymore.

Over time, I have also found that it is better not to continually ask why. Mental illness is an illness. No can completely predict the outcome of a person’s battle with it. And that’s it.

19. How Is That Stressful?


We are different, yet we are the same. As humans, we all have our joys and sorrows, but how we experience them may be different. A troublesome incident to one person might not seem that bad to someone else. Likewise, things that bring some people joy may seem mundane and irrelevant to others. It is these discrepancies perhaps that make life interesting. However, it can also tear people apart.

So where am I going with all this? I would consider myself a pretty open and understanding person. However, since my episodes with depression, I seem to have less empathy towards the problems of others. This realization bothers me because I feel like I have lost my ability to empathize with others. At my sickest, I had suicidal tendencies and was well below 100 pounds. Afterwards, I couldn’t understand how everyday stresses, like making dinner, and work difficulties, would even be considered problems.

What has helped me the most to overcome these thoughts is that I realize everyone views their world through a different lens. Everyone seems to think their own drama is the most important, including me, I realized. I seem to think since I have had it the worst, why should the problems of others be relevant? Yet, maybe my issues might be just as irrelevant to someone else. Also, like I have mentioned it previous blogposts, always seek first to understand. If you consider the person’s personality, background, and life experience, you might realize their stresses make total sense. And even if it doesn’t make sense after careful evaluation, at least, you stopped and took a moment to understand another human being more fully and that can’t be a bad thing.