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What is it Like to Be 'Mentally Ill? A Glimpse Inside the Mind of the Clinically Insane

Updated on October 7, 2016
Kathleen Odenthal profile image

I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 15 years old, but my eating disorder started when I was just 10.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell


Am I Crazy or Is Everyone Else?

According to the DSM-I, the DSM-II, the DSM-III, the DSM-IV, now the DSM-V, as well as everyone who claims to know psychiatry, I am what you would call 'severely mentally ill'.

I have been diagnosed with ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), BPD (borderline personality disorder), BPD I and II (bipolar disorder 1 and bipolar disorder 2), GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), SAD (seasonal affect disorder), BDD (body dysmorphic disorder), anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified.

The more DSMs (diagnostic statistical manual) they release, the more abbreviations I seem to gain. When I was 15 I had two, today I have over twenty. We are a nation that is chronically overdiagnosed when it comes to psychiatry.

Am I mentally ill? I have no doubt in the world. But through my journey of the mental health field, I have met many medicated individuals who would have been far better off if they never were given a drug in the first place.

Mental health is a touchy subject, and it is easily misunderstood. In my opinion, the smarter you are, the crazier you are, and I will be darned if I start apologizing for the fact that my brain just can't ever stop.

Inside the Head of a Person with an Eating Disorder

Do you think that mentally ill people are viewed differently than those with medical illnesses?

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Stepping Out of the Shadow

When I was seventeen years old I suffered from severe ulcers. When they were really bad, people made sure I was comfortable - they took care of me and did what they could. I felt cared for, loved, and understood.

My whole life however, I have struggled with 'mental illness'. People didn't ask me what's wrong because they cared, they asked because they honestly wanted to know what was wrong with me (not in a good way).

What is the difference between an ulcer and an abnormality in my brain that causes behaviors that others view as odd? What is the difference between a brain condition like a concussion and a brain condition like ADHD? Why is one of these people viewed as a patient, while the other is viewed as a victim?

My name is Kathleen Odenthal Romano, and I have a mental illness (it doesn't have me). We have spent too long trying to fight the stigma of mental health - it is time we question why the stigma was ever there in the first place!

Step out of the shadows and stop hiding, mental illness isn't a choice, it's a gift people.

You are Only Given a Little Spark of Madness You Mustn't Lose It - Robin Williams


What is it Like to be Mentally Ill?

Many people wonder what it is like to be mentally ill, so I am going to attempt and answer this question, at least from my own perspective.

Personally, I find this question amusing. What is your life like? When stressful situations come up, do they just roll off your back, or do you panic?

Life isn't so different for us 'mentally ill'. Personally, I don't always know how to interact with people I don't know (and sometimes people I do know). Sometimes I just need to be myself, because even when I'm alone I can't escape my mind.

Emotions scare me, maybe more than other people scare me. I enjoy feeling in control, and things like emotions don't make me feel in control.

What does make me feel in control? Starving myself, controlling my food intake, exercising, cutting myself, performing certain behaviors over and over again, cleaning all the time, and medication.

I have an IQ of 158 and have been called a genius, yet I have also been called insane. To me, there is no difference. I am who I am and while I used to hide from it, today I choose to embrace it.

Voices in the Darkness - Eating Disorders and Social Media

Explaining My Feelings and My Behaviors

Since the day I entered therapy for my eating disorder, I was told that fat is not a feeling. Therapists, treatment canter teams and psychiatrists continued to drill into my head that fat is not a feeling, and that when I feel 'fat' all that I am saying is that I feel something other than fat.

Stop. Stop telling me how or what I can feel, because sometimes, I just feel fat. Maybe it means I feel out of control, maybe it means I feel angry, but to me, in that moment, all I feel is fat.

I don't try to tell people how they feel, or whether their feelings are right or wrong, so why do people think that they can tell me how or what I am supposed to be feel?

(End rant.)

Another commonly misunderstood behavior that many people with mental illness engage in is self-harming behaviors such as cutting, burning or purging. Many people view those who self-harm as depressed, sad, and even pathetic (yes, I have heard it before).

Sometimes I am depressed, but that isn't why I cut myself, and it isn't why I purge. I cut myself because I have seen things that no one should see. I cut myself because as hard as I try sometimes those things cannot be unseen, and they cannot be forgotten.

Post traumatic stress disorder is like reliving the most painful moment of your lifetime and time again. Sometimes the pain I feel inside is so excrutiating that I cannot take it. By 'self-harming', I am able to alter the opiate receptors and the pain receptors in my brain.

Cutting my wrist is transferring the emotional pain that I cannot deal with, into physically pain which is easier to handle. You may not understand it, but if not, I consider you fortunate because you most likely have been able to avoid situations that led me to this place (a place I would wish on no one).

The Craziest People are the Ones Who Think They Aren't Crazy All


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2014 Kathleen Odenthal


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    • profile image

      L. Shauntay Snell 

      5 years ago

      Incredible dear. Thank you for sharing this. I feel like I can relate to this in so many ways. We're only as crazy as we allow others to make us believe that we are.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from UpstateWestern,New York

      Kathleen. I am confused. (no surprise to many, Im sure) but I KNOW I read this when you first published it. It's very unusual for me to not comment. OH well....what was I saying about "aging?"

      This self disclosure is not only magnificent but also courageous. Your gut honesty and plain old logical explanations can be of such benefit to so many.

      I don't know why I thought you were single, Kathleen, but you mentioned your husband, so another mistake by the old lady!.....I'm glad you have someone close to you in your life with whom you can be yourself and love and be loved. Too many people who have all the misguided information will shy away from intimate relationships and that is sad, not to mention harmful.

      Great work here girl! Bravo!.....UP++++pinned & tweeted Peace, Paula

    • Hankscita profile image


      5 years ago from Florida

      Great Hub. I'm really taken by this. Somewhat speechless even. I must process this awhile I guess.

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Odenthal 

      5 years ago from Bridgewater

      Gsidley- I admit that the title is a bit provacative. I thought of it in the shower, where most of my most brilliant ideas come from of course.

      I had been having a rough couple of weeks were problem after problem just kept piling on until I broke down. My husband and mother showed concern, but I couldn't explain to them what it was that bothered me so much.

      Admittedly I am not the best conversationalist, however I do know that I can write. So that is what I did. I also know that the mental health field and physical health field vary greatly, but not in some of the ways people assume.

      Thank you so much for reading and I am glad you liked my hub.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 

      5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Kathleen, I always appreciate and admire your candor and realness. I found this article comforting and encouraging. I too struggle with (and yet love) a brain that just won't stop. It's a matter of harnessing that energy. The quote by Robin Williams is wonderful. Voted "up".

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, England

      To be honest, Kathleen, when I first read the title of your post I expected to read a very medicalized view of human suffering that would antagonize and dismay me (my own hubs are mainly critiques of western psychiatry and I spend too much of my time arguing with biological psychiatrists and their advocates). But I was wrong. Indeed, as well as powerfully sharing your own personal experiences, you make some really important points:

      - we are not and should never be defined by our mental health issue;

      - we are over-medicated (grossly so with regards to antipsychotics and antidepressants);

      - we are over diagnosed (I believe mental illness diagnoses are virtually meaningless)

      - no one (especially mental health professionals) should try to tell you how you feel;

      - striving to feel in control can be central to the struggle for people suffering mental distress

      - the complexities around self harm, and how often they evoke negative reactions from others (including professionals);

      - the importance of past experiences in shaping our current mental health.

      The only issue I would challenge is the value of viewing mental health problems as synonymous with physical illnesses. There is no evidence to suggest that mental disorders are primarily caused by brain diseases (although traditional psychiatry and the drug companies would like to persuade us otherwise) and there are a number of distinct disadvantages to viewing mental pain in this medical way (including greater stigma).

      But all-in-all a great hub that I enjoyed very much. Indeed, I've become your latest follower!

      I wish you well in your future struggles to maintain mental wellbeing.

    • brutishspoon profile image


      5 years ago from Darlington, England

      Writing is one of the best ways to get your feelings out and to express yourself. Talking about your problems can be the hardest thing to do. I like you have a partner who does not fully understand me. My problem is not that I cannot talk about it. It is that when I do he does not take it in.

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Odenthal 

      5 years ago from Bridgewater

      I have taken every med under the sun, and could write a hub about that as well. I find psych meds helpful but so poorly distributed that it is a crime. We are an overmedicated, poorly diagnosed generation. Actually, now I want to write a hub on it! Thank you for reading and I am glad you enjoyed my hub!

    • chateaudumer profile image

      David B Katague 

      5 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      I find this hub very informative and salute your sincerity and frankness. I am just wondering if you are taking any medications and if so does it help. I have relatives who are mentally ill but they hide it, because in the Philippines, the subject of being crazy is still a taboo subject. Keep up with your writing and again I salute you for your frankness in discussing the subject of mental illness.

    • Kathleen Odenthal profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Odenthal 

      5 years ago from Bridgewater

      Ill gladly take an a-okay in your book! And yes, I have made the choice to be as open as possible from now on after discovering that my husband, the person who knows me most, still doesn't understand why I do the things that I do. It can be frustrating when people ask me what is wrong and I say that I just don't know how to tell them. Its not like I don't want to know its just not something I know how to explain in words, unless I am writing. So I write... I write and I write and I write and I kid you not, it can be just as cathartic as some of the behaviors I mentioned in this article

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow, you really laid yourself wide open, Kathleen. Kudos to you!

      Now I have a better understanding of why people cut themselves. I know this is on a much smaller scale, but when I was young and too old for spankings, I'd wish for them because the pain from a spanking went away pretty quickly whereas being grounded for weeks on end was dreadful.

      I admire your courage, Kathleen. You're a-okay in my book!

    • brutishspoon profile image


      5 years ago from Darlington, England

      Thanks again for sharing your story.


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