August 16, 2021

By Lauren Perna

illustration of woman peeking through curtains

“Your brain is lying to you.”

That’s what I told a dear friend when she was experiencing severe depression. The advice was familiar: It’s what I tell myself when I feel my own self-doubt and anxiety taking over.

The brain is a notorious liar. Sometimes, these “lies” mean that we misremember something or see something differently from others. Other times, the “lies” our brain tells us influence how we see ourselves. For example, when you are living with a mental illness, you can easily believe that things are awful, that no one likes you and that nothing will ever get better.

Here’s the reality: none of that is ever completely true. And the last part is unequivocally untrue — things can always get better.

How can I be so sure? I’ve spent most of my adult life managing my mental illnesses and trying to improve my mental health. Sometimes, I keep my depression and anxiety at bay, and I have great months — years even. Other times, I find myself in the depths of despair, and I let my depression bleed into my everyday life, impacting relationships and damaging my self-worth.

While I am in a good place now, I know that what works today may not work tomorrow. Maintaining mental health is an ever-changing journey.

However, I’ve developed a few truths that guide me in tougher times.

1. You Need to Do What Works Best for You

While this sounds obvious, distinguishing what actually works for managing your mental health versus what you think should work can be difficult.

Thanks to the internet, one click will find you a litany of suggestions for mental health improvement. This plethora of information can be life-changing; however, those suggestions are just a few pieces of a larger mental health care puzzle. For many people, addressing their mental health concerns can be a long process of developing the right combination of therapy, medicine, internal work and activities.

2. Bad Times Don’t Equal a Bad Life

When you are in the throes of a traumatic or depressive episode, it can feel like there is no end in sight. In this mindset, you can easily make broad-sweeping judgments like, “I have such a bad life.” But it’s important not to mistake a bad time in your life for a bad life.

In the past, my brain lied to me and told me my whole life was bad, and I believed it. This lie only made my depression last longer. No matter how bad things are or have been, there is always hope. It may not feel like it, and it’s ok to acknowledge that feeling of hopelessness, but don’t believe that a bad few months or years means that you are unworthy of a good life.

3. Your Past Doesn’t Define You

Your past, however difficult it may have been, shouldn’t dictate your future. For a long time, my brain convinced me that I was an emotionally unstable, anxiety-ridden mess. I thought that this characterization was simply who I was, and I would always be that way.

But the way you act during one point in your life doesn’t determine who you are forever. People change and grow. What happened in your past can be part of your journey, but it doesn’t have to be who you are.

4. Things Will Get Better

I don’t say this lightly. I say this having witnessed several people go through the worst of the worst — yet they are now some of the happiest people I know. I say that as a person who has struggled with mental illness my whole life and always made it out of my darkest times. If you come to understand the previous three truths, this one will follow.

5. It Takes a Village

Mental health is certainly not a journey you can take alone; it really does take a village. And by village, I don’t just mean your group of friends. I mean your whole circle — your primary care physician, your therapist, your fitness instructor, your neighbor, etc. Not everyone needs to know the details, but it’s essential to have a circle of people who care about you and help you.

6. A Good Partner Will Have Your Back

I learned (the hard way) that a healthy relationship depends on your partner supporting you during the rough times. Your relationship doesn’t have to be perfect — no relationship is — you just have to know that your partner is making an effort to understand your experience and meet your needs. And if they don’t, help them understand. Voice your concerns or consider couples’ therapy. To make improvements, you have to speak up. (However, if you are experiencing relationship abuse, please seek professional help).

In using these truths to guide my recovery, I have come to understand that we are not alone in dealing with mental illness. Millions of people live with mental health conditions — and thanks to a new era of technology and interconnectedness, we can hear their stories and learn from their experience. Perhaps the more we share of our own stories, the more people will speak up and challenge the lies their brain tells them.

While it’s scary to share our vulnerabilities, the right people will help. And if you think you have no one to tell, that’s just one more lie your brain is telling you.


This post was originally published on The Mighty. It has been edited and republished with permission.

Lauren Perna is the owner of Lauren Perna Communications, where she helps companies share their story online through content and copywriting. Lauren is also passionate about sharing her own story so she can help others struggling with mental illness. She lives in Massachusetts with her partner and his son, along with their dog, Tessie.

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