7 People Share The Metaphors That Helped Them Understand Their Mental Health Issues

Ashley Batz for Bustle

Mental health is an incredibly complex subject to grapple with on your own, and even more difficult topic to fully explain to someone else. I remember that the first time I started to understand how how mental health issues work, it was through a friend's use of metaphor.

She told me that if most people wake up everyday mentally neutral, at a 'zero', people suffering depression start their days at a negative number. And while they could both experience good and bad things throughout their day that could make their number go up or down, it would take a lot more work for the depressed person to reach high positive numbers. This 'mental math' was instrumental in my apprehension of mental illness.

According to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Mental Health, 44.7 million adults in the U.S. reportedly suffer from a mental illness. If you grow up in a household where mental health wasn't as fruitfully addressed as physical health, it can be extremely challenging to fathom and make sense of your own mental processes.

Language is powerful tool that allows us to use analogies to become better acquainted with our own minds. Below, people share the specific metaphor that helped them to understand their mental health issue better — here's what they had to say:

Daneesha, 38
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"I have to be diligent about maintaining my personal self-care and balance. If I don't then I start to notice I've reached an OVERDRAFT status in my emotional, physical, and/or spiritual accounts. If I'm not careful, I can get to a point where I have made so many withdrawals that I get urges to be an emotional eater, become irritable, and unable to focus like I need to. I am typically self-aware, so to avoid over-drafting my accounts, I will make deposits such as: getting rest; setting boundaries (like saying "No"); and taking moments of meditation and solitude."

Al, 25
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"This metaphor helped me grasp the idea that my negative thoughts will emerge regardless of me fighting them and I must learn to deal them consciously:

'We try to stop thoughts, but that’s impossible. It’s like trying to constantly hold an enormous inflatable beach ball under the water, but it keeps popping up in front of our faces. We can allow the ball to float around us, just letting it be. So rather than stop the thoughts, we can stop fighting them, and let them be, without reacting to them’."

Jim, 44
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"Imagine your doctor told you that you have diabetes. Would you be comfortable telling your doctor you were not going to take medication because you didn't want to use it as a crutch? It's the same when it comes to depression. Just like with diabetes, you approach it through a combination of medication and behavioral changes. With diabetes, you take Insulin, watch your diet, and exercise. You have to do both to maximize your health. Depression is similar. Medication helps regulate the physiological symptoms, such as low energy, decreased concentration, poor motivation, appetite changes, and sleep changes. However, there are some behavioral changes as well such as challenging irrational thinking, practicing mindfulness, and avoiding isolation."

Shirley, 38
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"Having a mental illness is like playing cricket with a baseball."

Bill, 62
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

"Mental Illness is like my baby brother: you never know when he will scream, cry, or lose control."

Beth, 31
Ashley Batz for Bustle

"Mine is a dark room where the light switch and door handles are missing."

Arnold, 26
Ashley Batz for Bustle

"I see the shore, but I'm stuck wading in this ocean current."

Everyone's experience with their own mental health is subjective, and difficult to understand internally — making it even more complicated to explain to other people. By using symbolism, we are able to take a step back from our own mental processes, in order to better contemplate both our brains and ourselves.