It's difficult to get people, who have no first-hand experience with severe mental illness, to understand the reality of the problem. Far too many people adopt the attitude that you should just "snap out of it," or "it's all in your head." The fact is; you can't decide you don't have a mental disorder any more than you could decide you don't have cancer. I want to explain what it's like to try to functioning in society with a debilitating psychological illness.

I have Agoraphobia and severe Social Anxiety Disorder.
When I'm outside of my comfort zone bad things tend to happen inside my mind. This limits me to my house, my therapist's office, and a few places where I do my shopping, banking, and other routine errands. Driving has become all but impossible, so when I do go out it's always in the passenger seat.

Having a family, and being in a relationship with a woman that I love and care about, I try to push the boundaries of my Agoraphobia almost every day. It's difficult to describe the symptoms that attack me accurately, and get people to understand that the things I see and hear are as real to me as this paper.

I become Hyper-Vigilant, and normal sights and sounds overwhelm me. My very own senses turn against me and knock my world upside down. It's a mutiny from within.

At a grocery store, my vision rebels against me. The lights are far too bright all of a sudden. The isles seem impossibly long and are twisting and warping before me. The people become horrible reflections in a fun house mirror. I'm dizzy and disoriented, sweaty and shaking. I'm reacting physically to my irrational terror. I want to vomit. My heart is beating way to fast... way to hard. I think I can actually see it kicking against my chest! Paralyzed, I want to run, but I can't.

I see lines of every size, shape, and color scratching at my eyes everywhere I look. Lines linked together in intricate and familiar ways. They horrify me, because I know that they're letters, and they form words that I should be able to read, but I can't because I've become a deer in the headlights and I feel like I'm going to start crying.

I'm wondering where they keep the razor blades... I think its isle seven.

"Clean up in isle seven." My mom's voice, impossibly, says over the intercom (she's been dead for twenty years.) I have a vision of my body lying in a pool of blood on the shiny white tiles. Customers shop around me, because I don't matter.

I can't find the real world for a moment.

Meanwhile, my kids are running around out of control. Part of me knows I should be parenting and dealing with them, but it's taking all of my strength and will not to freak out next to Cap'n Crunch and Count Chocula! I glimpse my frustrated girlfriend, Hailey. She's trying to get the best deal on cereal for us, restrain a screaming four year old, and plead with the older ones to act their age.

There's worry on her beautiful face too. Worry that her psycho boyfriend is about to go "rain-man" in the grocery store. As I'm absorbing all of this, I have a moment where I truly wish I were dead.

Clumsily, I make my way out of the store. My footsteps echo in my head, as they struggle to navigate the tilting surface of the world. I'm deaf! I really can't hear at all... as if I were under water. All these foreign sensations make me sick to my stomach. People are staring at me in the parking lot as I stumble by, appearing like a mid-morning drunk.

Finally, I make it to the min-van and throw myself inside. I lock the doors, shut my eyes, and hold on tight. I'm on a broken roller coaster, and my world is a haunted carnival. I start counting to keep myself "present," and I wait patiently for my girlfriend to rescue me and bring me home. My illusions gradually subside after we leave. Emotionally drained, I cry for the duration of the drive.

"Deep breaths," Hailey always tells me. It works, and I never implode as I think I will.

At home I collapse into bed... spent. I feel miserable, embarrassed, and ashamed of myself. I feel hopeless too... and alone. I'm alone in my suffering. I have people who love me, and are sympathetic to the fact that my ailments are real, but it's hard for them to grasp and even more difficult for me to explain. I feel bad for them, as if I'm a burden, and that feeling continues to perpetuate the problem.

So many people, like me, feel unnecessary guilt over suffering from these, very real, afflictions. I want to raise awareness to the fact that these disorders are every bit as real, and threatening to our health and mortality, as diseases and injuries that are more easily recognized.

Author's Bio: 

Nathan Daniels lives with psychological disorders including Agoraphobia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Insomnia, and OCD. Abused in his youth, orphaned and homeless as a teenager, he became self-abusive and suicidal as an adult. Against all odds he has survived, and now advocates for suicide prevention and awareness through his writing. His new book, Surviving the Fourth Cycle, is a uniquely-told true story about overcoming suicide, for anyone affected by the harsh realities of mental illness. For more, visit...