It is not always easy for people without mental illness to understand it, but most people know what it feels like to be extremely sad, and everyone experiences moments of irrationality and delusional thinking. Irrational thinking is not a mental illness by itself, because it is so normal. A mental illness is when something is happening in your brain that causes your mood to be unstable enough and your thoughts irrational enough on a consistent basis that it interferes with your life. People with mental illnesses may often be seen by dramatic films as violent, highly delusional stereotypes, but most mental patients are completely normal people who just happen to have an illness. In my case, it was a severe depressive episode.
A family member had been sexually assaulted. It was the first and only time I had felt a literally murderous rage shake my body, and I understood that "seeing red" is actually a pretty much literal phrase. I had always been afraid that I would be raped, and I had of course feared for other family members, but it still felt like something impossible had happened, like a monster I had dreamed of had walked out of my nightmares and was lurking in my every shadow. Watching her go through the pain of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - crying, screaming, grabbing for a knife to cut herself with right in front of us while I wrestled it out of her hands, not wanting to be touched by anyone for any reason, always needing a light on and not wanting to sleep on a pillow because her rapist had used one to try to suffocate her while she was intoxicated and helpless but trying to struggle and scream, knowing how her body had been damaged as she went to doctors to get medical treatment, watching people in her life blame, shame, and deny her as they continued to hang out with a rapist whose ex-girlfriend was also terrified of him, the entire family going to court to get a restraining order because we were unable to get criminal charges filed because she did not at first think a man holding her down, hitting, choking, and suffocating her was really a rape.... the experience was not only traumatizing for the direct victim, it hurt our entire family, and the person who did that is still free today, because of how our society mistreats rape victims.
At the exact same time, I had just lost my independence and my home due to my work hours being cut back and difficulties finding a second job.
But it wasn't just those things. Something chemical was happening inside me, in my brain, that caused a Depressive Episode.
I have been poor and struggling my entire adult life, and I had for the most part been perfectly happy that way. There is a difference between depression and regular stress or feeling "bummed out" or ennui. When I am not having a depressive episode, something terrible like a family death can occur, every day stresses of poverty like barely having enough money for groceries can wear on me, but I do not hit the depths of sadness - barely able and totally unwilling to summon energy to do basic things like clean my room, obsessive self-hatred, paranoid thoughts that long time loyal friends secretly hated me, little ability to find even a few moments of joy in my life.
Depression runs in my family. More than one family member has "successfully" committed suicide, and many of us have tried, or at least become obsessed with the idea. So when I became so obsessed that the part of me that still wanted to live and still was sane enough to want to protect my family from the pain of losing someone in what I knew damn well was the most terrible way to lose someone, I turned myself in to a mental hospital because I believed it was where I needed to be to recover and keep myself safe.... from myself. Because part of me was still sane enough to know I could be happy again, and I desperately wanted to be happy again (and now I am!). After all, when it really comes down to it, the idea of living your life in misery so other people can be happy (to have a miserable loved one in their life rather than losing that loved one) is a terrible proposition. A suicidal person can be persuaded to endure a painful life for their family, but it is far better to be able to know that you will not always have to endure constant pain - and the intense sadness of depression is very painful.
When I went to get help, I thought the hospital would be like the other hospitals I had been in, back when I was still on the family insurance. Strict, constant monitoring by guards who kept us safe. Really good food, better than I ever ate on the Outside, food that I could just feel repairing my weakened body and brain with serious Nutrition; boiled eggs, fresh burgers, crisp broccolis, a different feast every day that we were able to choose for ourselves. Consistant groups and classes. Sure, there were downsides, too, it wasn't a paradise - only compared to Madden.