Mental illness. What comes to your mind when you hear that phrase? Do you see the violent gunmen who killed so many people? Do you think of dirty asylums where those afflicted with these illnesses drool in their rooms wrapped in a straitjacket? Or do you see ordinary people who struggle day after day with a brain that refuses to work right?
I would hope that you would think of the third. But the media plays up how terrible mental illness is and how those afflicted are prone to violence – up to and including murdering men, women, and children – and have no redeeming qualities to allow the ill person to function in society. There are celebrities who are pushing to change that image, but every step forward they make is pushed to the side as the media plays games with one of the more vulnerable segments of society.
I have said this before, but I’ll say it again. I have a mental illness. I actually have two, if you want to get technical. I’m bipolar, which used to be called manic depression, and moderate anxiety. It’s not your ordinary “there’s something going on” anxiety. I could be perfectly happy, content, and laughing one moment and the next I’m curled in the ball fighting off a panic attack.
Right now, my meds are off so I spend a lot of time fighting to keep control of my mind. I’m searching for a doctor to help me get things settled so I can function like a normal person again. Every day is a struggle. I fight to maintain what equilibrium I have left and ride out the waves of the mood swings that come as part of being for the most part unmedicated.
I’ve had people go off on me about taking medications for my bipolar.
“Use more natural cures.” (Like what? Stuff that doesn’t have proved effect?)
“It’s all in your head.” (Uh…duh. It’s called MENTAL illness.)
“You’re poisoning yourself.”
That last one always gets me. All medications – natural or otherwise – have side effects. Some are mild. Some are severe. But my doctors have been good about taking care of me and monitoring my body to make sure I’m not poisoning myself. I had one bad doctor who didn’t seem to pay attention to the climbing levels of lithium in my body when I was on it, but for the most part if I start showing some kind of negative physical reaction, they take me off of it before it gets too serious.
There’s an article I read recently done by a person who has a different diagnosis of bipolar (yes, there are differing levels of it) that struck home with me. It’s their experiences with being harassed about being on meds. I can understand where the author is coming from because I too did a lot of research, learned more about my illness, and studied up on what different treatments are out there. I’ve found a combination of medication and therapy to be the best mix for me.
Here’s the link to the article: I Didn’t Ask For Your Opinion On My Psych Meds
I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave that to next week. Let me leave you with two things. One, do NOT judge all mentally ill people by the portrayals of those who suffer from these ailments on mainstream media. Second, if you know someone dealing with mental illness, do NOT go out of your way to give unsolicited advice. Be there. Listen when they talk to you. But don’t tell them how to manage their illness. It’s their body, their brain, and not yours. If you have experience with mental illness, offer your experience. But make sure you understand that nothing works the same way for two people and your experiences may not match theirs.