The words we use carry a lot of weight. People use words such as crazy, psycho, and insane – phrases that they do not think twice about. I see it every day.
One woman I know is very open about her anxiety and the difficulties with her mental illness. She has been on anxiety medication for over 5 years. After many years of working towards independence from her medicine, she was very enthused to finally come to a place where her doctors agreed that medicine was no longer necessary. This is a huge victory for her! However, the comments I heard regarding this victory were appalling.
“I knew she was looney!”
“I can’t believe they let her get off of [her medicine]!”
“Now we are going to see the real crazy!”
Even worse were the people who said nothing but had the face of pure disgust.
This horrified me beyond belief. These are people I work with every day and have grown to love. Why would they be so nasty and mean about something someone has no control over? Do they truly not understand? Do they care to understand?
Then I asked myself, what they would think or say if they knew about me?
My truth: I have Bipolar 1 (BP 1), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Living with these diagnoses is a daily struggle, one that sometimes feels like it’s too much. They are difficult enough to manage on their own, yet alone with the judgement and condemnation of others. Would my co-workers look at me differently if they knew? Would they turn the other way and keep their distance? Would I care if they did?
This is a common battle for anyone who struggles with mental illness – the battle between hiding your illness or being open about it, the battle between keeping it a secret or sharing. Both sides of the coin have their pros and cons. My entire life I’ve been advised to keep my illnesses to myself, keeping them my dirty little secret. But why should I?
Here is my other truth: I really don’t care what people think of me. I love what my illness brings to me, as bizarre as that may sound. I can see and feel things that others can’t. I can experience a depth of life that many people will only graze. My mind is always in a state of wonder. The creativity that I have explodes with colors and design. Many call it a curse, and some days it is, but I have found a place of managing my illnesses that doesn’t banish them or deny their existence, but rather I cooperatively live with my symptoms, using them as tools to enhance life rather than to burden it. Those of us with BP 1 and 2 are a special kind of breed. We have powers no one could ever understand or comprehend.
Unfortunately stigma is a massive problem. Stigma and a lack of education is what causes people to throw around those phrases – crazy, psycho, insane. Stigma tells us that mental illness is rare, when actually 1 in 4 Americans live with mental illness. Stigma tells us that mental illness is forever, when in reality most illnesses have a treatment rate similar to physical illnesses. Stigma tells us that anyone struggling mentally or emotionally are violent, when this simply is not true. Stigma tells us the more we talk about this, the more likely we will become mentally ill ourselves – and this, of course, is just plan ridiculous.
We are not all killers. We are not animals that belong in a cage. We are not all scary. I wonder – now that you’ve read this blog, how has your opinion on me changed? Will you still talk to me, or do you now feel the need to walk on eggshells around me?
It is also important to note the opposite side of the coin that I’ve chosen, the side to keep it a secret. Reader, I chose to be open about my illnesses, but just because I made that choice does not mean you have to as well. If you are struggling with a mental health diagnosis and you are not comfortable broadcasting that to the world, then don’t. As I said earlier, there are definitely pros and cons to sharing your story versus keeping it a secret, and you know what is best for you.
My desire instead is that those of you who do not have an illness – those of you who continue to use the words crazy, psycho, insane – please understand what your words are doing. If this woman I know had just come back from the doctor proclaiming that she is in remission and no longer needs chemotherapy, our office would have had a celebration. There would’ve been balloons and cake. My desire is to see a world where we can celebrate together the remission of anxiety, depression, or other illnesses with the same enthusiasm that we would for physical illnesses.
For my friend. Good luck to you.