A story, a mini-rant and a hug:
I think that a lot of people don’t understand mental illness, in part, because it doesn’t get better and go away. For most of us, our experience with sickness or injury is that it’s temporary. You get sick, you get better, and life continues with you back at your cheery, happy, ready-to-contribute-at-100% self. And of course, the less sick time or recovery time you need, the more admirable you’re found to be. *sigh*
“I have to stop calling you like this.”
I had just arrived at a friend’s house when he made this pronouncement. It was filled with self-loathing, despair and apology. He had called me – as he has on several occasions – because he was frightened for his safety by the lies his brain was telling him. And I struggled – as I have on several occasions – with how I could try to make him hear me that he could call me every night if he needed, that I would never judge him for calling me. I want him to know – and I think he does – that no matter how many times he gets better and worse and better and worse, I understand that this is his illness and not a personal failure on his part. But that’s not how many people feel about mental illness, and he knows this, and on the low days I think he sees himself as the inconvenience that so much of our culture tells him he is.
We shouldn’t guilt or shame sick people for these relapses or flare-ups, or for how long it takes them to get better- if they get better. I’m not saying that it’s bad to be angry or frustrated – emotions happen. But too often I hear healthy people get all judgey – indignant, personally offended – over relatively minor things like someone taking sick time or canceling plans at the last minute because they aren’t able to cope with work/socializing/leaving the house/getting out of bed. What most of us don’t see behind these relatively minor inconveniences to us are the difficult battles that are being waged by the person against their illness, or at least against the manifestations of their illness.
From those of us who don’t have to struggle with mental illness I would like to see more compassion, more willingness to listen when we are asked for help or for understanding, and more pride for our acquaintances, friends and family who are trying to survive hells that we can only imagine. That’s my little pipe dream of the day.
An after-note for those of you reading this: Every situation is unique and I don’t presume to know your situation or to judge your reactions or emotions when dealing with illness, whether it be your own or someone else’s. It’s often impossible to separate individuals from their illness; their illness is part of who they are. I have friends who are actively trying to survive their illnesses, and I know people who seem intent on crashing and burning, who make me angry and frustrated when they seem to continuously make decisions that only worsen their circumstances. In some of these situations I find my limit; I have to step back. As with all things, take care of yourselves.