So, I’ve been teaching since I was 24 years old: 2 years olds (who scared the crap out of me), 5th and 6th graders, high schoolers, and of course, college, and through these experiences, I’ve learned there are 2 types of students – those who memorize and learn what they need to know for the subject, and those who take what they are learning and apply it to their lives in ways that allow for change and more insight to come about. I think a lot of us are actually both. There were classes I took where my main objective was to do all I could to get my grade and then scoot the hell on. Ask me what I ‘learned’ in College Trigonometry. The answer? Not much. I got my A and was very proud of that, but I never applied the info after my final exam; it wasn’t ‘important’ enough to my life and what I wanted to do, so the info has fallen by the wayside (Note to Dr. S: you were an AWESOME professor to teach me something that was so hard for me to pick up…bless your heart in heaven!).
I guess I’m feeling this way about what I’m trying to do with blogging: to educate others and help people see the inside perspective and challenges of mental illness, and then to take that info and run with it. But I also understand this is very hard to do, particularly for those who have no experience with these issues themselves.
Besides my brain (🙄), I’m really quite healthy, and so it’s difficult for me to understand what it’s like to have diseases and physical illnesses. For example, diabetes. I have a friend with this, and he is struggling with a bit of a weight problem . At times, I nag (yes, I said nag…I’m quite good at it actually) him to walk more, ride his indoor bike more, and eat better because I’ve read that losing weight and exercise is a great help for a diabetic. And for me, this would be easy. But I’m me…not him. I don’t have any idea what it is to struggle with low blood sugar, to have to wear a monitor that’s showing insulin levels which must be checked dozens of times a day, to have diabetic neuropathy which makes balance and walking difficult. I simply haven’t had this so I have no clue what it’s like to walk in his shoes, and the ‘advice’ I give to him is much more demanding to do than I can ever imagine.
But by the same token, it’s the same with mental illness. You can read all you want on it…show greater acceptance of people who suffer from it…vow to be kinder to those who have it, but actually doing these things is tough if there’s no personal experience to draw from.
I’ve written a lot about how bipolars have heightened sensitivity and stronger emotional reactions, and research shows that even during our ‘middle’ states (called euthymia – where we aren’t too high or too low but experiencing more stable moods), we are still ‘hypersensitive to emotional stimuli and higher arousability.’ In other words, I’m a potentially hot emotional mess, regardless of my cycle (that word always makes me think of my old menstrual cycles which I’m happy to say menopause has taken care of, thank the Lord). I’ve also written about Rejection Syndrome which once again (if one has this particular symptom which I’m lucky to be blessed with myself 🙄) is always a part of a bipolars life regardless of cycle (but more pronounced when depressed ).
So, people have learned this from me and understand I have a brain disease that doesn’t affect my liver or my heart or my bones. But, how can someone understand what it’s like to have a brain that is so ‘much’ unless they’ve experienced it themselves?
Instead, those of us with bipolar might hear: “OMG, don’t be so sensitive.” OK…”OMG, don’t be so diabetic.” Or, “OMG…you are so emotional and moody…you need to have better control of these things.” OK…”OMG…you are so low on insulin and have nerve pain in your legs and feet that you need to have better control over those sugar levels.” When it’s put this way, how silly and indifferent it sounds. But to us with mental illness, the comparison is real. (P.S. If you grew up in the 80’s, feel free to say OMG like a Valley Girl).
Look, I can’t control my moods…my emotions…my sensitivity anymore than someone can control what their pancreas is doing right now. And yelling at us, or accusing us of using our disorder (yes, it’s very fucking fun to be on an emotional roller coaster all of the time) or ridiculing us for having ‘something in our heads’ compounds our symptoms even more. The above is hard enough: add guilt and shame to the mix and it can be deadly. Literally.
No one asks for a mental illness (and if they do…well…they’re nuts). Whether it’s major depression, generalized anxiety, a personality disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia, etc., we were just lucky enough to have been dealt that card (or often times, cards). So, why are we blamed even though we’re the victim of the disorder?
I had a really sweet person talk to me on Facebook not long ago and they said this (with truly the best intentions): “But you seem so normal. I thought bipolars were like, more crazy, than you are.” Hmmmmm. Do you know what ‘crazy’ actually means? Deranged. Insane. Mad. Unless we’re channeling Ted Bundy, that’s not what mental illness is. We are ‘normal’ people in that we love, work, read, garden, run, raise kids, clean our houses, mow our yards, ride our bikes. Bipolar and all mental illnesses/disorders are always with us and these things can be a huge struggle at times; but we’re not ‘always’ the disease. Major depression is always with my sissy, but she’s not always at the mercy of it. Schizophrenia is always with my nephew, but he has stable times when you wouldn’t ever suspect he could be psychotic.
Look, I love love love that y’all who don’t have a mental illness are reading this blog. It shows you have a desire to learn more about these issues, as well as enjoying my incredible wit 🙄. But may I ask you a huge favor? Will you please do more for me? For all of us who have these illnesses and disorders? Try to use the info for more understanding. More compassion. More accurate perceptions that being mentally ill doesn’t mean being crazy. Help others understand that too by correcting them when you hear stereotypes or misinformation.
My goal here is to stop the stigma of mental illness. I guess it started with me on these pages…but it ends with all of us.