I’ve probably talked about this before. But, you know what, I’m going to talk about it again and probably more at length, because it’s so important to me.
The elephant in the room? Mental health disorders are being normalized. Mental health in general is become more accepted nowadays, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s not as taboo to talk about openly or to admit things, even as celebrities. This is good, in my humble opinion. This is progress and we shouldn’t do anything to stop it.
My issue is that while mental health is slowly becoming more acceptable in general to talk about and be open about, I sometimes feel it’s swinging too far in the other direction. Where it was once considered unnecessary to talk about, whether people thought it a sign of weakness or something one shouldn’t burden others with, it is now more accepted (not quite on the same level with some populations) as just as important as even physical illness. That’s because it is. If your mind isn’t healthy, your body isn’t either and vice versa. Additionally, we don’t blame people or criticize them when they get cancer. In all the cases I’ve seen of people getting cancer, they are met with sympathy and obvious displays of concern from others. No one tells them they should just go for a walk or get some more sun and they’ll be alright. People usually say, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that” when someone tells them they have cancer. I’ve never gotten that response when I’ve shared my mental health struggles. People usually challenge me, are you sure? You’re probably too hard on yourself. My, insert relevant relative here, has insert mental disorder, and they don’t experience that. As if the person who doesn’t have such struggles is suddenly the expert compared to the person actually experiencing it.
But back to my main point. Mental health is slowly, maybe quickly, becoming normalized in a frightening way. To some people, it’s a fad. Just like how some people like to claim food allergies for foods they don’t like eating. I’m allergic to, insert food they don’t like here. If you ask them what happens when they eat it, oh I get a stomach ache. They may be lying. They may not be. But generally if you don’t have a histamine triggered reaction but you still experience some form of symptoms, you may just have a sensitivity to the food. For a lot of people, being allergic to something is a life or death situation, not something to casually joke about. I’m allergic to soy but the symptoms aren’t severe enough that I actually make a point of telling everyone. If I eat it, I can have some pretty serious symptoms but they aren’t life threatening. And if I do have to tell someone, I make sure to let them know that it’s not life and death otherwise some people tend to get scared, not wanting to kill me. I never try to characterize it as, I’m deathly allergic, because I’m not. And, yes, I do eat things with soy in them, especially tofu, because I love it and I consider the symptoms to be a small, okay, medium, price to pay for indulging in something I like to eat. Some people may argue, you must not be that allergic then. Jackpot! I’m not, but I still am. But that doesn’t mean I should over-inflate it. I guess what I’m saying is that, some people seem to take something small and try to put it on the same level as something more serious. A relative of mine is also allergic to soy, but their reaction is more severe and they tend to avoid eating anything in it at all costs. Of course, if I experienced anaphylaxis every time I ate anything with soy in it, I’d definitely avoid it; I don’t have a death wish.
This leads me to mental health seeming like a fad in some circles. I have tons of examples from years past. I still remember the girl at one of my college jobs.
“Ugh my life is so hard!”
“Oh how come?”
“I’m just so depressed.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that.”
Turned out she was upset because her mother wouldn’t buy her these boots she really wanted, even though she had a job and all her college expenses were being paid for by her parents, so her job earnings were all at her disposal. Or the girl after Thanksgiving break who went to Mexico for the break complaining about how she lost her passport but then she found it and how anxious she was and oh my god! She wanted everyone around her to be stressed for her even though she wound up finding it. I could barely find it in myself to be concerned considering a good friend within my friend circles had died a day before Thanksgiving in an accident. All I could think about was how devastated we all were, just four months from graduation and how devastated his family was. It’s difficult to lose a loved one at any time but sometimes for some people it can be that much more painful when it happens so close to a holiday. Speaking of which, so many people I knew or were close to died in the past few holidays.
Now, let me throw an olive branch and say that I don’t dispute that losing a passport is stressful. I also will allow that maybe for her it was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to her. That’s her reality and I don’t dispute that it’s valid. And I’ll leave it at that.
And now, something else I noticed especially in college was people saying they had certain mental illnesses when it seemed they didn’t. I’m no therapist or psychiatrist though. But there were people I knew pretty well who would claim to have anxiety or depression and when I would ask them what it was like, they would say things like, it’s like having a broken leg or a bad wound. Wait, what? But when I’ve shared about other people I know with anxiety, for example, and what they’ve told me about their experiences, those other people who also claim to anxiety will challenge me. Are you sure that’s what anxiety is like? Well, there’s a DSM definition for anxiety and though I myself don’t have an anxiety disorder, I know it’s more than just worrying about something. It can be incapacitating. People I’ve known have told me it’s more than just sitting around feeling worried. It can be feeling physically sick, feeling like you can’t get enough air, feeling a constant sense of dread. I have a relative who I strongly suspect has an anxiety disorder but they haven’t been diagnosed, so I reserve judgement. I will say that they worry a lot but they also get sick a lot for no reason and a few years ago, they wound up in the hospital because they were having heart problems. The doctors found nothing physically wrong with them but said it looked like they were experiencing a lot of mental stress. This person is sometimes crippled by their anxiety, to the point where they genuinely believe if they don’t stop something or someone from doing something that horrible events might occur. They are in a constant state of acute cortisol elevation, which has had had an impact on their health. They also have some OCD tendencies which their anxiety feeds off of. They have several things they are constantly doing such as having to check the oven before leaving the house, many times, even if it hasn’t been used in several hours or day, or having to check that the house is locked, over and over and if they don’t they will return to a burned down home. And one of the most consistent ones is checking the doors are locked while home every time they walk past throughout the day. They feel if they don’t do these things, they can’t rest. And they don’t, until they’ve completed these rituals. But anxiety isn’t something anyone wants or something anyone is proud of. It can be debilitating to live with. And I challenge people who claim they have anxiety as if they’re proud to have it, like it’s a sick scar they’re sporting, to stop and think about that. I’ve definitely met people who have come to terms with their anxiety and deal with it and get help and may be open about discussing it but I’ve never met someone who ran around sharing they had it like a badge of honor. In fact, a lot of people I’ve met who struggle with some form of it to a varying degree are sometimes defensive about it or embarrassed when others complain about how “excessively anxious” they always are. They never asked for it.
That’s it. Some people I’ve met claim to have a mental disorder as if it’s a badge of honor, as if it’s something they enjoy living with. This could be a state of denial or it could be someone who doesn’t have it and actually doesn’t have a clue what it’s like. I remember in one of my friend groups everyone but a few people were talking about some of their mental health struggles and one of the guys was like, damn I wish I had a disorder, I feel so left out. And we all looked at him and were like, actually dude, no, no you don’t. It’s not fun and games. That’s like saying you wish you had cancer because you feel left out. I think some people may claim they have a mental disorder for the sympathy it nets them. We all want to feel like people care or that people are thinking about this but claiming you have a nonexistent mental disorder isn’t the way to go.
Of course, I saved the best (worst) for last. Depression, something I’m more well versed in because I do struggle with this. Someone once said, when asked what depression was like that it was like having broken legs and being sad because you can’t walk for a while but then you get over it. Ahem. I remember when sharing my depression being met with shock.
My depression, which I consider high-functioning and is also aided somewhat by the fact that it’s part of my bipolar, isn’t always obvious. Having manic episodes helps me appear somewhat normal, in the sense that I don’t seem depressed during these times. People just think I’m amped up and driven and energetic. They don’t know about my ridiculous spending sprees, my life threatening behavior such as criminal speeding while intoxicated or cutting my arms or legs open, or other risky, potentially life threatening behavior that I engage in during these times such as not eating or not sleeping for days on end. During my down periods which I consider to be my baseline even though they’re not, they’re below what should be baseline but they are baseline compared to the manic phases, I struggle to complete basic tasks in my daily routine, I struggle and often neglect self care, I’m highly critical of others, including and especially myself, constantly feeling that I’m a failure, I wear a happy mask and I struggle to maintain or start relationships, familial, friendly or otherwise. I feel a constant and overwhelming sense of sadness for no reason. I feel seriously unmotivated and lose interest in things I love. I experience lack of energy, lack of appetite, an often debilitating inability to concentrate and decreased sense of self esteem coupled with constant thoughts that I would be better off dead, like I’m the worst person in the world. And I do not enjoy any of this. I do not share this with people because I’m proud of my struggles or because I think I’m a hero. I don’t want or need sympathy either, I just want people to be aware of the struggles myself and others face.
All that being said, people don’t share their mental health struggles because they want sympathy, or maybe they do, but a lot of people, myself included would rather hide these things than be candid about it. Some of the reasons being the disbelief we’re met with such as, well you don’t look like you have depression, are you sure you do? Or the judgement that comes with it: it’s probably all in your head, you need more Jesus (or water, or sun (a doctor seriously told me that once) or exercise or meditation). I don’t dispute that those things can help but they aren’t a panacea. They’re not a cure. I’m able to manage my bipolar with a mixture of proper meals, self care, medication, exercise, sun and my faith. No one of these things by itself is going to help me and believe me, I’ve tried. Maybe for someone else, but not me and from what I’ve seen and heard, not for many other people either.
Mental disorders aren’t fun. They aren’t a fad. They should be used to garner sympathy. They shouldn’t be talked about as if they’re something desirable to struggle with. Because they’re not. They suck. But it doesn’t mean we don’t try to keep going and get help so we can manage it better. It also doesn’t mean we don’t talk about it, because awareness is important. It doesn’t mean we wish other people who don’t struggle had such struggles. I’ve told people before, some of the things I’ve experienced in my battle with bipolar I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’d probably wish for my worst enemy to be locked in a room with the one food they would absolutely kill for but be restrained so they can’t eat it so they slowly go mad, if I had a choice and also that being if my worst enemy deserved that kind of punishment. But I would wish for anyone who hasn’t already to deal with bipolar or anxiety or depression or schizophrenia or anything else. I don’t even wish for the people who have to deal with it, to have to deal with it.
Bottom line is, if I hear one more person say they’re depressed because their mom won’t buy them a pair of boots, I’m going to want to throw a shoe or whatever handy object nearby. I will restrain myself though because that’s what adults with self control do but it won’t stop me from greatly desiring to do so.