I know, I know, we are halfway through Mental Illness Awareness Week and I haven’t said a word. In a way, I was wondering what I was going to post. What angle did I want to come at it from? And I find myself sitting here today and thinking of the word “stigma” in all its callous glory and I have decided I will write what being mentally ill means to me, because without knowledge there is ignorance and with ignorance there is stigma.
I can remember being depressed as far back as middle school. No one knew. I kept it my little, deep, dark secret. It was just me and the abyss. I tried stepping over it. I tried jumping over it. Eventually I built a bridge.
In college I suffered a severe depressive episode and was put on antidepressant. I still remember someone referring to them as “happy pills.” As if it were that easy.
I can now see the signs of bipolar disorder that were there before I was diagnosed. Before I had a mixed episode and nearly offed myself. That feeling of euphoric happiness that comes along with mania.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in October 2008. I was already being treated for anxiety and OCD.
What does anxiety feel like? It feels like something is inside your chest clawing to get out. It feels like there is no air to breathe in the room. It feels like you are too big in too small a space. It makes you look over your shoulder, hold yourself tight.
And OCD? Dear God above, O. C. D. This is probably the most self-diagnosed disorder out there. If you are obsessed with cleaning your kitchen you have OCD. If you like to have your library alphabetized, you have OCD. Maybe so, but probably not. The thing people forget about OCD is that it is not just “obsessive” is is also “compulsive.” I have obsessions with numbers, order, and germs. My compulsions include hand washing, counting, scratching my wrist, cutting my wrist, lining things up, arranging my closet by color or style. I’ve done the light switch thing. I’ve done the “is the door locked?” 15 times in a row. For me, it includes a lot of repetition – the number of times I wash my hands, the counting from 1-10 over and over. OCD fucking sucks. No joke.
The other night I referred to myself as “sick.” The person on the other end of the phone countered, “You’re not sick!” But I told him I was. I had mental illnesses and an illness makes you sick thus – I am sick. I don’t mean it in the media-frenzy way of “sickness” and mental illness, I simply mean – well, I am sick.
I didn’t ask to be this way. I don’t do it for attention. I don’t do it for the lovely stays in psych wards. I don’t do it because some famous person deals with the same illness that I do. Most of the time, it is just hard being me.
So, for all of you out there pointing your finger at people like me for being “less than,” I’d like you to try to understand what it might be like in a mentally ill mind. Imagine hearing voices. Imagine being paranoid. Imagine thinking you are Jesus. Imagine lying in bed for days. Imagine being unable to talk because it takes to much energy to move your lips. Imagine losing jobs. Imagine losing friends. All of these things can be true of a mentally ill person.
I’d really just like it if you considered me your equal, like when you share that you have type 2 diabetes and I don’t judge you. Don’t judge me. I am doing the best that I can, I assure you.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net