Living with mental illness is a tough experience under the best of circumstances. Dealing with people’s ignorance of the disease, managing symptoms, and even paying for treatment can cause even a person without a health challenge to snap.
Once I was well into recovery from bipolar disorder, like so many others, I started doing advocacy work. I currently make my living as an activist, speaker, and writer and it is my job to openly discuss what it means to live with mental illness. I’m not shy about sharing the difficulties of managing bipolar disorder or the unfortunate mistakes I’ve made along the way. Does simply having mental illness make me an inspiration? Shouldn’t I have to do something?
Mental Illness Makes Everything I Do Inspirational (Not!)
I’ve noticed that some people believe everything I’ve done is inspirational, for apparently no reason other than my mental health status. Further, I’ve began running into throngs of people who believe everything they do is inspirational simply because of their diagnosis. It’s as though having a mental illness has made us magical.
I’ve watch some of my peers expect special treatment for their illness while at the same time demanding equality. The idea that having mental illness means we can do whatever we want because we are brave and inspirational doesn’t sit well with me. I want to be judged on the same level as everyone else. This means if my speech is boring, I get the same polite golf clap as every other boring speaker in history.
It also means that when I make a mistake, I have to own up to it. Requesting a pass because of an illness gives the impression that we want, even expect, special treatment. There is no equality in people making excuses for our behavior, especially when it comes from us. If my panic attack damages your car, I owe you an apology and payment to repair your car. The rules of society don’t change simply because we are sick.
All Mental Illness Stereotypes Can Be Damaging
All mental Illness stereotypes can be damaging, even positive ones. Even if we use a stereotype to somehow escape consequence, rest assured there is a catch. The stigmatization of people with mental illness is a multi-headed beast. If a person truly believes that just getting dressed in the morning makes us an inspiration, they clearly don’t see us as an equal.
While it is nice to be recognized, let’s set the bar higher and let people know that not drooling on ourselves doesn’t make us inspirational – it makes us normal. Frankly, many of us are inspirations – for the success we’ve had helping others and leading accomplished and normal lives. But we can all be inspirational by being incredible advocates and helping educate the public on what mental illness is and is not. Let’s be inspirational because we are being judged on the same scale as everyone else. Let’s be inspirations because we achieved something, not because we were diagnosed with something.