Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I Have Some Things To Say.

Mental illness vs let's say, cancer.

1.    Consider the differences in these two statements:

a.  I am mentally ill.
b. I have cancer.

From now on, I choose the second phrasing.  I have a mental illness.

2.   Interesting statistic, that has something to do with how stigmatized mental illness is, in this society, but also, to be fair, a bit to do with how weird Facebook can be. 

I post a link, on Facebook,  to a blog entry talking about Brad's cancer.  48 people "like" it, 5 people comment.

I post a joke on Facebook.  25 people "like" it, 3 people comment.

I post a link, on Facebook, to a blog entry talking about  the mental illness that I have.  9 likes,
9 comments.

3.  Brad and I were ill at the same time.  No-one ever suggested to Brad that my mental illness might be a "nice distraction" from his cancer.

4.  No-one ever suggested that Brad try not to think about his cancer so much, or that he was suffering more than he needed to because he was letting treatment take up too much space in his life.

IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO, AS A SOCIETY?

Perfectly lovely, well-meaning people who love me and want the best for me have said these things to me.  I have been urged not to talk about my mental illness because I will get hurt.  I have been encouraged to take up new hobbies, to stop thinking about it so much, to pray for guidance as to how to move on.

THESE ARE NOT HELPFUL THINGS.

I have to say - I am beyond fortunate.  I am surrounded by people who care about me, who listen to me when it gets weird, who will answer the phone and know I am not myself, and have a conversation with a traumatized 5 year old part if that's what's needed.  I have a long list of friends I can call when I'm struggling, who will not bat an eye, who will drop everything, who will circle the wagons for me.  And I have those, partially, because I have awesome friends, but also because I'll talk to anybody about anything if I feel like I'm being prompted to, and because I think I know more about mental illness than I did five years ago, and I feel like more people need to understand what it's like.  I spoke up about my illness because that's who I am.

But what about the people who can't speak up?  Who are too ashamed to admit that they're not okay? 

And why did I just write an entire paragraph defending myself for talking about the mental illness that I have?  Why do I feel like that's necessary? It shouldn't be.  The dialogue around mental illness should go like this:

You.  Depressed person.  Suicidal person, who is convinced your family will be better off without you.  Your brain is lying to you.  You are not fatally flawed or irretrievably broken. Some people get cancer, a horrible disease, to be sure, but one that people understand, at least somewhat.  Some people get a mental illness, an ugly messy invisible torment.  You didn't do this to yourself.  Find a way to talk.  There will be less judgement than you expect.  One word, one sentence - ask for help.  Write it down if you have to, and slip it under someone's door.  Suicide is a tsunami of torment for those left behind.   A recurring tsunami.  Your spouse will think they are to blame.  So will your children.  So will your parents.  Sure, it's going to be hard work to heal, but you don't have to do all that work today.  All you have to do today is find a way to say "help."

And help will come.

8 comments:

Joylene Bailey said...

I have lived with someone with mental illness, and your last paragraph is beautiful. Thank you.

Addy Oberlin said...

Thank you Susan for sharing so honestly about yourself. It is the ignorence of people that makes them react the way they are. We have a 14 year old granddaughter who is suffering with mental illness. We so wished we could help her. We pray for her and have to leave it with the Lord which is not always easy.

The Art of Being Kelly said...

I think often about talking with you when Bonnie and I visited. I was so amazed that you were so open about your illness and once I realized that you were ok with talking about it I was fascinated. I probably asked you questions that I would never have asked anyone else but I learned more about mental health in that 2 hours than I had in the past 10 years. So thank you for being so open. It has helped me understand and I hope that should the time ever come that I need help I will think of you and be brave enough to follow in your footsteps.

Nurse JB said...

Well said Sue! There's been an excellent advertising campaign here in Ottawa around this very topic. Sad that it isn't understood or supported the way other diseases seem to be. I do find that as a nurse there are many diseases and even death that people just are not equipped to deal with the information and react in a variety of ways. Some that would really make others raise their eyebrows! Know that I am just a phone call away, even though we haven't talked often. Like Kelly said, I learned so much from you when we did speak of it and love that you are so open. It is this type of openness that will make a change for mental illness little by little. Big hugs to you my friend! We should talk soon!

Larry and Liz said...

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective (i.e., the truth)regarding this one. I don't know anyone else who is dealing with this, but I guess it is quite possible that I do. I need to ask God to show me who and how and all that stuff. Thanks, Susan!!!

Carolyn said...

Sue! What is not to love about you?!! You are brave, courageous, giving, faithful, exuberant, gifted, and MUCH more good 'stuff' girl, much more!!! You have been given a gift, if I may put it that way, and I'm talking about your mental illness, yes, it is a gift. Why? Because YOU are just the kind of person who WILL go through it, WILL have healing, and WILL speak the truth about it, and this will help others, which is what you do! Bravo my friend...march on and continue being a light to many of us who need to know more and more about this illness, and how to stand with our friends and loved one going through it. Perhaps there is even a 'book' in your future about it all, and why not. God bless you!!

Wendy Barkman said...

I hear you.

word goddess said...

Don't know how I missed this post - I read everything you write. Thinking of you and hoping your struggle is getting/will get easier with time. Take care. Hugs.