What is it like to live with mental illness? How do people react when you tell them you have mental health problems?
On the whole people are nice and understanding, some are scared and some gloss over with with the skill of a fine decorator, but yes, on the whole people are nice. Some times however, people are too nice. As someone who was diagnosed with bi-polar around nine years ago now, I often meet people who I can’t help but put into categories in terms of their reactions.
The Naysayer: These are the people who deny you your mental health diagnosis, it might be because they are sceptical, or polite or want to make you feel better. Responses can range from “Oh yeh, I felt really down yesterday too” as if their slightly blue day is comparable to a raging mental health episode or the “you’ve not got <insert MH condition here> you’re too normal/funny/logical/level headed *delete as applicable” or my personal favourite the “oh yeh, I’m mental too LOL”. That one I think is the most hurtful for me and one I’ve encountered recently at university. It takes a lot of strength to admit in public that you have a mental illness, and even more so if you’re bringing it to someone’s attention because their behaviour may be upsetting you or triggering something within you, so when they laugh in your face and declare they’re mental too, it’s one hell of a kick in the guts.
The Questioner: Those who ask you why. It usually goes like this… You: “I’m having a bad day” The Questioner: “Why, what’s happened?” – I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found myself dumbfounded by this question. Erm I don’t know, I’m ill. There is no rhyme or reason as to why I’m feeling like this and you asking me has just made it ten times worse.
The Snap Out It: Well this one is the one that cuts the deepest, “pull yourself together”, “snap out of it”. I can recall one such situation when, years before my diagnosis when everyone thought I was just some raving looney (I’m sure a lot of people still do) my mother, unsure of how to deal with her unruly 19 year old daughter who was back living at home and refusing to go to work where, unbeknownst to her was being chronically bullied, when she piped up “Oh just pull yourself together and get to work” I don’t remember much else about that day apart from the fact that half my family were out looking for me after I’d stormed out the house in a fit of anger and upset and spent the next 5 hours hiding in some woodland, rocking and crying. Even writing this now, 15 years after the fact, my chest starts to clench up and my hands get a bit shaky, because mental health is a scary and upsetting illness.
For me, living with mental illness is a bit like having an annoying relative. They are part of you and will always be around and every so often they come and stay with you which is an altogether awful experience, but, somehow you get through it, because you have to. It’s only now, with years of experience can I prepare better for their stay and put things in place that won’t particularly make it any better, but can make it a tiny bit less painful.
It’s important we keep the mental health conversation going, it’s important that people see that people with mental illness hold jobs down and have a family and lead “normal” lives, it’s important that people realise that all you have to do to understand someone with mental health is look around you, it’s the guy sat next to you on the bus, it’s your colleague at the next desk.