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What if physical illnesses were treated like mental illnesses?
There’s this great comic strip going around right now that pinpoints the stigma people living with mental illness face every day.
Here’s the link to it if you haven’t seen it already:
and here’s the link to the original artist. (because going to the original source is very important) Go give the person some love:
Take a minute and look at it if you haven’t and then come on back. I can wait.
All right…so I posted this on my public Facebook page and I received responses from people who got this. Right away as in ‘oh, yeah…isn’t that funny?’ Except, of course, it isn’t. One of my friends posted that zie had hurt zir shoulder and zie found it funny how zir shoulder injury has received more compassion and support than zir’s mental illness.
Funny, huh? Yeah. Hah fucking hah.
I just was in the ER for chest pains. After it was decided I wasn’t having a heart attack or seizure, I was given ibuprofen for the physical side of it (inflammation of the cartilage due to stress) and also a prescription for anxiety (also, as a good side effect, it helps me go the fuck to sleep).
The doctor who treated me was wonderful as was my nurse and the two technicians who did the EKGs and drew my blood for tests. They didn’t treat me as less of a person once it was figured out that my physical reaction was due to a mental reaction.
I know that some people in the medical field aren’t as forward thinking and supportive and I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you’ve had to deal with insensitive doctors and staff.
It’s hard enough dealing with people and society who insists on treating people who live with mental illness as though they should banish themselves and not come out unless they can, you know, be NORMAL.
What the fuck is that?
Because, normal to me is being able to get out of bed, jump into the shower, get dressed, and go to school without having an anxiety attack, unable to move because I’m so depressed I can barely take a breath, or so physically exhausted that moving takes a lot more energy than what I have.
Normal is being able to think without that cloud that coats my thoughts with white noise. Or, even worse, the suicidal urgings of my fucked up brain chemistry that whisper/talk/scream at me to kill myself every second of every day.
Normal is looking into the mirror and not seeing a thousand yard stare back at me. It’s nice to see a spark of life in my eyes. It’s nice to be able to look at myself and not have red-rimmed blank eyes looking back.
Normal is being able to say, when someone asks, ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine! I’m doing real good,’ and mean it instead of lying through my teeth or changing the subject or ignoring the question altogether.
I don’t have “normal” a lot. This past ER visit cost me days in rest and recovery. My professor was kind enough to extend my final test day until Friday. I am in a much better state of mind to take the test. I’ve been studying and I hope to do well when I go in on Friday to take it.
The shit thing is that if I push myself too hard and don’t take the time to do self-care because I feel I need to be, well, normal, my body breaks down. The physical illnesses I get because my mental illnesses are overwhelming me disguise themselves well. I get headaches. I get fevers. I get physical exhaustion. I get chest pains that feel like a heart attack.
And it’s a zero sum game, isn’t it? I get sick then I feel disgusted with myself because I’m sick. I’m sick because I’m not taking good care of myself because I live with my mental illnesses but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to pretend/ignore them sometimes because the stigma of being “mentally ill” really bites.
So I push myself. I pass for “normal.” I bite down hard and pretend that everything is OK. I’m all elbows and corners and fierce smiles when I’m imploding on the inside and bleeding out. I can fool anyone. Anyone, unless I say, ‘I’m dying inside and I’m not doing well.’
I’ve been doing this for years. And so do other people who live with mental illness. We all know how to pretend and push back the symptoms and fool everyone around us. It’s all good, it’s all fine, never mind the tremors in our bodies and the blankness in our eyes. We don’t want to be a problem or a burden or a nuisance.
Except now I have two wonderful sons who live with mental illness and the last thing I want them to see is unhealthy ways to cope. The last thing they need to learn from me is how to kowtow to society and to people who should fucking know better. They owe NOTHING. No explanations on doing self-care. No apologies for setting limits and boundaries.
I teach them how to listen to their inner selves and listen to their physical bodies and rest when they need to rest and do self-care and not, I repeat, not be influenced by those fuckers out there who have never lived with mental illness in their life. It’s so easy to tell someone how to live when they’ve never walked in that person’s shoes.
So this cartoon strip. This cartoon strip that’s going around. It’s a twist on the old tale. It’s a new way of looking at something that’s those of us who live with mental illness have dealt with for years. It’s about fucking time and I’m so so grateful to the artist who drew this. Who pointed out the stupidity and the cruelty and the hypocrisy of treating people who live with mental illness as though we are doing things on purpose.
Trust me, pal. I can do without the anxiety or depression or suicidal thoughts. Some days, some rare rare days, I don’t have them and those days are ephemeral and beautiful and cherished.
But mostly, my days are a careful balance of keeping the Black Dogs at bay and taking good care of myself. So I can take good care of my sons. And so they can see how it needs to be done.
My chest still hurts. I take my ibuprofen, I take my anxiety medicine, I rest a lot. I hope that the inflammation heals. I remind myself that it’s OK to take it slow. I tell myself that I shouldn’t care what others think. I try not to think of things getting worse (that doesn’t help the anxiety levels AT ALL).
Most importantly, I surround myself with people who support me, understand me, care about me. They are a buffer against those who’d think I’m not trying hard enough. Or that I need to just change my mind and all.
Or that with a little effort, I can be…normal.