The Gross Public Ignorance Regarding Mental Disorders

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I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, look, its another high-horse statement about people misunderstanding the mentally ill, I don’t want to hear it,” and I’m apt to agree with you. There are a lot of people who address the issue in a condescending manner, and as a result, kind of cause the opposite of their intentions to occur. That being said, if you decided to read this post, you’re probably willing to be open minded about the subject, so just humor me, and try not to tune it out. This message is important, and it needs to be said.

One of the reasons folks have trouble taking the issue seriously is for the same reason some don’t donate or advocate charities they or their loved ones have nothing to do with, like Breast Cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.; they’re so far removed from the problem that it’s hard to care, and I get that. I do. I even catch myself doing it sometimes out of habit.

I suffer from Bipolar Disorder type II. I was diagnosed at 20 and started taking meds that I hated to try and make myself easier to get along with for my friends, loved ones, and myself. That didn’t stick, and I stopped the regimen because I didn’t want to have to rely on medication to be a “normal” person, and that kind of worked, for a while. When the problem reared its head again at 23, it was so severe that there were days when I cried because I didn’t want to get out of bed. When I wasn’t debilitatingly depressed, I was irritated, tired, and hard to be around for everyone.

I’m going to address some myths that most healthy people either don’t understand, or don’t take seriously enough to try. Again, please don’t check out just yet; you might learn some enlightening things that will prepare you to comprehend and even help someone in your life that suffers from a mental disability. Trust me, they will thank you for it.

Depressed people are just sad.

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This is an idea that frankly baffles me; when people think about the word “depressed”, they think it means someone suffering from it is just “down”, or in some kind of slump, and they throw the word out carelessly when they themselves are going through said situations. I know I’m never going to be able to do anything about that; the correlation is used out of proper context so often that it’s second nature at this point and will probably be misused forever. Some people go farther than being ignorant, and actually blame the victims of depression for moping around and being generally unpleasant. What’s worse than that, is that a lot of jerks don’t think its a real disorder. They think folks can just “snap out of it” whenever they want, and are overreacting for attention. Let me tell you something; I hate it when regular people refuse to believe there are such things as certain, or even all mental disorders. It’s beyond nasty. I have an Ex-Boyfriend who refused to believe I am Bipolar, or that mental illnesses are real. He thought it was a ploy by the government to make money selling the drugs marketed to “fix” us, and held it against me when I had trouble controlling my moods and impulsive actions. He honestly thought I was pretending to be sick. He once told me that he believed I could control myself if I really wanted to, I just wasn’t trying hard enough. In short, he was a total bastard; despite knowing he was wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to leave him because after 3 years together, it was simpler not to, and I truly believed no one else would ever tolerate my behavior for long enough to love me. Chances are pretty low that the misinformed masses, as normal people, aren’t and never will be an authority on the subject of mental disabilities, and and leave their diagnostics to actual professionals.

Depressed people aren’t just sad; they’re so unhappy and hopeless that they have trouble functioning at all. Things like going to work, getting out of bed, and grooming themselves are seen as tedious tasks not worth the effort, because none of it will make them feel better anyways. There’s an anxiety about being around other people;  they often don’t want to talk to anyone, especially if they’re aware of their mood’s effect on those around them. The sadness doesn’t stop, or if it does, it’s brief. One thought about something that’s pressing down on them can cause them to cry at the drop of a hat, or at least want to, no matter where they are or what they’re doing. One of the worst symptoms is losing the desire to even do things that they normally enjoy; reading, painting, running, writing, playing with their pets, whatever. I used to spend days upon weeks wanting to get up and create things, because that’s something I love to do. (I don’t suffer from traditional depression, but it is a symptom of Bipolar II) Even reading or playing video games didn’t appeal to me. I just couldn’t bring myself to do any of it, so I laid on my couch all day and watched TV, napping on and off. I didn’t even brush my hair, and was too lazy to shower until I absolutely had to. Depressed people aren’t sad, and they’re not faking it. They feel hopeless and useless, because their self-esteem is at rock bottom. They want to function like you, but they can’t, and that’s why its all the more insulting when someone doesn’t believe their problems are even real.

Let’s fix this: Stop throwing around the word “depressed”. If you don’t understand the disorder, do some research. Educate yourself, especially if someone you know is suffering.

“Cutters” are just faking it for attention.

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Self-mutilation is a serious symptom of most mental disorders. Cutting, scratching, and hitting things just to hurt oneself are some ways it can manifest. People think that just because someone is not actually trying to commit suicide, that they just want want people to feel sorry for them. Yes, some people do it as faux cries for help, and that’s disgusting; it’s also why near nobody takes self-harm seriously. I can’t speak for anyone else, because everyone has different reasons for hurting themselves. I did it because to me, it felt good, everyone I tried to explain that to, even some members of my family, just couldn’t comprehend that notion; I was often punished for cutting, instead of being taken to someone who could actually help me. When I hurt myself, I liked the idea of seeing the wounds on my body; having physical scratches and bruises helped me project the fact that I was suffering in a way no one could see, and focusing on that pain gave me relief from the focus on my real problems. I also used to punch things until my knuckles swelled and bled. I’d hit concrete, trees, walls, anything that I knew would do damage.

Thankfully, I no longer self-mutilate. I haven’t in probably three years, and even then it was sporadic, not constant like it was in my teens.

Let’s fix this: If you see evidence of self-harm on someone you know or love, don’t assume it’s for attention, and do not, under any circumstances, punish them for it. They’ve already punished themselves, so why would you think hurting them further will cause anything more than excess damage?

Schizophrenics have split personalities.

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This is a common myth perpetuated by people thinking that hearing voices in your head is the same thing as having one or more fully developed personalities inside of you, also known as a completely different ailment; Multiple Personality Disorder. Schizophrenia is not a joke; it’s one of the most serious illnesses someone can suffer from. Visual and auditory hallucinations are just the beginning. Most schizophrenics have trouble functioning socially, and some aren’t able to at all. Imagine delusions where everyone you know is your enemy, and you have to live in a constant paranoid state where not only are your friends and family trying to “get” you, most other people are as well. Though paranoia is present in other mental illnesses, (including my own) it is by far more prevalent among Shiczophrenics.

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The illness can cause victims to lose their train of though frequently, develop strange or unintelligible speech patterns, and have trouble understanding what parts of their lives are real, and what parts are in their head. If you’ve ever had even the briefest experience with dissociation of that nature, you should already know its terrifying. Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to deal with it every day. Schizophrenia, like Bipolar Disorder, is an ailment that never goes away, and that’s really hard for most folks to grasp. It’s not like having the flu in your brain. We’re not getting any better; nothing short of medication, engaging in healthier habits, and for some, therapy, is going to “repair” us. Sufferers have to take drugs for the rest of their lives that are both expensive, and come with a checklist of unpleasant side effects. Going off their meds can actually cause the disability get worse, often resulting in full relapse.

Let’s fix this: Stop casually calling people schizoids just because they’re acting a little erratic or irrational, and correct the thought that Schizophrenics have a “split personality”, or become a different person.

Narcoleptics just fall asleep all willy-nilly.

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Narcolepsy is no laughing matter, though a lot of people think it is. Case in point being Moulin Rouge; there’s a Narcoleptic character in the film whose sleeping patterns exist in the plot for the sole purpose of comedic relief. Think falling asleep while you’re driving is funny? Yeah, neither do I.

People who have Narcolepsy lack the ability to control their sleep-wake cycle. That doesn’t mean just collapsing mid-jog or taking a nap down a flight of stairs. What it does mean, is near constant bouts of daytime fatigue, no matter how much sleep one garnered the night before. When they do nod off, its usually brief, and about as controllable as peeing their pants. It can happen during conversations, performing daily activities, working, in class, etc. They can’t fight it, either. Because their sleep-wake cycle is so out of sync, it can cause REM to kick in almost as soon as lying down, only they’re technically still awake when it happens. This is also known as Sleep Paralysis; a condition where one is 100% aware of their surroundings, but remains completely paralyzed, unable to wake themselves up. SP can occur independently of Narcolepsy, (and in fact, I suffer from a pretty severe case of it) but it’s a common symptom of the disorder. On top of the terrifying notion that is being stuck in your body and not being able to control it, SP can induce horrifying hallucinations, ranging from someone holding the sufferer down, suffocating them, drowning, “presences” all around them, voices, and even full body hallucinations. I had an episode once where I hallucinated I was being dragged around my ceiling. Sounds fun, right? Actual non-sleeping hallucinations immediately after waking from a bout of SP are also common, and that’s about as scary as it sounds. On top of not being able to control themselves falling asleep, Narcoleptics probably also have to endure horrifying lucid dreams and visions.

Let’s fix it: Find out more about Narcolepsy; it’s rare, and not very likely that you know someone who is such, but I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power, and hey, a little learning never hurt anyone. Don’t laugh when Narcolepsy is erroneously represented in the media as a humorous thing, it’s not very funny to its victims, and it shouldn’t be to you, either. There’s nothing cool about a laugh-reel behind someone getting into often injury inducing situations.

Bipolar people go from being normal to bitchy in 3.5.

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The fact that this shirt exists makes me want to scream.

Obviously, this myth insults me on a very personal level, and the fact that it’s by far the most commonplace misconception makes it that much worse. Go Google the word Bipolar; 99% of the images are of someone’s face split into a smile and a frown, or two happy and sad appearing people. I actually failed to find a single one that applied, short of pictures of the word itself, which is why I had to use a facetious image. The term “Manic Depressive” isn’t synonymous with “Gemini” (The fact that I happen to be a Gemini notwithstanding) I cannot stand it when people say that someone they know is being “Bipolar” just because they’re in a run-of-the-mill shitty mood. Chances are you’ve heard the phrase, “Oh my gosh, I’m (or insert name here) so up and down today. I must be Bipolar”, or something along those lines at least once before. Let’s get this strait: You and your friends aren’t “acting” Bipolar, ya’ll are just being a total douchebags. It also doesn’t mean that someone frequently changes their minds or acts contrary to the way they do usually. To me, using “Bipolar” so flippantly is akin to and as bad as using the word “gay” as a derogatory insult, or to describe something that you don’t like. Think about that for a minute. It’s downright insulting, and when I see it, it makes me literally want to punch the perpetrator(s).

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No, you’re SO experiencing the normal range of human emotion

Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression, is, for the most part, categorized by two types. Type II is less severe; the sufferer has never been hospitalized as a result of their illness, and while it makes their day-to-day nigh unbearable, they never or rarely do things that cause them to cease functioning completely or physically hurt someone as a result of their disability. Downs can last weeks, months, or years at a time, though victims usually suffer several “hypomanias” during a single day, which is basically exactly what it sounds like; mini manic episodes. Type I is defined as someone who has been committed to a facility for treatment, has at least at one point completely stopped being able to function socially, and their actions have frequently gotten them into real “trouble”. Their Manias last longer, and are categorically more severe; this doesn’t mean that Type II’s don’t experience those too, however.

Here’s what being Bipolar actually means: Depression is a part of the disease, and has the same symptoms. I won’t bore you going over them again, as most people at least have a vague grasp on what Depression is. Mania is something entirely different. Most people don’t understand it if they’re aware it’s a condition at all. When a Bipolar person is Manic, they behave in dangerous ways; impulse control is a big issue, indulging in risky behavior, abusing drugs, lashing out at people, etc. For example, I got in a huge fight with my boyfriend a few years back late at night, so because I didn’t want to be at home, I left and went to sleep in my works’ parking lot, which was about 25 minutes away. A few hours later I had come down and wanted to go home, but realized I didn’t have enough gas. It was about four in the morning and I had no money in my bank account; no gas stations near were open, so I had to wait several hours before I could return to my apartment. I could have gotten myself hurt or worse, and I know I’m lucky I didn’t.

Periods of high self esteem are common, and while that may not seem so bad, it can cause one to be snotty or do something dangerous that they’re not actually capable of. Paranoia is also a possibility, even to the point of hallucinations; I used to get pulled over so often (mostly due to the police profiling my 1990 Le Baron convertible) that I honestly thought cops were out to get me. Any time one was even in the same general area as myself, I damn near had full blown anxiety attacks. Something I have a big issue with when I’m Manic is laser focus on certain tasks, and it’s almost cost me my job. I would pick something to work on, and engage in it to every last minute detail, even ones that would probably go unnoticed. It affected my performance at work, because it was very time consuming, and just plain odd to the untrained eye. Some days if my hair or makeup isn’t just right, I still fix it over and over and over and over again until I’m satisfied, and it’s caused me to be late to work more than a few times. I finally broke down and told my boss why I tended to act so erratically; he pretended to be understanding, but later demoted and shipped me off to another store. Because my thoughts were racing, I often spoke so fast that no one could understand me. I would have embarrassing anxiety attacks that sometimes occurred out in the open. Would you want such a volatile human being on your payroll? Manic compulsion is something we can’t fight. It’s like an intense need to eat when we’re starving; we feel like if we don’t act, there will be unpleasant consequences.

When I was in my teens, I had trouble sleeping when Manic, because thoughts and ideas never stopped buzzing through my head at the speed of light, until finally I stopped trying to sleep and acted on them. Art projects, research on some question I wanted answered, writing, crafting, planning outfits and hairstyles, etc. I never got any sleep, but a symptom of Mania is that you can function on very little rest for a period of time, but eventually crash with no warning. I failed both History and Chemistry my Junior year due to uncontrollably falling asleep in class. Back then I had no idea what was going on, I just thought I was a person with weird habits.

As I mentioned, I didn’t seek help until early in my twenties, then gave up because I didn’t want to take pills for the rest of my life to be able to function like a normal human being. It’s so disheartening to know that I, and other victims of the disorder, are broken for real, and not only are we not fixable without drugs, half of the people we interact with take for granted the fact that they don’t have to jump through hoops to survive.

Let’s fix this: Do some research on Mania. Its one of the most wildly misunderstood symptoms that exists, and it doesn’t hurt to be able to recognize the behavior of a loved one so you can get them help, or stop them from acting on their impulses, because it could very well save their life. For the love of all things Holy, stop using the word bipolar to explain away someone’s mood, or as an excuse for your own bitchy behavior.

Now that you know, use that knowledge to help people.

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I know I got preachy at a few spots there. I apologize, its hard not to with a subject so close to home. I hope this helped some of you retain a firmer grasp on these very serious illnesses, and that I permanently squashed the rumor mill, at least for some of you.

If you’re healthy, thank your lucky stars you don’t have to carry the burden of not only being irreparably sick, but also actually being forced to pay exorbitant amounts of time and money fixing something you were born with. (Thanks, America. Ily too). If you or someone you know has some serious concerns about you maybe being sick, please, please get help before you hit rock bottom. I learned the hard way that pride can’t come before being healthy, or at least as close to healthy as I will ever be. It’s embarrassing that people see and judge my bad behavior, and short of wearing a kick-me sign on my back that says, “Please don’t judge me, I’m Bipolar”, I pretty much have to deal with it. I can’t just tell acquaintances and co-workers I’m mentally ill, because the subject is such an awkward taboo to most folks. Even if I did decide to tell say, my boss, or someone I acted strangely toward, I would have to explain the fact that no, I’m not “fake” Bipolar, I’m actually mentally ill; chances are they would still think I was making an excuse, or even worse, think that my condition only applies to mood swings.

It hurts my feelings that I’ve done mean or wrong things to people who will never trust me again, and going back to a doctor is one of the best things I have ever done for myself; I’m never sorry I did it, unless it’s about the fact that I’m insane-ing myself out of house and home. It’s for a good cause. I got to the point where I was hopeless every single day, and didn’t even know I was acting strangely until several friends and family members asked me about it. Communication is important, don’t be afraid to speak out.

Being crazy sucks, but hopefully, together, we can take this little step in the right direction, and make it all an iota more bearable. Also, you won’t get arrested again for punching a barbie-girl in the face when she says, “Like, Oh my God Becky, sometimes I like my butt, and other times I hate it. I’m like, so Bipolar.”

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Seriously though, fuck off.