It's one thing to discuss the limitations of a mental illness and another to stand up and say that I am mentally ill. Mental illness has so much stigma associated with it. It's easy to pretend we're okay when we interact with others because they can't see - just like with physical invisible illnesses.
A couple of times now I've engaged in conversations on social media about remembering to be inclusive of those with mental illnesses when we're discussing or designing things for physical illnesses. Each time I've gotten hit with personal crap that didn't need to be dragged into the situation - and this is from other chronically ill activist types.
Each time I've gotten comments about how, essentially, I need to get over what happened, see the great things that I'm doing, and move on to a more optimistic mindset.
Like hello, my mental illnesses don't care if I'm happy.
I need to point out quickly that none of these things would be said if I was a veteran or had been through a major publicized tragedy. But nah, just grew up being beaten, belittled, and mind-fucked, so no biggie here.
Those of you who know me in real life know that I'm actually annoyingly sweet and optimistic when my mental illnesses aren't getting in the way. I have to stop myself from running when I have a good day in the middle of a flare because surely I'm fixed now! I have to calm myself down when seeing movies because I get so excited that I bounce up and down like a small child.
I am SO much the heart from the heart and brain comics that it isn't even funny.
And yet these people who are supposed to be about helping each other attack others who aren't into optimism or positivity 24/7. It's so nauseating and I don't understand why this continues to happen. Suggesting that people remember to be inclusive or stop using ableist language isn't an attack - and it doesn't warrant responses that feel like personal attacks. That's already something that I sadly get in the chronic illness community because I refuse to be inspiration porn or happy all the time dealing with my physical illnesses.
I've also had it pointed out to me that I still accomplish cool or big things, as if those things wouldn't be able to be done with mental illnesses and I must not have it as bad or not be ill. If any of you who are thinking that are reading this, know that some of the best artists and scientists in all of history lived with these illnesses. That does not make them any less ill.
In our big community, people attack each other for a lot of things - positivity, inspiration porn, physical activity level, not being disabled enough, etc. People jump to each others' aid when this happens, and yet do nothing when the conversation is about mental illness. I guess it would change things if that was something that happened, but it isn't. Nonetheless when these things happen, it really makes me question why in the world I'm involved with this shit. Honestly.
It makes me question every single thing that I've done since 2007 to become more involved in the illness community. It makes me question going back to school, being involved in these orgs and groups, and even blogging. Sometimes this even comes from people who I've helped a good amount and it makes me question my decision making skills.
I'm sure some will respond that I shouldn't let people get to me, that I'm the only person who can make myself feel inferior, and other bullshit.
I have mental illnesses. These don't make me any less of a person but, unfortunately, they affect the way I interact with others. My brain is wired - literally wired - differently than someone who hasn't dealt with depression or anxiety or PTSD. On scans, my brain looks different than yours because of the abuse I've lived through. I cannot change that any more than I can change my eye color - I can cover it up with contacts and not tell anyone, the truth but it's still there.
Even as this post goes up, I'm getting ready to spend time with other juvenile arthritis peeps at the JA conference. I'm nervous about who I will interact with and how I will portray myself. I'm worried that I will have an anxiety or panic attack and everyone will know. I'm worried about saying the wrong thing and making it obvious I have shit social skills. I'm worried the abuse that I've lived with every single day will pop up and make it hard to do what I'm there to do - interact with others.
I worry about this more than anything - more than lines at theme parks or applying enough sunscreen or hurricanes or delays in our flights or flaring up from going or the humidity down in Orlando.
I worry about this so much that I can barely sleep. The sleep I do get isn't restful. My body is on edge constantly, which makes my physical illnesses angrier. I worry about it so much I don't speak so much to my husband as I do to our piggies because I know I'll bring this all up and I don't want to talk about it.
It affects work. It affects home. It affects my doctor and therapy appointments. It affects the very little social life I do have. It affects my other illnesses. It affects my self-esteem. It affects how I parent my guinea pigs or relate to my husband or talk to others in my family.
If you want to learn more about mental illness, ask kind questions of others. Don't attack them or turn conversations about general topics into specific things about that person. If you want to be helpful, use kind and calm words. We all jump to someone's aid when there is a misconception about their physical illness - why do we jump to the attack instead when it's about mental illness?
Next time you feel like questioning someone's illness, please remember how shitty it feels when you're on the receiving end.