Jun 26

Mental Illness: It is an Illness

Before I even start writing this post, I have to say how annoyed I am by the font in the headline.  I have no say over it – it’s what comes with this template.  But HELLO! Illness should not look like Illness.

Sorry – sidetracked. It happens a lot on this blog. That’s why most of you read it, right?

Time to get serious.

As I tried to get out of bed yesterday morning, this post wrote itself in my brain. With every re-setting of the alarm and clicking on the snooze button, paragraphs formed in my mind.  I was compelled to write it. I tried to be productive all day – because of my current (crazy and, honestly, about to get crazier) work demands – it took until 4 p.m. yesterday before I had time to actually sit down at my desk and write.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, we need to get educated about mental illness because it does not always look the way we expect it to.  With a little play on the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” article’s title, I elaborated about how we expect depression (and other mental illnesses) to look one way, but they often look entirely different. 

Each person’s experience with mental illness may look different than we expect.

medium_306983822As I thought about the post, though, I realized that – as important as the concept of knowing how depression and other mental illnesses may show themselves differently – accepting the fact that mental illness is an illness…rather than some manifestation of laziness or whatever negative adjective that has been used to describe the mentally ill…is pretty important.

Let’s all say it together (I dare you to say this out loud wherever you are right now): mental illness is an illness, and an illness needs to be treated. (Repeat as necessary)

If you (all) can agree with the truth that mental illness is an illness and – therefore – should be treated in the same way that other illnesses are treated, then another part of the stigma surrounding mental illness can be removed. 

Just in case you cannot agree with this, I guess I will just keep writing the thoughts that came to me as I slept…and awoke…and slept…

Who withholds treatment from someone with diabetes?  No one!

I use diabetes as an example because it has several good correlations with mental illness.

  • Both can sometimes be controlled with diet, exercise, and life choices.
  • Both often require medication.
  • Both are controlled best when “patient” makes and keeps appointments with a trained professional.
  • Both require a lifetime outlook but could be mediated or “in remission” so to speak.

I know that I do better with my bipolar self when I eat better, walk or do yoga, and make good choices (like getting enough sleep).  When I do not do what I know I need to do, I am working against myself.  The same is true of a diabetic.  In some people with either illness, medications could be avoided (in some cases) when following the “life prescription” from our doctors.

However!!!! I had a good friend in high school who followed all of her doctor’s directions, and her cholesterol (yes, I switched illnesses…you can follow…) still required medication.  She was just five feet tall but weight under 100 lbs and never went to McDonalds.  She was not  someone you would expect to have a high cholesterol problem!  No matter what she did, though, she could not change her chemical make up without medication.

This is true of many with mental illness, but society often forgets that this is true.  There are many who expect those who suffer with depression to just pull it together or those who suffer from schizophrenia to stop hearing voices or seeing people who are not there. 

Seriously?

If we accept that mental illness is an illness, then we need to agree that the illness may need treatment.  And that treatment could involve both life changes such as more exercise or eating right AND medication, therapy, or other things.  Telling the person with a mental illness to try harder is pretty insulting.

When we are someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to accept this, work with our health professionals, and make wise choices so that we can live as “normal” of as possible.  We may need to do a few things to help our condition, and we need to accept that and -  well – do them.  For example, I absolutely should start every morning with a walk.  When was the last time I did that??? Time to start – it helps!

When we are supporting someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to support that person, to hold that person accountable for going to appointments, and to encourage him or her to do all that will help – diet, exercise, medication, life changes…whatever! BUT we need to be careful and wise how we do that.  What we say is not nearly as important as how we say it.

In the past few months, I have taken some time off from this posting a lot on this blog.  While I did that, I took a blogging class that asked to consider why I write.  Originally, it was to help me to mediate the impact of my own bipolar self. 

For nearly two years, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about everything – things I saw, things I did, and things I thought.  I argued against myself from one week to the next on issues.  I ranted. I raved.  My fingers flew across the keyboard.

My mind emptied, quieted, and slowed.

The blogging helped me.

Now, though, I see my purpose in this blog to a voice for those who have lost their voice to whatever biological, psychological, or illogical sickness ails them.  I want to help those who have been marginalized because of society’s misunderstanding of the crazy we feel inside our head – and trust me, I think some crazy thinks sometimes.

The foundation for this purpose first and foremost has to be to help promote the fact that mental illness is an illness.  While those of us who suffer from it – just like someone who suffers from diabetes or high cholesterol – can make choices to help mediate it, we might not be able to “just get over it.” 

And we need not only to be treated but to be respected, loved, and even cherished.

I am thankful for my family and friends who have walked this road with me over the past three years since my diagnosis. While I have probably always suffered, I was incorrectly diagnosed throughout my life. Now that we have an accurate diagnosis, we can have an accurate treatment plan. 

But it is not easy being me…and is not always easy being around me…but that seems to be another blog. As usual, I have babbled…and have no idea how to end…so I will just stop writing…

Happy Wednesday!

photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

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