Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mental illness

If your friend or family member had cancer or another serious physical health issue, would you ignore it? I would certainly hope not. I would hope you would ask them how they are feeling, both physically and emotionally. I would think you would be there for them, that you'd be willing to hear about the process and walk with them through it?

So what makes mental illness so different?

When a friend tells you they have a mental illness, it's one of the bravest things they can do. So we should not turn our backs on them. We should not ignore it as if it's not really there. We need to embrace it. We need to show that person just as much love and attention that we would anyone else. And when we see they are beginning to slip, we need to step in. Make yourself aware of their illness and be prepared for triggers. When something seems off or not right, ask them. I'm not saying we need to do this every moment of every day. You don't need to text your buddy at 7Am and say "hey, how's that bipolar thing going?" But if you haven't heard from them or you notice their eyes look a little sadder or they seem disengaged or distracted, check in. Consider it a mental health check in. If you were feeling lost and sad, wouldn't you want someone to check in with you?

This world still has so much to learn about mental illness. Being sad for a few days is not depression. Wanting a clean and organized space is not OCD. Getting nervous sometimes is not an anxiety disorder. They can be annoying and inconvenient, but a mental illness is something that affects you every single day. Sometimes, every moment of every day. 

Being paralyzed by fear to the point where you don't want to leave your dark bedroom? That's anxiety. Feeling so sad that you stop going anywhere, cut out most communication, wear the same clothes for weeks, and lay in bed not doing a darn thing but staring at the ceiling? That's depression. Obsessing over something to the point where it is literally all you can think about and you feel like your skin is crawling because you can't stop thinking about it? That may be OCD.

I am not an expert but I am someone who suffers a mental illness. And this is not a cry for you all to check in with me, it is merely an observation I have had for the past several years. 

We need to stop hiding from mental illness. We need to get educated and to start caring more. It's 2014 and all the resources in the world are available to us, yet we continue to pretend like it's not there. 

This is all stemming from the fact that I had a horrible dream today when I took a nap. In that dream, I told someone I was depressed (I'm not, but have suffered depression in my life) and they laughed and said "what else is new" and continued having a conversation with someone else. It scared me how tragically true that scenario could be. I don't think any of my family or friends would ever say something like that, but then again, you'd be surprised some of the things I've heard in my life. So I guess I just wanted to write a risky post about making ourselves more aware and compassionate about mental illness.

Also? Mental illness is not an excuse. It is a legitimate thing. Sometimes people can overcome it, sometimes they can't. But don't you dare call them weak or lazy because their minds don't work the same way yours does. They are fighting a daily battle.

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