October 25, 2012

A Funny Thing About Mental Illness . . .

The other day, someone pissed me off!

I promised I wouldn't let her comments bother me.  I knew they were from outdated thinking and a lack of knowledge.


Our older son has bipolar disorder.  The years until we found help and hope were hellishly dark. That's why I'm so vocal about sharing our experience and the resources we've found.  That's why our son is so open about his illness and talks to everyone from fellow sufferers to mental health providers at seminars.

What did that woman say?  That it was probably my fault that our son was the way he is because I was too strict.  (I'm not even going to go into why that's ludicrous.)

Years ago, parents were blamed for their children's mental illnesses, especially mothers.  This is especially cruel as mothers often bear the brunt of finding help and hope for their children.  Now, we know mental illness is a brain illness.  And guilt over that is unnecessary and unhelpful.

People used to think (and some still do) that mentally ill people are just lazy.  If they'd only try harder . . .   Beep!  Wrong answer!  Mental illness is a brain illness like diabetes is a body illness.  Would you tell a kid with diabetes that if she'd just try a little harder her body would produce more insulin?

We're still working to dispel the shame, stigma and perceived weakness that often goes along with seeking treatment for mental illness.  Would you be ashamed to get dialysis if your kidneys weren't functioning properly?

This piece from the Washington Post, "My son is schizophrenic.  The 'reforms" that I worked for have worsened his life" is a must-read:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/my-son-is-schizophrenic-the-reforms-that-i-worked-for-have-worsened-his-life/2012/10/15/87b74a98-eadd-11e1-b811-09036bcb182b_story.html.  It's a great look at what sounds good on paper, but what actually works in real life.  The piece ends with excellent, concrete suggestions to make significant improvements.

These resources have been helpful to us:

1.  N.A.M.I.  (National Alliance on Mental Illness)--  The free "Family-to-Family" course from our local NAMI chapter educated us so much that it completely changed the way we think about our son's illness.  It was a lifesaver.  (N.A.M.I. has many free programs, support groups, resources, etc.)

2.  M.H.A.  (Mental Health America) -- Again, the local affiliate offered us many services and referrals.

3.  The non-fiction book:  Welcome to the Jungle:  Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar But Were Too Freaked Out to Ask by Hilary Smith, which is written in a fun, hip style and offers excellent advice and tools for living as well as possible with the illness.

So, what's the funny thing about mental illness?  Watch Ruby Wax, comedian, talk about it on this amazing TED Talk and tell me if you don't laugh (and learn).  (My favorite part is when she plucks off a piece of a Play-doh brain and tosses it over her shoulder.)


Kay said...

I never understood the negative stigma projected by the world and personal shame inflicted on the self when one has a mental illness, or any sort of disorder or condition that can't be shown visibly (like a bone fracture or an enlarged appendix). Suffering from Bi-Polar NOS and Fibromyalgia makes me a double-whammy for criticism and speculation. What's worse is that I fight through it, every single day, working as hard as I can to lead a normal life and not let these conditions overtake me, yet still I'm told to "just get over it" or "tried to be happy". It is so very frustrating. Rather than being commended for recognizing an issue and seeking help for a more healthy life, I have difficulty getting time off from work for appointments and to get insurance to cover treatment (or cover me at all). Yet smokers, who choose to smoke, get smoke breaks and insurance coverage when their lungs give up. It's so strange to me. But hey, my brain is broken, so maybe that's why I don't get it. :)

Wild About Words said...

Well said, Kay. We need parity, not only in our laws and insurance coverage, but in our collective thinking. Wishing you only the best as you continue in your daily struggles. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here!

Anonymous said...

I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder, which is not nearly as bad as bipolar disorder, but it is difficult. I post Anonymously because there is such a stigma I don't want to leave a trail on the internet. To others, my life seems very good, and I know subjectively that it is.... but I constantly hear voices that tell you that you are a failure, that it would be easier to go to sleep and not wake up (although I have seen the aftermath of suicide and would not do that to my family), that I will never be what I should be. I get up and go to work every day, I support my family, I try to keep a smile on my face, but the fact that I can't just say, "I'm having a really hard time today, and I can't focus, and I need a nap," makes life hard. If someone has a different sort of issue, they are praised for how well they do under the circumstances. If you have depression, you are lazy, you are weird, you are shy or unwilling to work to market yourself. Yes, we need to accept that mental illnesses are 1) real, 2) not anyone's fault, and 3) should receive the same degree of support as other illnesses

Anonymous said...

I'm really glad that I posted that anonymously, considering how many errors I made in typing that!

Wild About Words said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm grateful that you posted. Thank you. I hope that some day you can share your name because there will be ZERO stigma attached to having a brain illness and getting treatment for it. I also hope you are finding help, the right medication, good medical care and support.

Wishing you well,