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It has come to my attention that I’ve been living in the glorious delusion that everyone understands mental illness—its causes, symptoms, repercussions, etc. I guess I’ve assumed that its prevalence in society meant that everyone knows someone with a mental illness and they’ve taken the time to talk to said afflicted people and maybe even done some research to further their understanding.

I don’t say this often: I was wrong.

People are shockingly ignorant when it comes to mental illness. I’ve talked to many people who fancy themselves experts on the “bullshit excuses” used by folks suffering from various afflictions. These people obviously don’t know that I suffer from a few myself and I generally avoid throwing myself on that sword. I just quietly let them continue their diatribe until they find something less offensive to talk about.

It’s not only that people are misinformed (and oblivious to their misinformation); it’s that they legitimately can’t wrap their brains around it. I can’t blame them for that aspect of it. It’s exceedingly difficult to explain to someone what it feels like to have depression or bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia or attention deficit disorder. They’re difficult concepts to grasp when you’ve never experienced them yourself or seen them wreak havoc on a friend or relative.

I accept that some people will never know what it feels like and I would never wish that on anyone. If you are blessed enough to have a properly functioning brain I’m quite happy for you. You’re lucky and you deserve to enjoy being normal. However, you need to be conscious of your words when talking about mental illness—especially when discussing it with someone who’s affected.

I’ve experienced all of the below ridiculousness and would like to help you avoid offending/hurting those close to you who are affected:

1) First and foremost it’s not bullshit. It’s a physical, chemical thing that is awry in my brain. It’s not a cry for attention or a reason to act like an asshole without consequences. Believe me when I tell you my actions have consequences, even when they’re actions I want no part of. The hell of being a rational person who is mostly functional is realizing the damage I do when I have an episode. My mental issues are certainly not an excuse to behave badly, but they are an explanation that I would hope could lead to some basic human compassion/understanding when I do act out.

2) Don’t ask if I’ve been diagnosed by a professional. I have. Treating me like I’m a hypochondriac who self-diagnosed on WebMD makes me feel like shit.

2a) Don’t second-guess my doctor’s diagnosis—I don’t. If you disagree (and don’t have a medical degree), you should just keep it to yourself. I have spent countless hours with a variety of doctors hammering out my diagnosis in order to tailor a treatment plan specific to my needs. I’ve been to multiple doctors and tried on different diagnoses until my (current) doctor and I found the right one.

3) Do not, under any circumstances, tell me to “shake it off,” “snap out of it,” or “get over it.” That. Does. Not. Help. As previously addressed, mental illness is a chemical thing. Parts of it are rooted in childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect. It’s very real and it’s something that requires intervention beyond “snapping out” of it.

3a) Don’t belittle me by offering advice like “take St. John’s Wort” or “get more exercise.” While those things are peachy for very mild depression, they aren’t going to mitigate larger issues. I’m not going to get into my specific afflictions, but I will tell you they cannot be cured by an herb and a jog.

3b) Don’t ask me if I’ve taken my meds (or tell me I need to up my dosage) when you don’t like something I have to say. I may have mental illnesses but I’m still allowed to have dissenting viewpoints and opinions. Don’t call me crazy in an attempt to silence me.

I get that people see me as a relatively functional person—and I am. Most of the time. I try very hard to behave like a normal person but it’s not something I can do 100 percent of the time. I have episodes and I have bad days and sometimes I have full-blown meltdowns. I appreciate that you want me to be normal and that to you, I seem mostly normal. And I thank you for that gracious view of me. But I have some things below the surface that I would like for you to not deny/ignore because they make you uncomfortable. I’m sorry that I have to be your crazy friend—but I am your crazy friend.

I struggle every day. I struggle to pull out the best version of myself that I can. I struggle to accept the way things are—to accept that I can’t spend my life wishing I were normal or being pissed off that other people get to be normal. I don’t always come out on top of those struggles. Sometimes what I put other people through breaks my fucking heart. I’ve ruined more friendships than I can count. I flounder in everyday social situations. I’m prone to bouts of paranoia. These are the crosses I bear.

At the end of the day I try to make the best of the less-than-ideal hand I’ve been dealt. I like to think that I win more hands than I lose, but my opinion is pretty subjective.


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