Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Those With Mental Health Conditions Wish You Knew

Every time I decide to tell someone about my condition, I wonder what their reaction will be. With all due respect to humanity, I often hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  Not because I'm ashamed of my condition, or because there's any actual reason for someone to react negatively, but because, quite honestly - and unfortunately - we get used to it.  Bottom line: mental health gets a bad rap, and the media has done a great job of making us seem like a bunch of dangerous, delusional freakazoids who at best are going to ruin every fun time you ever planned with our "gloominess" and at worst are going to put on a mask and run into a building shooting innocent children. This is so ridiculously far from the truth, and yet people believe it and make decisions about you based on it.

In actuality, one in every four people has a diagnosed mental health condition. If you include addictive disorders, that number becomes a startling one in three. That is one quarter to one third of our population. If we were all dangerously violent individuals ready to commit mass murder on a whim, this country would be in the midst of one of the worst cases of genocide known to man. And yet, while the lack of this clearly speaks to the fact that we are not as the media portrays, people still don't know what to make of us. So here's what we'd like you to know.

  • There's nothing "wrong" with us. I don't run around being all squeamish about your diabetes or asthma or heart murmur. We're not Frankenstein. We're humans with a medical condition. 
  • The names of our conditions are simply that - names of our conditions. Not descriptions of who we are at the core, not titles, not adverbs or adjectives. You wouldn't be "acting all cancerous" so someone else isn't "acting all bipolar".  You wouldn't joke that you're "so asthmatic today" (assuming you weren't having an asthma attack) so you're not "so OCD/ADD". 
  • We would rather you broach the subject of our condition than avoid it like the plague. Obviously, like everyone else, we have good days and bad days, and on the bad ones, we may not feel like talking about it, or anything else. But in general, your interest in talking about it shows your openness and willingness to learn more so that you can be informed and supportive. You're avoidance shows ... the exact opposite. 
  • If you're unsure about something relating to us or our condition, ask. We loathe assumptions. They haven't done us much justice historically. If we aren't ready to talk about it, we'll politely tell you. But keep trying, please. 
  • We don't want to always have to be the one to start the conversation about it. Nobody wants to continuously have to say "So, let's talk about my health problems again!".  But we do want to feel like we can be "real" with you. 
  • When you say something to the effect of "Why would I treat you any different because of your condition?" it makes us want to hug you profusely. Don't worry, we won't without your permission. 
  • The little efforts you make mean so, so much. Whether it's genuinely asking how you can help (and following through if we answer honestly), learning about our condition, reading our blogs (if we blog), supporting mental health causes and organizations, or just being there to listen when we need, it goes a tremendously long way. 
  • Far from being violent and dangerous, we often have incredibly big hearts, and if you are one of those we let get close, we can be incredibly loving and caring. But due to all of the negativity we've experienced from society, you need to earn that trust. 
The bottom line is, mental health, and the conditions that fall under it, are not dirty words. They are not topics that need to be kept quiet, pushed under the carpet, and dealt with by avoidance and ignorance.  We aren't asking for accolades for battling what we do. We don't want special treatment, or to be tiptoed around. We just want want you to get to know us as a person, instead of a condition. Oh, and we don't want you to call us crazy. Only we're allowed to use that term. 

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