Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mental Health Pet Peeves

In the mental health community, we face a lot of stigma. Some of it is overt. People calling us crazy or mental or insane. People saying we're dangerous, violent. These people, while they frustrate the hell out of me, are sometimes easier for me to deal with. I pull out statistics about how those with mental health conditions are ten times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than perpetrators. I tell people how I run a business and work a part time job, have recently written a novel in my "spare time", and have served on numerous boards of directors, to name a few accomplishments. This tends to make people realize perhaps I'm not as "crazy" as they would like to think. Or they do, and I tell them where to shove and move along because they've decided to be closed minded and nothing I can say will change that, so they aren't worth my time. But the people that don't get what they're doing are the ones who really get to me. Because that is how stigma and ignorance disguises itself in a pretty little helpful bow, and continues to be perpetuated. Here are a few of my top mental health pet peeves.
  •  "Just pray about it." Ok, first off, I've been black listed by the Catholic church for living in sin for the last umteen years (divorced, not annulled,etc etc) and quite frankly it pisses me off that I'm counted as much of a sinner as a murderer or a rapist simply because I left an unhealthy relationship. But all of this is besides the point BECAUSE MY ILLNESS IS NOT A SIN OR A PENANCE! I jokingly call it the gremlin in my head, but that's a joke. Because it's so ridiculous that a separate being would be actually possessing my brain that I can joke about it. Praying, if I were religious, might calm me. It might give me some sort of comfort. If I were religious. Which I am not. Now, to be clear, if you are religious and want to pray that I'm feeling better, by all means, go ahead. It's how you feel you can help, and I truly appreciate that you want to help in some way. I'm not telling you not to pray or believe, and I appreciate you doing what you can to help. Who knows, maybe it'll work and I'll become a believer again.  But please, don't tell me the only thing that I can do to help is pray. I respect that it's your thing, but it's not my thing. And I'm not looking for a miracle. 
  • You're a pawn of the pharmaceutical/doctor industry. They're making you sicker so you buy the drugs and they get rich.  Ok first of all, did you witness the first 30 years of my life? Did you watch me at 2 years old in hypomanic episodes begging my parents "make it stop, make it stop." But I'm just fine off my meds?  How exactly do you, who is not in my head or my body, know that?  Let me set you straight: my meds, and the meds of so many others, are life-saving. When you have a potentially fatal cancer and choose not to take medication, please, come to me and show me how you've magically healed on your own. Then we can talk. 
  • Oh I don't need medication, I've cured myself with these herbal supplements and exercise. Well hoody hoo for you. You are not me. You're not inside my brain. I have a bachelors in kineseology, worked in corporate fitness for five years, and am a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor. If exercise could cure me, I think I'd be fine and dandy by now. I'm honestly glad that works for you. You're lucky. Me, not so much. It does help me at times, but it doesn't cure me. Nothing does. I have a chronic illness that currently has no cure. 
  • Just relax/chill out/calm down (during anxiety/hypomania). *%&$&*$%&#$%*$% You. If I could, I would. And here's a tip: never, in the history of telling people to calm down, has telling someone to calm down actually made them do so. In fact, it does the reverse. 
  • Just focus on the positive more. Be more grateful.  I'm not ungrateful. I know I have "no reason" (as you put it) to feel so awful, worthless, terrible, hopeless. I know there are starving children in Africa and that so many people are more sick, or have it worse. But I do, actually, have a reason. It's called a medical illness that screws with my brain. And now, thanks to you, I simply feel guilty about having this illness, and more like a giant piece of shit than I already felt. 
  • Why are you depressed? You have a good life. If I asked you why you couldn't just stop having cancer because you have a good life and *should* be healthy, I'd look like the biggest asshat on the planet. When you ask this, so do you. 
  • I  avoid people who are emotional/dramatic. Every time I see this in anyone's status/profile/etc I run like the wind. Because this makes me feel like I can't be myself if I'm having an overly emotional day, and like it's my fault if I am. Like it's not an illness that makes me this emotional but a choice. It makes me feel like a burden. And I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I'd rather be alone. 
  • Happiness is a choice. Ah, well, no shit?! If only I'd known! All this time, I've been suffering from a lifelong illness when I could have just decided not to be depressed! I hope you can sense the sarcasm. If happiness was a choice, approximately 16 million Americans would not be living with Major Depressive Disorder (source here). Trust me, we don't want to be depressed, and we certainly never chose this on purpose. 
  • You can't control what happens to you but you can control your reactions to it. Clarification: in a perfect world, I agree. But in a perfect world, 16 million Americans would battle major depression either. By nature of my disorder, my brain makes it increasingly difficult to control my reactions, and sometimes nearly impossible. If it helps make this a bit more clear, my meds are actually used primarily for seizures. Basically, I'm having a seizure- like reaction in my brain that manifests itself emotionally/mentally instead of physically. And if you've ever witnessed someone having a seizure, you understand the lack of control. If I could not have an anxiety attack or panic attack in public, I would.  Because nobody likes being stared at and steered clear of in public. Nobody likes collapsing in a pile of tears in the middle of a crowd. And if I could not sink into a depression, I would. Trust me, even through a depression, I'm trying to keep to react as best as possible. I'm trying not to let it drag me under into an abyss of nothingness. I don't always win. Please believe me, if I can't control it, I really can't.
Fellow mental health battlers, have more? I'm sure there are plenty. I try to laugh at them, to brush these things off. It helps keep me from isolating myself, feeling like nobody understands me. So I joke and use colorful language to make them lighter. But honestly, these things aren't funny. They're annoying at best, and ignorant and stigmatizing at worst. 


  1. This post stuck out to me because I am involved in the infertility community and infertile people complain about many of the same things. Infertility is also a disease but people will tell you that you are just trying to hard, or that you should just accept it and focus on the good things in your life, or everyone's favorite, it is God's will.
    Although all of these comments are different, they all imply the same thing: that you have control over your illness. And, since you have control, if you are having problems they must be of your own doing. Many people really don't understand the difference between an actual disease of the brain and a mood.
    Also, I disagree with the premise that if you have a mental health issue you are unhappy or do not value what you have. These are not necessarily correlated.
    Ultimately, the moral here is that we should all work on being better listeners and sympathizers without trying to provide solutions. When you are at a loss for something to say try "I'm sorry you are going through that" or "that must be difficult." Whether it is mental illness, infertility, relationship problems, etc. people tend to just want a sympathetic ear, they are not expecting you to come up with a solution so stop trying to give one.

    1. Absolutely! The "I'm sorry you're going through that" or "that must be so difficult" is spot on! It's something I say to people often. Sadly, it does not surprise me that people make these same kinds of assumptions with infertility, and I can't imagine how difficult that must be. People seem to think that if 1.) they haven't dealt with it, 2.) they've dealt with only a smidgen of something like it and overcome it or 3.) they can't see scientific evidence for it, that you just aren't trying hard enough - whatever it is that you're struggling with. And I agree with mental health not correlating to gratefulness (or lack thereof). It's very frustrating, because it often just makes me feel worse - now I'm depressed and feeling bad that people might think I'm ungrateful, even when I'm not.