Let’s Call This What It Is

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I was meeting with two coworkers this week to explain what I would need from them in order to do something they were asking of me.

For context, I explained that I have had to put a lot of boundaries in place lately in order to continue functioning. I said that last week I was so depressed that on Friday morning I couldn’t get out of bed to go to work.

It was a simple statement, and they took it as it was and we moved on with the conversation.

But as we were leaving the meeting, one of the guys said, “Hey – I’m really sorry about your…” (long pause) “…situation. I’ll be praying about…” (another long pause)

I smiled and offered the words he was missing: “My mental illness?”

There was immediate and visible panic on his face.

“No, no!” He said. “That’s not what I’m saying!”

“Well,” I said, hopefully gently, “that’s what it is. But thank you.”

And I walked away.

Now, because I know this coworker and trust and respect him, I completely understand that he was trying to be kind and avoid making me feel judged or shamed.

But I also know that reserving the term “mental illness” for the certifiably insane is how we end up with stigmas and shame surrounding things like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.

To some of you, this feels incredibly obvious. To others, not so much. And I get that – not judging. Let’s just talk about it.

ThinkstockPhotos-535911123When I say, “mental illness,” what do you picture?

If you picture straightjackets and padded walls, you might want to revisit your definition. According to the Mayo clinic, “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.”

This includes, but is not limited to, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and addictive behavior. Which means that mental illness is everything from needing Xanax to needing a straightjacket.

And if you don’t call it an illness, if you call it a “situation,” or really anything other than an illness, you place the source of the situation back in the hands of the affected person.

ThinkstockPhotos-621146764Let’s say I come into work with a cold. I’m sneezing, blowing my nose, my throat is sore, and my head hurts.

You say, “I’m sorry about your…situation.”

To clarify, I say, “My being sick?”

And you don’t want me to feel ashamed of being sick, so you say, “No, no! You’re not sick! Sick is cancer or tuberculosis. You’re not sick!”

Absurd, right?

Because why would you be afraid that I would be ashamed of being kind of sick? The natural leap, even if you didn’t mean this, is that you believe there is something inherently shameful about being sick.

ThinkstockPhotos-627349976But if you think about it, you know that the fact that I am depressed is not inherently shameful. I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I am actively dealing with my depression, through multiple doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and medications.

But I’m still ill. There is something wrong with me, despite my best efforts. And I’m not ashamed of that or even all that angry about it. It’s simply my reality, and I’m dealing with it.

I’m mentally ill. And I’m fine with saying that.

Will you join me in calling it what it is?

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The Inner Dialogue

2016-11-18
My Emotional Self: BAAHHH! I HAVEN’T WRITTEN A BLOG POST AND I HAVE NO IDEAS AND I’M NOT EVEN A GOOD WRITER AND WHAT AM I GOING TO DO I GIVE UP IT’S OVER I NEED A NEW LIFE DREAM I’M GOING TO GO MAKE SOME BROWNIES

My Logical Self: Seriously? Calm down. You haven’t written about your depression medication yet, and it was on your list of potential topics. Just do that.

E: Oh. That’s a good idea. But I don’t really want to.

L: Why not? There’s nothing of which to be ashamed.

E: Who talks like that?

L: Not this again.

E: I’m not ashamed. I’m bored.

L: Only moments ago, I thought you were going to pull out your proverbial hair. I am offering you a viable solution, and you find it boring?

E: Well, yeah. Because drugs are just drugs. It’s like ice cream. Some people like vanilla, some people like caramel pecan crunch supreme. Some people like that SoyDream crap;¬†some people have to eat that because they can’t eat the real stuff. You just have to try different ice cream and see what works for you and if it makes you sick.

L: What a delightful analogy. However, I would like to point out that you’ve already had three conversations this week alone concerning ice cream. So something must still be worth talking about.

E: Of course it is. It’s relatable. Ice cream is relatable. Everyone’s tried it, everyone has an opinion on it, and most of us love it. So why wouldn’t we talk about it?

L: Even though you will not change anyone’s opinion by talking about it.

E: Sure. But I might suggest a brand they’ve never tried, or a flavor…oh. I see where you’re going with this.

L: You have an astonishing intellect.

E: Shut up! I’m very mature! Leave me alone.

L: …

E: I still don’t know what to write. It’s hopeless. I should just take the site down.

L: Sigh. Perhaps communicate your experiences with medication and how you have found it helpful, and what areas others might expect to encounter difficulties?

E: Like how I had to try three different medications before I found one that made me feel consistently better instead of worse?

L: Yes. Like that.

E: And how I’ve now moved to a third dosage of my current medication in order to balance out my mood swings and energy depletion? But I’m still solidly depressed for a day about every 5 weeks. And that may never change. And I don’t love that I’m pumping drugs into my body every day, and maybe will be for the rest of my life. That’s depressing enough on its own. So I try not to think about it. I just focus on dealing with my emotions and my energy level and let my doctors think about the drug stuff. And I still hope that maybe I’ll figure out how to manage all this stuff on my own without the drugs.

L: But also, if you don’t, it’s not your fault.

E: Yeah. I forget that sometimes.

L: Don’t worry. I’ll be here to remind you.

E: Oh, goodie. Did I forget anything else?

L: No, I think you summarized quite well.

E: And you are quite annoying.

L: Thank you.

E: I guess I can write a blog post after all. Maybe I don’t need these brownies.

L: Perhaps you could start with some vegetables, and save the brownies for after lunch.

E: Fine.

 

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