…you are an idiot.

I’ve been extremely nervous about writing this post. The reason being that I love you guys and don’t want to offend any of you. I really don’t.

But I’ve decided that this message is way too important for me to not say it. But be aware that I will be describing symptoms and manifestations of mental illnesses at their worst here, so if you are at all afraid that you might be triggered, either don’t read (I won’t be offended) or send me a message asking if there is anything specifically triggering to you in here, and I will happily answer.

Right. On with the post!

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I was first inspired to write this when I heard about the tragic death of Lee Thompson Young; the actor who played Barry Frost in Rizzoli and Isles. He died in August, but I only heard about his death a month or so ago when my parents were watching R&I and my mother googled it. Young was 29 years old, a talented actor, and seemed to have his whole life ahead of him. I asked how he had died and Mum answered “Bipolar disorder. He killed himself.”

And I saw red.

I’m not angry at Young, you must understand. Not at all. No, the source of my anger was two-fold. I was angry firstly at bipolar disorder, and other equally devastating mental illnesses, themselves. Because really, where do these illnesses get off, messing with people’s heads, sucking away lives, happiness, the desire to live at all, the ability to just ‘be’ without there being a ‘but’ hanging around like a bad cough?
But it’s not like I can continue to be angry at the illnesses themselves. At least, not rationally. What I was actually angry about was the stigma, the shame, the lack of compassion and understanding, the confusion and all of the other crap that surrounds mental illness, and that this sort of crap is what makes so many people not reach for help. It’s what makes people idiots.

The thing is, mental illnesses are sneaky, in a way. It can be hard for people to recognise that they or someone they love might have one. After all, it sounds so dramatic. “A mental illness? Nonsense. I just get sad sometimes,” “No no, I’m not that bad. I’m just a natural worrier, you know?” “I just like things to be in order, that’s all. It’s not an illness, I’m perfectly healthy.” And all of us do like some order, or worry sometimes, or are sad sometimes. That’s called being human.

But for others, it is not “sometimes”. For others, every worry can be as excruciating as it is frequently occurring. Every attempt to go outside takes Herculean effort. Every time somebody else cleans the kitchen, and cleans it WRONG, it’s awful enough to make you cry. For these people, these things have a serious, debilitating effect on quality of life, on happiness, on life itself. This is mental illness. And so often it goes undiagnosed, because mental illnesses are sneaky enough to make the victims of them think that it is just who they are. It’s just who they are meant to be. And neither they, nor anybody around them seems to feel the need to question this.

But then you have people who are aware that something is wrong. We don’t live in the Dark Ages, after all. Information about these illnesses is out there, free on the internet. Or maybe a doctor, or a friend, or a family member, might notice. I think we all know people like this. And the thing is, even though these people know they have a mental illness, they so often choose to do nothing about it.

That is stupid.

Some people might read this and think “well, it’s their choice”. And you would be correct. It is their choice. But it’s a stupid choice. In fact, I will go further than that. It is a dangerous choice.

And here’s why. Mental illnesses, like many ailments a person may have, fluctuate in their severity. So you might think one day “No, I don’t need to succumb to outside intervention. I’m not that bad. I can deal. I’m not like other people with my problem. I’m stronger.” Because when an asthmatic treats their asthma with inhalers rather than just grinning and bearing it and occasionally yelling at their lungs to stop being such pansies, they are weak, right? But then what happens when you take a swoop? When the illness gets a hold of you, and everything around you is darkness? Do you crawl into bed and hope that it will pass? Do you stop eating? Do you eat until you might explode? Do you scrub at your hands until the skin starts to come off? Do you cut at your skin in an attempt to feel something? Do you decide that you are tired of feeling nothing; that it is too much and you just want to sleep, forever?

When a mental illness goes untreated, and a victim has a bad spell, these thoughts and actions aren’t the overdramatic ramblings a of a blogger. They are rational. They are real. And they kill.

And it does NOT have to be that way. Because contrary to what some people may think, a mental illness is not part of what makes a certain person who they are. To treat a mental illness is not to take away a part of who that person is meant to be. Rather, it is to diminish a presence that is preventing that person from being who they are meant to be. Because nobody is meant to be unfathomably sad, or lonely, or obsessed, or crazy. Rather, it is their illness, and the feeling of hopelessness that illness causes, telling them that they are meant to be that way. The best thing I can say to such people is: Don’t be fooled. Your illness is lying to you.

And to those who still think that it isn’t a big deal, at least for them, answer me this: has it EVER felt like a big deal? Have there ever been times when it has felt hopeless, and you cannot fathom it ever being OK again? If your answer is anything even closely resembling “yes”, let me try to get this message into your heads: it IS a big deal. These feelings are NOT normal, and they are dangerous. But if you have the tools at your disposal to tackle these feelings when they do come, you can stop them from being a big deal. More importantly, you can stop them before something bad and irreversible happens.

This makes me think of Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder and has been stopped several times from killing himself, because he’s also an extremely lucky man. During his good times, he often said that he was unwilling to consider treatment, because he felt that it would take away his creativity, his inspiration, etc. but the man could only be an idiot for so long, it seemed, and he has recently said that he has decided to start taking the medication he should have been taking for decades. So he was lucky. He was saved. People like Lee Thompson Young are not so lucky.

And treatment doesn’t have to be medication either. Behavioural therapy, counselling, lifestyle changes, even utilising your close relationships, are forms of treatment. And to some these forms of treatment might seem a bit hippy-dippy, but mental illnesses are a different, less straight-forward beast to tackle than physical ailments. They happen in the mind, so it is the mind that needs to be targeted, and all of these forms of treatment can help. Believe me.

I’ll say one more thing, as this post has become extremely long. I know many consider it akin to “giving up” when they seek help for mental illness. And I can understand where these thoughts come from. As far as I’m concerned however, if you choose to fight your illness, and you know that you want to be as well-equipped as possible, and you can acknowledge that there are other people who know more about how this illness works than you do, and you ask them for their guidance, despite the stigma and the risk of unkind words from associates who just think you need to man up a bit… to me, that is one of the bravest things any person can do.

13 thoughts on “If You Choose to Not Treat Your Mental Illness…

  1. There are things about this post I find concerning, mainly that it’s so judgmental (Stephen Fry *should* have been on medication, people chosing not to treat their mental illnesses are stupid etc.) But I suppose my real concern is that there’s no acknowledgment of how hard it is for people to actually get treatment, and how rare it is that treatment actually works. Calling people stupid is not going to motivate them to change. Encouraging people to see the long term benefits of change, preparing them for the difficulties they may face and being non-judgmental about the choices they make would be far more beneficial if your goal is to reduce stigma and shame.

    If, on the other hand, your goal was to feed the negative self-perceptions that accompany a number of mental illnesses, I think you were bang on target.

    1. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment.

      You’re right in that my post is judgemental, because I do think that people who choose not to at least try to find treatment are not doing themselves any favours. I am judgemental towards people who think that acknowledging a problem, either in themselves or someone they know, would be a sign of weakness, because a) it isn’t, and b) even if it were, surely it would be better for your health and well-being to seek out treatment anyway. What is there to gain from not acknowledging a mental illness, is, I suppose, my ultimate question.

      I plan to write further posts that explore different treatments in more detail and explain where these treatments can be found, but those posts will be for a different set of people than this one. I suppose what I was aiming to do with this post, if anything, was to say in as frank a way as possible that there are bigger things at stake than pride or whatever.

  2. I can completely understand why you’re writing this, and though you might anger some with your no-nonsense approach, I didn’t get the idea that you’re suggesting the solution is simple.

    I have an aunt who has suffered depression for years. She tried and rejected an antidepressant when she was in her twenties (FIFTY YEARS AGO). She tried one medicine, once, didn’t like the way it made her feel, and therefore has rejected any suggestions of trying any of the newer medicines over the past five decades. We’ve all watched her looking like she’s always in physical pains and never giving more than a half-smile, regardless of how “happy” she says she is. We (and her doctor) can not convince her that the proper medicine might be able to make her simply feel like herself.

    1. Thank you. And I am sorry about your aunt. I’m not unsympathetic or anything – not at all. I can completely understand her being scared to try newer medications if she’s had a bad experience. I do hope that she does see the benefits of giving meds another go. Has she looked into other treatments?

      1. She refuses to look into other treatments, refuses to believe she’s actually depressed, and won’t even discuss the issue. I’ve tried having one of my friends who suffers from depression speak with her, so she has someone’s real experience of the right meds (new and improved over the past fifty years) allowing her to feel “regular” (as my friend describes it). She’ll nod and make all the agreeable noises but changes nothing.

        When people try other treatments (whether pharmaceutical or not), they need others to encourage them to stay the course. I’ve known many people who stop taking their meds because they feel “fine,” and it takes a committed friend or family member to persistently remind them that the meds or other treatment is the reason they feel “right” again. It’s really a group effort that requires love and endurance.

  3. You wrote about this so well – thank you. As someone with chronic mental illness in her family, I frequently argue similarly to your asthmatic/inhaler metaphor (I usually use glasses as my metaphor) when people argue that they feel they are rejecting their “true selves” if they decide to get treatment for a mental issue. I guess we should be more understanding of people who don’t come from a background where mental health challenges are no longer taboo, and I agree with those that say we still don’t know a lot about these issues, but man… it’s hard to watch people stubbornly refuse the treatment we DO know can help, when the alternative is so grim.

  4. I think I understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from. I was going to say something similar to ‘concerned’ above about how hard it is to treat mental illness – not completely unlike physical illness, since that’s not always straightforward to treat either (unless you just need a course of antibiotics or to be sent to bed for r&r). But the hardest thing about treatment is actually finding something that works (and without side effects). I’ve been astounded and horrified at the lack of help for people who desperately need it, and would take it if they could. It feels like we’re still in the Dark Ages. Sometimes there are individual therapists who really get it, but there are a lot who are …..kind of like GPs, only good for diagnosing a cold and not anything slightly complex. And mental health tends to be complex. So the answers seem very hard to find, which is not comforting when you’re vulnerable. But I don’t want to say there’s no hope, because there can be!

  5. I might just weigh in here, having stumbled upon this one on my procrastination break 😉 Having been through a variety of interesting mental illnesses (invasive thoughts, being convinced that people could read said thoughts, depression/PTSD, anorexia….) I see what you’re trying to say and can agree with you. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time defining themselves by their problems, refusing to seek help and ultimately making life worse for themselves (which is ultimately a very self-indulgent thing, since this behaviour gets positively reinforced by others’ sympathetic reactions. this triggers a downward spiral of behaviour and reinforcement. Bless, they only meant well…). One thing I had to realise is that we ultimately live in a cruel world that doesn’t want to have to deal with your illness. People stick around for a time but they end up leaving when they see their efforts are bearing no fruit and you become a burden on them. The kindest people in my life were the ones that initially seemed cruel. People who organised interventions, talked frankly to me, made me ask some very hard questions of myself, made me get help. I am now, I would say, in recovery. This is not just down to effort on my part, but also the people who didn’t pander to me. Disclaimer: I know this approach doesn’t work for some types of disorder – like the ones which require proper treatment, care and meds. But we need to (as a society) be thinking about what really benefits people suffering from certain types of mental illness (I’m thinking more along the lines of eating disorders, things caused, more often than not, by a trigger). I know people (and have been one myself) when pandering only aggravated my illness, and made me think my behaviour was worthy of praise and affection.

      1. They certainly sucked balls, and I am still in the process of discovering who I really am, without the illnesses. But can you see what I’m getting at? As you can imagine, Sam was particularly good – he’s very ‘cruel to be kind’ in his approach.

      2. Yeah, I can. And I know Sam wouldn’t have bullshat you at all. I could see him being like “no, you don’t have to do that. Just think for a moment” etc etc.

  6. I might just weigh in here, having stumbled upon this one on my procrastination break 😉 Having been through a variety of interesting mental illnesses (invasive thoughts, being convinced that people could read said thoughts, depression/PTSD, anorexia….) I see what you’re trying to say and can agree with you. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time defining themselves by their problems, refusing to seek help and ultimately making life worse for themselves (which is ultimately a very self-indulgent thing, since this behaviour gets positively reinforced by others’ sympathetic reactions. this triggers a downward spiral of behaviour and reinforcement. Bless, they only meant well…). One thing I had to realise is that we ultimately live in a cruel world that doesn’t want to have to deal with your illness. People stick around for a time but they end up leaving when they see their efforts are bearing no fruit and you become a burden on them. The kindest people in my life were the ones that initially seemed cruel. People who organised interventions, talked frankly to me, made me ask some very hard questions of myself, made me get help. I am now, I would say, in recovery. This is not just down to effort on my part, but also the people who didn’t pander to me. Disclaimer: I know this approach doesn’t work for some types of disorder – like the ones which require proper treatment, care and meds. But we need to (as a society) be thinking about what really benefits people suffering from certain types of mental illness (I’m thinking more along the lines of eating disorders, things caused, more often than not, by a trigger). I know people (and have been one myself) when pandering only aggravated my illness, and made me think my behaviour was worthy of praise and affection.

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