…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!
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.