I started thinking about what people with mental illness and chronic disease would want you, the people without mental illness and chronic disease, to know…. But, I don’t know what others want you to know. All I know is that this is what I wish you knew about MY mental illness and chronic disease. This has been on my mind after losing one of my best friends when I snapped at her spouse on Facebook (Yeah, Facebook, damn you!) after he bombarded my post (about a cute little tiny house) with “I’ll prove you wrong statements!” This incident somehow maneuvered it’s way on into how I need to go about behaving and “fixing” my mental and physical health problems using his amazingly successful strategy that has him living in pain free rainbows and sunshine (And a six-pack or so a day. Hmmm?). He and I have very similar diagnoses, both mental and physical.
- There are millions of people who have mental illnesses and/or other chronic health diseases. Mental illness is real, just as real as diabetes or cancer. You don’t just expect someone with cancer to get over it. Don’t expect that for me either.
- I am going through something much more profound than what you see on the surface. Sometimes I start to feel better. Sometimes I feel pretty good. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly cured. Depression, anxiety, and other illnesses can come in waves. I might make progress for a few weeks or even months, but even the most innocent event could send me back into internal chaos. Don’t fault me for not always being able to be in control. Just like you would not expect someone to not sneeze with a cold in the winter.
- I am just a regular person. I do not spend ALL of my time sitting around feeling terrible, sad, lonely, hiding under the covers, dwelling on my problems. (Although sometimes I do, because I have fucking mental illness and chronic disease!!! Sometimes it just fucking sucks and I feel like shit!! OK?) Even a perfectly healthy person has bad days. I am living just like you in many ways. The difference is that I am living with illnesses that make things more difficult at times. I still have fun, smile, laugh, have friends/relationships, work, eat, and play. I am also working in my own way, to get healthy and stay healthy. Relapses happen, even when I am working hard to avoid them. Just because I have depression, doesn’t mean I am a ‘depressed” person. I am a woman, who has mental illness and chronic disease. There is a lot more to me than just my diagnoses and they do NOT define me.
- Sometimes I act out of character and may do or say something that seems unreasonable. There may or may not be a reason and it’s helpful if you understand that, even if the reason doesn’t make sense to you. Something inside me may have been building, and I don’t even know it. I don’t know it’s coming or even why. Anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger can grow overtime, unseen, until that last little straw breaks. And, because I am a regular human being, I do my best to recognize and apologize for my mistakes. I need you to understand that and be forgiving.
- No matter how long I have known you or how many friends I have, the illness makes me feel alienated. It’s simply impossible to relate to others sometimes. Don’t take it personally. Our culture stigmatizes mental illness and that tends to make me feel like I’m in the wrong or that I’m guilty of something. You may not see the illness like you might see the manifestations of a cold or an injury, but it’s still there. It makes me feel like no one could ever understand, especially because, sometimes, I don’t even understand. So stand by me, stand with me, learn with me, include me. Understand that I may cancel plans more frequently than others, but don’t take it personally, and please, don’t stop inviting me.
- Supporting and understanding go a long way. And it’s fairly easy to do. That’s what friends are supposed to do in the first place, even without a mental illness. Just step up as a friend. Knowing I am not alone is sometimes all I need. I may not be in a place where I can give you what you need, but I will have better days and be able to be there for you when you need me. I get so happy when someone sends me a simple text just knowing they are thinking about me! And if you need more of that from me, just ask! Don’t give up on me.
- Not everyone is the same. Not everyone with the same mental illness is going to act the same, have the same symptoms, respond to the same treatments, etc. What works for you may not work for me. Do not tell me how you think I should “fix” this or what magic cure your uncle found. This is my illness; I think I know a thing or two about it. I have not only learned a lot about my own illnesses, I have also learned about standing up for myself so believe me, if I want to know your opinion, I’ll ask. If you want to know what I’ve tried or what I am currently trying, I would be glad to tell you about it. Again, just ask!
- Don’t be afraid of me. I am not some fragile little snowflake that will fall to pieces with the slightest breeze. It’s ok to talk to me about your problems. It’s ok to ask me about mine. It helps me feel loved, needed, important and useful. If you aren’t sure if I am up to a heavy conversation, just ask!!
I have been to hell and back more than once. I am one of the strongest, bravest and most resilient people I have ever known. If you don’t want to walk with me then get out of my way.
Till I Collapse