It: Mental illness
Who has heard of Bell’s campaign “Bell, let’s talk”? Well, if you have not, it’s a mental health campaign pioneered in Canada encouraging people to talk about mental illness. Holding steadfast to the belief that discussion leads to acceptance and knowledge, people promoting the idea seek to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
WHAT IS STIGMA!
Stigma is basically the result of judging someone for something deemed shameful, disgraceful, dishonourable, or irregular. It’s sort of like being stamped on the forehead in everlasting ink with the word DAMAGED, and sent through life as such. You’re branded now and somehow defined solely by that ink marking that onlookers view as your makeup, your label or your unchangeable grade.
THE INVISIBILITY OF THE BEAST
You cannot necessarily test for it. You cannot go in to see your GP, have a quick scan, swab or blood test and take a course of antibiotics to treat it. It’s baffling, cunning and often cannot be tested or measured. It may appear on Tuesday and holiday from Wednesday to Sunday. It may cause grief and despair in February and not surface again until late July. You’re evaluated based on word of mouth answers, not urine or blood samples, not x-rays, not scans. In some senses mental diagnosis is not scientifically sound, because it’s measurably subjective. Some people just don’t believe it exists and if they do believe it exists, it means you’re nuts and you’re walking naked on the middle of main street swerving and talking to yourself while chugging mouthwash.
It’s harder to envision mental illness as the woman at home in bed, envisioning her coffin, having cared for everyone throughout the day except herself and her sense of well-being.
And perhaps even harder to picture it as the man with the successful career feeling underwhelmed yet overly concerned about whether he’s turned off all 16 light switches and locked all seven dead bolts before saying his prayers six times in each direction.
It’s the woman who sticks her finger down her throat to vomit each night because she sees fat in the mirror when in fact she weighs but 90 pounds. The test says “You’re dangerously thin.” It does not say “you have a mental illness”.
It’s the woman who wants love so badly but has been hurt so deeply that she pushes her love away and cuts little hearts into her arms with a razor blade because somehow she believes she’s innately unloveable.
It’s the man who buries his head in a Hawaiian cave for a month believing the CIA is after him, spending his earnings on marijuana, ignoring his wife and child, and then outrageously surfing the pipe and winning the Eddie. All without a hint of vivid recall, and then awakens back in the cave.
It’s the young man who longs for the companionship of others but looks a little different so he deems himself a “freak” and in turn dyes his hair black, pierces massive holes into his ears, lips, chin and scrotum and tattoos his formidable face.
It’s the sorority girl with top marks and a Facebook full of friends who posts about feeling lonely and unloveable and then jumps off the delta gamma balcony after a break up with the fraternity president.
Mental illness has no clear lines. It’s immeasurable and it’s a ghost.
It’s the mommy with the beautiful newborn who cries herself to sleep every day until one evening she realises the baby is two and she is still crying, but now pacifying herself with a bottle of merlot, a gram of cocaine and a pack of Marlboro lights.
and sometimes….it’s just not that extreme..
It’s just your mommy who has felt down ever since giving birth
It’s your speaker who shakes uncontrollably before a speech and generally just feels a bitter nervous talking to people.
It’s your drinker who just can’t say no but wishes he could and knows the daily dilemma of one is too many but a thousand is never enough, swearing off drinking at eight am and finding a Heineken in his hand by five.
It’s your friend who truly feels awkward and judged by others for no good reason and judges herself according to her own false projections.
WHY WE MUTE
We mute because it’s not okay to struggle like we do. We, as a culture,value strength, capability, and confidence and “I’ve got it all under control-ness”.
We Mute because we SHOULD on ourselves. We literally shit SHOULD on ourselves. It’s like we’re covered in “should” shit and it reeks. We SHOULD be better parents, we SHOULD have gotten that promotion, we SHOULD have exercised this month because we SHOULD be at least twenty pounds slimmer. We SHOULD have taken the dogs for a walk because we SHOULD care more about those who rely on us and we SHOULD spend time with our partner because we SHOULD be a better spouse. We SHOULD quit drinking, We SHOULD stop caring what others think and we SHOULD find a way to be successful and productive each and every day.
Oh! and we SHOULDN’T even harder than we should.
We SHOULDN’T be late for work, we SHOULDN’T eat chips at 10 pm, we SHOULDN’T care what others think of us because we SHOULDN’t be so damn sensitive. We SHOULDN’T show we are weak or vulnerable, because we SHOULD be strong and resilient and if we are not, then we SHOULD be. And if we aren’t then something is wrong with us, and if something is wrong with us, then we are inevitably defeated. We are stamped with DAMAGED. We are invalid and we are walking down main street chugging mouthwash and trying to bite our own ear.
So this is why we think we think we SHOULDN’T talk Bell!!!
It SHOULDN’T be mental illness because it’s just a headache, it’s just a bad day, it’s just a this too shall pass……because I SHOULDN’T label myself, overreact, or be incapable of managing every day life. I SHOULD probably just smile and make like a good buttercup and suck it up!
Our world tells us that we SHOULD be well..even when we’re not and it normalises that being well means having it all together….when what’s really normal is the struggle everyday to just keep things as they SHOULD be….
THE POSITIVES OF MUTING
When we hide our mental illness we think we appear stronger. We believe we can appear to function as others do and be deemed capable and contributive. When we hide our mental illnesses ( depression, anxiety,addiction, ADHD you name it) there is no one to say you’re just weak, or you’re choosing mental illness as a crutch. The word illness implies a detriment right off the hop. Hop away!
Illness means sick. We’re not sick.
There are far too many judgement stamp holders that reinforce the paralysing stigma. We don’t want to appear like we have grand deficits, especially when those deficits are often immeasurable and potentially viewed as constructs of our imaginations.
Hence, there is no proper testing to trustfully evaluate the great complexities of mental illness that plagues us so. SO We mute, and We function and We live.
THE POSITIVES OF TALKING
If only sharing felt like coming home from work and changing into cozy pants. If only sharing felt like a drink of cold water after a work out. Could it be comfortable, soothing refreshing and safe?
Talking is about being vulnerable and believing that we may be understood, cared for, empathized with and potentially helpful to someone else who may also be struggling.
Those of us who dare to face the truth and talk about mental illness, coping, and recovery, may be stamped with DAMAGED by many….if not most…. but we may also be branded with BRAVERY, COURAGE, VULNERABILITY and AUTHENTICITY.