Living in Love Award: Mental Illness
So, here’s my first guest post (yay!) and I want to thank Tristan for giving me this opportunity.
If you visit my blog, you’ll see that one thing I’m really passionate about is helping others who suffer from mental illness as I do. (Well, it might not be that apparent on my blog yet, as I’ve only just started it a couple months ago, but I am! I swear!)
The problem is that a lot of people who don’t have a mental illness don’t understand it. They can’t fathom what it’s like to live with a disorder–any disorder–day in and day out for their entire lives. Let me try to explain it.
My mother became sick when I was very young. She was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme Disease when we moved into our new house in Bayville, New Jersey. I was only a year and a half old or so, so my recollection of it is kind of fuzzy. But I do remember some things. I remember she slept a lot. I remember she cried a lot. I remember it was six months before a doctor figured out what was wrong with her. Nowadays, it’s a known disease. A couple rounds of antibiotics and you’re cured. Back then, no one knew what it was. Every doctor told her she had the flu. That is, until her whole body went numb and she had no idea who or where she was. She was on an IV for the next few months. I don’t remember how long exactly, but it was a long time.
She tells me she feels bad because I’ll never know her the way she used to be, before I was born. I tell her I feel bad because she once told me that after I was born, she was never the same. She didn’t mean it in a bad way, of course, and she regrets telling me now, but her brain isn’t the way it used to be.
My point is (yes, I have a point. Sometimes it takes me a while to get there, but I always have a point) that her Lyme Disease is now chronic. There is no getting rid of it. It wasn’t caught in time. She reached the last stage. Well, second to last stage. The next stage was death. Every day she suffers from headaches, joint pain, memory loss. Every day it’s a struggle for her to even get out of bed. Sometimes she sleeps for weeks at a time. If you think that’s not possible, you haven’t met my mom. It comes on with no warning. She just can’t get out of bed one day. She tries, but there’s no fighting it anymore.
It opened the door for a lot of chronic illnesses for her. She now has juvenile diabetes–yes, juvenile diabetes. Apparently, it can be brought on by excessive amounts of antibiotics, the doctors say, which is what she’s been on for the past twenty plus years because of her failed immune system resulting from the Lyme. She has asthma. She has COPD. We once went over the alphabet to see if she has a disease for every letter. She almost does. Three years ago she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, it’s getting worse. She has problems with coordination, memory, mood swings–pretty much everything a brain tumor causes. She has a lump in her stomach, possibly this thing caused by the diabetes, which I can’t think of the name for, and she throws up almost every day. She can’t hold food down at all some days and survives off of pretzels and ginger ale, if she can hold that down at all.
Every day she lives with this. Not a lot of people understand what it’s like to be sick physically like this every day, but it’s the same thing for someone with a mental illness. Every day can be a struggle, especially if it goes untreated or mistreated.
If you can’t understand it yet, think about a person with cancer, going through the struggle every day of having a tumor embedded somewhere in their body. Maybe surgery is too risky or not an option, maybe chemotherapy isn’t helping. Maybe it is helping, but the process is still dreadful. Consider a physically disabled person. Someone who spends their life in a wheelchair. Someone paralyzed from an accident. It’s a struggle every day, just like it is for someone with a mental illness.
Some people think mental illnesses are ridiculous. “Mood swings? Maybe it’s just her time of the month.” Very funny. And offensive. And I don’t get offended easily. Bipolar Disorder is not just a little unnecessary anger. It’s a real disease. It can be scary at times. And it’s not just anger. It can be sadness, or a number of other things. It can be confusing, uncontrollable.
ADHD? “Well, maybe the subject is boring and that’s why you can’t pay attention.” Again, very funny. [Note the sarcasm, if you haven’t already.] And still offensive. I like to write. I like to collect stamps. I like to read. I like a wide array of things. But I can’t focus on any of them. I can’t stay focused on conversations with anyone. My mind is constantly running. Thoughts of what I have to do, who I have to call, are always spinning around. I can’t sleep at night. I lay awake thinking of things that have happened or could happen. Anxiety from it [or maybe separate from it] makes me cry, it makes my heart race. It makes me socially awkward. I can’t go outside unless I’m prepared. And by prepared, I mean that I have to open the door and look around to see if anyone’s around. If there is anyone around, I either wait for them to leave or spend ten minutes deciding what I’m going to say to them and planning responses to all possible questions they might ask. And whatever I say, I think about it for hours afterward wondering if I came across offensive or self-centered or mean or any combination of things. Then I wonder if I should apologize. Should I leave a note on their door? Should I knock on their door and tell them in person? Should I wait until I see them again? What if it’s not for two weeks? Is it too late to explain myself then? Do I even need to explain myself? And ’round and ’round the questions go.
So the next time you want to make fun of someone for an illness they may suffer from, consider what it would be like for yourself. Consider what it would be like to have something that you have no control over. Before you wonder why someone seems odd, consider if they’re nervous or suffer from anxiety and perhaps don’t know what to say and don’t want to make a fool of themselves. Don’t judge them. You don’t have to make friends if you don’t want to, but be nice. It’ll come back to you in the end; that’s what karma is all about.