Don’t feel bad for me
The only way to defeat mental illness stigmas is to stop being sorry
It’s been two weeks since #BellLetsTalk day and some of the events that transpired that day have stuck with me. While I am reticent to talk about some of the problems I see with a billion dollar corporation creating one day to talk about mental health, I did participate. I used the hashtag on Twitter and I posted my own story on Facebook, telling the world I’m bi-polar — recently diagnosed but long symptomatic.
In October, using the resources that Wilfrid Laurier University provides for me in the Wellness Centre, I saw a psychiatrist and began taking lamotrigine, a mood stabilizer that has helped increase my quality of life immensely.
My story is an incredibly positive one.
I noticed the symptoms myself, went to a counsellor who referred me to a doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist, who put me on medication that is helping me.
Yet, every time I tell people I’m bi-polar, I get a really concerning reaction: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
I understand the instinctive sympathetic reaction at work here. But the more people reacted this way, the more I realized how stigmatized mental illness is.
Even in people who think they’ve become allies. Even in people who tweeted hundreds of times for #BellLetsTalk day.
Even in people who are personally connected to mental illness through family or friends.
I take a pill every night before bed that lets me function the way I want to. My diagnosis means I no longer suffer without help. When I tell you I’m bi-polar, don’t be sad for me. Be happy.
I’m not nearly as concerned for the people who recognize they need help and have gotten that help as I am for those who suffer in silence.
Those who can’t sleep properly because of thoughts of self-hatred — yet they don’t think they might be depressed. Those who avoid social interaction and cancel plans at the last minute because of crippling anxiety — yet they think that is just how they are.
Those who have fallen into alcohol dependency, but don’t realize there is help out there. I can’t help but see the reactions to my mental health issues as a weird fetishization of mental illness as tragedy.
Why would anyone want to be open about their health issues if people are just going to pity them for the rest of time? It is exhausting being pitied. Whenever someone feels bad for you and tells you so, there’s an implicit expectation of reciprocal thanks.
You’re sorry that I’m bi-polar, I thank you for how thoughtful your response is even as I see how you don’t look at me the same anymore because in your eyes I’m now broken. That’s what stigma looks like. Sure there are still people who are outwardly prejudiced against people with mental health issues, but for me at least, it wasn’t those people I was worried about.
It was the people who would show concern and then treat me like I wasn’t capable anymore that worried me. I can do anything that I did before I started treatment, but now I can actually do more.
I don’t fall into pits of depression and lethargy anymore so I can set goals and stick to them. I sleep regularly so I can eat properly and not be exhausted all the time.
I feel like I’m in control of my life for the first time in a long time, and when you feel sorry for me, I feel that control being taken away. So the next time someone tells you their story, read the situation, be interested but don’t automatically assume that their story is a tragedy.
If we want to end mental health stigma there has to be a way to see people with these conditions as more than victims and lepers to be pitied. Because showing people that life goes on is essential to truly breaking the silence.