Oct. 1 thru Oct. 7, 2017 has been Mental Illness Awareness Week. You probably have not heard much about it because, well, people with mental illness are not high on the list of people we usually try to be aware of. And I understand that. Mental illness is strange and difficult and weird and unknown and it is hard to talk about and deal with. There is still incredible stigma and discrimination in our society towards those of us with mental illness, as well as a lot of misunderstanding. So, I’m not surprised that this week is not a bigger deal.
But, I wanted to make it a big deal. I wanted to write a number of pithy, incredible posts about what it is like to deal with a mental illness. I wanted to give voice for those of us who cannot or will not speak.
And it became too much.
I have been hit with a bout of depression. The thought of trying to speak for all of these people became too much. I cannot tell their stories, cannot give witness to their lives. I am not everyone, even though I try to speak for everyone.
Now, sure, I can talk about the fact that roughly 20% of Americans suffer through a mental illness in a given year. I can also tell you that there are 4% of us who have a serious mental illness. I can also tell you stories of friends and colleagues and the like. I can give you that.
I wanted to give you more though.
At this moment, though, I cannot. It is enough for me just to get up, give what I can to my wife and kids, and do a little bit of work. I’ve got nothing else.
And this is really what it is to deal with a mental illness. You have to manage it and live with it. Sometimes it overtakes you, sometimes it destroys you. But you have to keep on keeping on. When everything is black and you feel nothing, you have to figure out a way to get out of bed, to feed yourself (let alone your loved ones), and to make it through the day. You have to tell yourself that despite the fact you believe everyone is going to leave you, they are still there and still care. You have to believe in yourself enough to know the “real voices” from the other ones. You have to try and control the impulses that compel you to do something over and over.
In writing this, though, I realize that while I have a mental illness that I have to get through, my experience is so different than people with other types of mental illness. Yes, I have bipolar disorder, but that is quite different than having attention deficit disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s different than having schizophrenia. Not to mention that my bipolar is different than other people with bipolar.
That’s the beast. Mental illness is a beast and it is hard to deal with and it never looks the same in every person. All that those of us with mental illness can do is advocate on our behalf and tell our stories and make sure that people know that we are people (something lost at times in the discussions of our society).
And, if you are really interested in mental illness, look up stories on what it is to live with a mental illness. Look up stories of people living with OCD and ADD and anxiety and depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder and eating disorders and addiction disorders and so on and so on. Maybe you’ll learn something and maybe you’ll come to appreciate us a little more.