In part 1 of this 2 part series I told a bit about my overall experience living with a physical disability. This part will focus on what it felt like to deal with the mental health disorder. I’ll finish off by telling you which one I felt met with more challenges and which “in my humble opinion” is met less tenderly by society.
I was about 23 years old when I developed mental health problems. I’ve touched on how it impacted my life in some of my earlier posts and I will try not to reiterate things for those of you that have already read those posts. Many things about it were different from my physical handicap. For one, it seriously snuck up on me. Because I was born with one hand I learned to live with it right from the start. Not so with the depression/anxiety that actually turned out to be Bi-Polar. It felt like one day I was fine and the next day I was a horrific mess.
I went from being a happy, vibrant person that loved life to a sad, couch ridden, blob of negative energy. I couldn’t think right. I only heard negative things nearly all the time. If someone said “that color looks good on you” I heard “nothing you have worn before now has looked nice on you”. And I would be convinced my version was the real one until I hopped over to the manic side of life and the negativity subsided and then the guilt for all the things I’d said and done while sad would wash over me. Mania was not better, it brought out a nasty side of me. No sleep does that to a person! I was happy one moment and then irritable and biting heads off the next. The worst worst worst thing about it was that I was aware of how terribly off I was and felt powerless to do anything about it. I was going to a psychiatrist, taking meds, and trying anything and everything to get better. Now I don’t know about you but twice in my life people told me that I could actually regrow my missing arm (yup I tell you no lies! in fact I blogged about one!). For those of us that live in reality we realize that magically fixing a missing limb is not-a-gonna-happen! But for some reason that is still unbeknownst to me, it seems that the majority of the world has a “you can fix it if you just try harder” attitude about mental illness.
When my family first seen something wrong (my once perfectly kept house was suddenly a messy disaster) they told me I needed to get a grip, I was lazy. They didn’t stay that way forever but it took time for my parents to really understand. That was very different from the way they treated my physical disability. Once my parents truly understood the nature of it, especially my mother, they were there for me. When I was hospitalized they took care of my kids. They also helped financially and in an effort to connect better my mother took the time to read and learn about my disorder.
One way everyone did LOVE to be involved was to try telling me how to fix it! It just cracked me up how much everyone that had NEVER suffered from a mental health problem thought they had the answers to my problem. “You need to try natural health medication”. Oh thank you I never thought of that, I was just so thrilled with the idea of pharmaceutical meds being pumped throughout my body in large quantities I didn’t process that far ~End sarcasm here~ Or this one that usually came from religious acquaintances – “If you read your bible more and pray about it, it will get better”. Oh yay more wisdom that I had not thought to try….. You can see me here at this religious gathering, bible in hand and yet you feel you need to tell me that ~eye roll~. Ooops guess the sarcasm spilled into this sentence too, my bad! But lets not leave out one of my personal favorites “it’s all about your attitude, you need to take control of your own mind”. If I could do that I wouldn’t have a MENTAL disorder now would I! How does it make sense to tell someone who’s mind is not properly formulating information that they just need to get control? Oh dear that all sounded a little like a rant didn’t it. I’m not feeling to guilty or I’d backspace wouldn’t I …
I am a strong willed person and I got tired of that behavior from others, I flat out spoke my opinions when I was pushed to much. Not because I like conflict but because it would hit me that someone had to stand up for all of us that go through this and then the snappy comebacks would commence. Even with my strengths it got me down. My heart goes out to anyone that is more timid then me and has to deal with that. It is so dishearting to be made to feel that you like being that way and just aren’t bothering to get better.
All in all my conclusion (if you haven’t figured it out yet) is that, overall, physical limitations are met with more sympathy and understanding than mental health ones. No one made me feel like my missing arm was my fault (ok once someone did but that’s a crazy story for another day). Lots of people made me feel responsible for my mental health illness. Here is to raising awareness, supporting the ones in our life that cope with these things, and finding the things that help the most.