How important has connection been to you?
Have you ever had a connection with someone (not necessarily an ‘intimate one’) where you felt you could be open with them and they with you?
Has that ever worried you? Has it ever come back to bite you on the ass?
I personally have dealt with mostly one-sided connections in my life. The type where they call you or text you because, guess what, Johnny just broke up with them again and they don’t understand why they can’t be loved. Or they come to your house because their parents are fighting and they can’t handle it anymore. Or they say “hey, what’s up” and halfway through your response they say “yeah, I’ve just been feeling a little down lately”.
I’ve had connections based purely on humor. That is, when I’m with them all we do is crack jokes and if anyone’s life is going to be talked about, it’s theirs.
I’ve had connections that I keep solely for the hopes of relinquishing the bouts of loneliness I’m plagued with. Perhaps this contributes to my mistrust of people, to my repulsion at the idea of having “friends”. After all, aren’t we both just associated with each other so neither of us has to feel alone?
Yes, through IPS I’ve learned much about the benefits of connection and understanding and I have my chance to share my stories (however much less ‘exciting’ they were from others) and relate to someone. For the first time in my life I had someone say “yeah, I’ve felt like that too” rather than try and relate to me through “oh, yeah, I kind of get like that when . . . –enter experience completely irrelevant to what I described– . . .”.
To me, that doesn’t show understanding, that shows me that you’re tying to convince me that everything I experience is normal and I’m exaggerating things.
Now, I’m someone who doesn’t care much for normality either way. But the thing is, nothing I say is exaggerated, those feelings are real and they can be painful, so to try and counter them with an experience you’ve had that you consider to be “normal” or, in my eyes, “not a big deal”, tells me you haven’t understood a word I’ve said. If you can’t understand that it’s a “big deal” to me, than you haven’t understood it at all.
That’s what I would tell someone who was struggling to understand mental health struggles.
I get told two phrases most commonly:
- When I express how hard it is for me to do certain things, I get “well I just push through it”.
- When I’m exhausted from anxiety, from depression, or from coming down from three weeks of running around on 3 hours of sleep and I say ” I’m so tired” I get ” from what?”
And so the question for those of us who struggle on a daily with our brains remains: when is it safe to be open about our mental health and to whom?
An old psychology professor of mine told us never to mention our mental health in college applications or personal essays as a reason for the field you want to study. In fact, they’re more likely to see you as a liability than anything.
I read an article (source)today on a medical student who decided to be open about her struggle with mental health (anxiety and depression) and got interrogated by a panel group on whether or not she could “handle” being a doctor. They revoked their statements and worries after her grades improved.
She recalls people told her exactly what my psychology professor told us: “Do not mention you have any kind of weakness”.
And this is where my uncommon principals and views on the concept of “mental illness” play a part. If you keep telling people we’re “disordered” or that we’re “sick” or “damaged” . . . doesn’t that imply weakness?
It’s what drives me away from calling anything an illness or a sickness. I never could think of a good term to replace it, but I like what IPS called them: Reactions.
If someone can call me weak for having a mental reaction, than I can call them weak for jumping when I scare them at the corner. The point is to find terms that bring the “average” people back down to earth, off their pedestal, and level with the rest of us.
Regardless of my views, or their unconventional ridiculousness that people probably don’t like, I think what truly matters here is how we see ourselves. How we communicate with each other.
Balance is what’s missing in my opinion. It’s not a matter of finding “scientific reason” for these “disorders”, it’s not a matter of finding cures or magical drugs, it’s about reminding people we’re all human. We all experience life differently. And to place a label upon someone and use it as an excuse to “classify” doesn’t fly with me.
More than 200 billion dollars Americans spent on Mental health last year I believe. On multiple doctor visits around multiple medications and multiple attempts to “Get better” that never really worked for many.
I’ve attempted to “Get better” too. Problem is I don’t have anything to “Get better” from because I was never sick.
I get better from the flu and from the cold. I don’t get better from how I experience life. There is no standard to try and reach.
Some people think I am invalidating their struggle when I say things like this. As if revoking the label “disorder” takes away the substance and the pain of what they experience.
But I’m doing the exact opposite. I’m putting the authenticity back into what we all experience. What we experience is very real, it can be painful and terrifying and absolutely horrendous.
I feel those things don’t need to be “sick” to be significant.
I feel taking medication to help doesn’t mean you are disordered or sick either. I’ve considered getting back on them a million times over and that doesn’t sway how I see myself. I don’t see medication as a way to try and “fix” myself. I see it as a tool to help me transform and grow. And once I grow, I throw the tool away. I don’t need a wrench once the screw is tightened.
And there are some who don’t have the luxury of getting off medication, either because withdrawal results in even worse symptoms, or because of the fear around falling back into a hole by coming off them. And you know what? That’s okay too.
We’re all the same. We all struggle. It hurts and it sucks and we have to push harder than most people some days.
But let’s not do a disservice to ourselves by reinforcing stereotypes placed on us by a panel of doctors who haven’t had an ounce of lived experience.
Yes, APA, that’s a shot at you. Sue me.