Oooh, scary title, huh? Envisioning crazed criminals? Thinking of your eccentric, reclusive relative? Stirring up memories of your ex’s possesiveness?
Think again! I live with a mental illness. Notice I don’t say I’m mentally ill, because to be accurate, it’s not who I am as a person. And did you know those with a mental illness are statistically much more likely to be the victim of a crime, nevermind committing one? In fact, I fall into that statistic. I sometimes feel like I walk around wearing a sign that says “easy prey.” This is one of the most difficult parts of PTSD to understand and deal with. But I digress…
I’ve been treated for an anxiety disorder since age 14 when I begged my parents to get me help. I actually experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks as a young child. I just never knew how to express what I was feeling, not unlike the joint pain I was also experiencing.
Jumping ahead to today, I finally have a competent, reliable and helpful therapist. Believe it or not, these are hard to come by. In addition to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I have found myself in need of support in adjusting to life after diagnosis. A year ago this month, I was finally diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and my life as turned upside-down. I have many new restrictions and limitations. It also has worsened some of my PTSD symptoms since I’m less able to make a quick exit and I have to plan ahead for every little thing even more than ever before. This creates a great deal of anxiety and fear of being stuck in a situation from which I can’t escape. I can’t exactly depend on my legs to run away!
I’m not and have never been ashamed of living with mental illness. I actually volunteered as an educator with my local MHA starting in my teens. I’ve witnessed disgusting things said about me and others like me, even by relatives, and in one particular e-mail, my sister-in-law referred to me as crazy, mentally unstable, etc, etc. I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes. We had always gotten along quite well, so now I wonder if others think these kind of things about me when I’m not around. That really saddens me more than anything. That people can be so ignorant that they hurt others or use someone’s medical diagnosis to attack them.
This is why so many are in the metal illness closet and I can’t blame them. No matter where it’s coming from, stigma hurts. Not just feelings. It encourages mistreatment, discrimination in education and employment and keeps people from seeking the treatment they legitimately need. It also doesn’t help either things like housing or getting medical treatment. You’re often written off as the complaining loony and not given appropriate care (or even treated like a person).
I have one favor to ask of anyone reading this: please think before you speak, educate yourself and make sure such ignorant hate speech (and thoughts) don’t come from you or those around you. A simple conversation with a friend or relative or even a web search is all it takes to potentially prevent such damaging behavior. Behavior that can have deadly consequences for those suffering from a mental illness.