Mental Illness: Normalize the conversation
Written by Rachel Wallerstedt
Many of you know, but many may not, that I deal with severe bipolar disorder. I make attempts to be open about my experiences, though I sometimes find that people get very uncomfortable when I bring it up. When I bring it up, people rush to tell me how “normal” I seem and that they wouldn’t have guessed at all. Well, honey, this is why I’m relating the experience. It has taken a lot for me to seem that way. It feels good to be in a positive point of my mental health right now, with the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy and lithium on my side. I also have the benefit of a wonderful personal support network full of people who have been there for me when I needed them.
But even with all these things going for me, it’s hard to forget the impact of my psychotic episodes. I have lost friends because of these episodes and I’ve lost jobs because of these episodes. Social media also helped broadcast my insanity to everyone I know. I don’t know how high public humiliation ranks in terms of bad times to everybody, but it left me raw. Having bipolar disorder does not give you a lot of space to hide.
We’re not alone in this
I’d like to write about my experiences, if only for my own mental clarity. Also, reading the experiences of others going through what I was helped me feel less isolated in my darkest times, so I hope writing about this can serve that function too. There is so much to say and it’s all so hard to talk about. Even though SO MANY of us deal with challenges that arise from having mental differences, we avoid discussing these things even with our closest friends and family. And this results in making extremely common problems feel like solitary damnation.
This is why it is so important to decide that we will be the ones to break that pattern. It is hard to talk about things that cause such obvious discomfort with other people, so normalizing these discussions is key. If someone else is opening up to us about THEIR experiences of mental health, the kindest thing we can do is listen. We may want to offer words of comfort, tell people that they seem fine, but this reaction can silence others. When we actually engage with people about mental illness, we treat it like we would when someone talks to us about any health problem.
If you deal with challenges from mental illness, how do you usually bring these up with the people who care about you? Any good strategies for opening up in a way that others seem to relate to?