One of the hardest things for me in dealing with my mental health condition is my very strong theory that everyone else is having exactly the same problems that I am, but they’re just 8 million times better at dealing with them, and hiding them from everyone else. And thus, I don’t talk about my mental health, much, because everyone else is obviously coping with the same thing, and I’m just a big whiner who can’t cope and fails at everything and is useless and should just run away and everyone will be better and– stop.
For extra special bonus points, my mental health condition will also remind me that if I just try hard enough, if I just do more things, I will prove that I’m coping Just Fine and everyone will love me and why would anyone want to talk to someone who isn’t doing all this extra stuff and if I just could cope the way everyone else did I wouldn’t have these problems and I would just be good enough and not have to do all these things and– stop.
It’s a fun game my brain chemistry plays with me and part of the reason it’s so successful is because of how mental health conditions are portrayed in popular culture.
I don’t talk about how my brain is working this week (this month, this semester) because I’m afraid. I’ve already experienced backlash related to my mental health condition online, and I fear “coming out” to my professors, my classmates, or the people on any of the six committees I’m on this semester because suddenly I’ll be weak. I’ll be the scary girl who might snap. Maybe they’ll ask about my experiences being detained by hospital authorities for “my own good”. Maybe they’ll start to doubt the validity of my research, or dismiss my opinions, or stop telling me about meetings, or start talking about me behind my back, whispering and then they’ll be making fun of me all the time and it will be just like high school and I am not sure I can cope with that again and I don’t want to go to the hospital and I don’t want to go to the doctor and tell them I’m not coping because they’ll lock me away and– stop.
It took me a decade of this constant self-talk before someone told me it wasn’t “normal”, and that I could get help to deal with it. And despite having gotten effective help in the past, despite increasingly being able to keep myself focused and on task and not falling apart all over the place, I’m still deathly afraid of talking to people about mental health concerns. I’m still afraid, today, right now, to go to my doctor’s appointment because doesn’t everyone have their heart pounding in their ears during class? Isn’t everyone convinced their profs all hate them? Doesn’t everyone think that if they just stretch themselves a little thinner, they’ll be good enough?
The only reason I resisted getting help for so long, when I could have been getting help as soon as I started having these symptoms, was because Mental Illness has a huge social stigma attached to it. People like me, who “just” have such bad self-talk that they harm themselves in ways that aren’t easily noticed (six committees? plus the writing for the paper? Plus the FWD/Forward blog duties? Not to mention trying to finish the MA in a year? With a husband who’s recovering from cancer surgery and has a disability? And trying to make sure everyone eats healthy, and trying to keep the housework up? Self, what are you doing? Besides doing it all wrong, of course.) can end up not seeking help because I’m not crazy, I’m just stupid and lazy. We’re lead to believe “real” mental health conditions are like t.v. version of schizophrenia and movie versions of OCD.
I had a great ending planned to this, that would invite people to talk about how pop cultural portrayals of mental health concerns affected them. I also wanted to write about how I don’t want to put a stigma on schizophrenia and OCD, but on the way these conditions are portrayed in the media, but if I keep writing, it’s going to be another way to not go to the doctor and get a needed prescription for anti-anxiety medication. Last year I didn’t go to the doctor until I thought I was having a heart attack and could barely breath.
But it’s all in my head, right? People like me, we’re just weak.