If I told you that I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, would you respond by rolling your eyes and saying, “You and everyone else”? If I told you I had cancer would you tell me I don’t need treatment and should stop going to my doctor? Of course not. You would probably hug me and tell me you’re sorry. You would look at me with pity and fear and genuine concern. You would ask me what you could do to help. You would tell me to fight. You would not belittle the illness or me.
What if I told you I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety and I was battling with my mental health and taking medication? Would you look at me with pity and fear and genuine concern? Would you ask me what you could do to help? Would you tell me to fight? Or would you tell me to meditate, pray and exercise more? Would you tell me I don’t need medication?
When someone dies of cancer we don’t ask why. We don’t wonder what their reasons were. We don’t call them selfish. We don’t blame the person at all. We blame the disease. We say, “They died from cancer.” When someone dies from a mental illness we say, “He took his own life” or “She committed suicide.” We give the victim complete responsibility along with all the blame. We should be saying “He died from untreated bipolar” or “the treatment wasn’t working and she died from depression.” The diseases should be named, and blamed. The violent, earth shattering and completely unpredictable diseases are responsible, not the victims. Mental illness is real.
I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety at sixteen years old. I was medicated for four years until I decided I didn’t need to be anymore. As it turns out I did need them. At twenty-three I decided to quit drinking and go back to my therapist. She diagnosed me with bipolar and prescribed me Lithium. In the eight years I’ve been struggling with trying to get healthy I have had a lot of support. But I’ve had even more disapproval and discouragement. People have told me the only reason I was able to quit drinking is because my mind is altered with drugs just like it is with alcohol. People have told me I need to seek a second opinion or a third and so on. I’ve had a countless number of people roll their eyes at me and sigh heavily. I’ve also gotten the common brush offs, “That crap isn’t real,” “Everyone has problems, just deal with them.” and “You seemed fine to me.” That’s the thing about mental illness. Sometimes you do seem fine to everyone who knows you. It is often an internal battle that is not seen by anyone except the ones you let in. People told me I was wrong. I am not wrong. I know that mental illness is real, and I know what it is capable of if left untreated.
I will walk for my uncles who lost their lives; I will walk for my mother, who has battled courageously. I will walk for myself and I will walk for everyone who is struggling internally, and everyone who is struggling alone. We need to raise awareness, we need to overcome the stigma and those of us who have found treatment need to show strength and support for those who haven’t. We have come so far already but we have so much further to go. I do not have cancer, I do not have MS, but I was diagnosed with a mental illness and I would appreciate your support. Thank you!
And for all the eye rollers out there…