Welcome to day 9 in the #Write31Days challenge on mental health. I should honestly be writing my posts earlier in the day, as once again I’m very tired. I also don’t read the other 31-dayers nearly as often as I should. Today though, I caught up with Anita Ojeda’s 31 Glimpses Into the Unquiet Mind. This is a series of posts on Anita’s daughter Sarah’s experience of depression and an eating disorder. What shocked me today was how both Sarah and her mother initially confused mental illness iwith a negative attitude.
Like I said before, I have in some ways always had mental health problems. I was often thought of as having a bad attitude, being selfish and lazy. Though I didn’t experience my mental health problems causing me to self-blame a lot, I did internalize other people’s blame of me.
I remember when I was admitted to the psychiatric unit in 2007, getting many comments from family and relatives that essentially said I was just having a bad attitude. I was, in a way. I was very much a pain in the butt for a long time, like many people with borderline personality disorder. I was myself responsible for the negativity I spread, whether I was mentally ill or not, but that didn’t mean that all I needed was a good kick in the pants.
Let’s face it: mental illness is an isolating experience. It can actually turn otherwise cheerful people into bitter ones. It can amplify the pessimism in people who already have a negative attitude to begin with. Please remember, even though people choose their behavior, they don’t choose to have a mental illness.
Also please realize that a mental illness sucks away energy from the person it affects. When you can hardly make it out of bed, you’re going to have especially little energy for being polite and cheerful towards others.
Many people erroneously believe mental illness is a weakness of the will. Though mildly depressed or anxious people can sometimes will themselves into keeping up appearances, those with more severe mental illness cannot. For your information: mental illness is not a weakness of chracter. Note for example that optimistic peope can be afflicted with depression. If depression and other mental illnesses are a weakness of character, only those who naturally gravitate towards negativism will develop them.
When relatives, perhaps in an attempt to be helpful, try to tell the mentally ill person to get their shit together, this may actually cause the person with mental health problems to fall deeper into despair. I received some particularly harsh comments that may’ve been meant to blow some sense into me, but they did the exact opposite. When I was suicidal, I reasoned that if my relatives were more concerned with the costs of my hypothetical funeral than with my state of despair, why should I live on?
I know it’s hard to have a relative with a mental illness. It is hard watching them spiral down into the pit of depression or other mental health problems, especially if they take out their despair on you. Don’t take your despair out on them in return. It may be wise to seek support from family or friends or perhaps other families of mentally ill people so that you can keep supporting your relative in a positive way. Remember that you aren’t a mental health professional, so you can’t drag your relative out of mental illness. Not that a mental health professional can, but you get the idea. Your helpful advice may be taken the wrong way, and this is through no fault of your own or the mentally ill person’s. It just happens and you’ll need to let it go.