Recently, I was talking with another spoonie. She was talking about the stigmatization she faces not only from the world but from her own family regarding her mental health diagnosis. Her family keeps telling her ‘just be stronger,’ ‘just get it together,’ and my favorite, ‘can’t you just make yourself be happy?’
Let me explain something very clearly:
The chronically and mentally ill do not choose to live this way.
We do not choose to have our illnesses. We do not choose to have limitations placed on our life. We do not choose to lay in bed all day. We do not choose to cancel plans just for the hell of it. We certainly wouldn’t choose depression and anxiety for ourselves, or migraines or MS or any one of the tens of thousands of other disabilities.
Do you think that we ‘asked’ for this? That this is the life we would choose for ourselves?
If it were up to me, I would choose a 28-year-old, active but healthy body with no mental illness or any of my other debilitating conditions. I think I would leave my congenital heart condition cause the scar is pretty cool.
I know, since this is how it is with all us spoonies, your loved one doesn’t want to live their life like this and would not have chosen this life for themselves either, and you constantly putting them down for things they can’t control, is definitely not helping.
We are sick. We have medical illnesses. We have legitimate, life-altering diseases.
Mental illness is a disease. It’s like any other physical illness, but it’s in our brain, the most powerful organ of all. It is not something we just choose for fun. Laying in bed all day while in a depressive episode is not fun. Having so much anxiety that all of these hormones are flooding your body and pushing you into panic mode, telling you that you aren’t good enough, the terrible ‘what if’s?’ and worst case scenarios flashing through your mind all the time is not fun. It is terrible. It is exhausting.
But it doesn’t make us less than you; it doesn’t make us weaker than you.
And as unkind or judgmental as you are to us, we are probably 100 times harder on ourselves.
The things you say stick with us, they repeat in our head like an old terrible cassette tape. We already have problems with our thinking, and if you are going to be unsupportive, then I’m sorry but just STOP.
The mentally and chronically ill need support. We need our family and our friends. Most of us have an online community we are part of (If you haven’t found a good one, keep searching—they are out there). We need you, our support system, to believe us. To trust that what we are feeling is real, and that we are doing our very best.
Every day, we do our very best. But when that’s not good enough for you, maybe it’s you who should change your expectations.
We do what we can, when we can, always doing our best, but we often fall short.
And believe me, that makes us feel worse than it does you.
At times you may feel we are a burden. You may feel it will never get better. You might feel bitterness and resentment. That’s okay. That’s normal. We all feel that—the patient and the loved ones.
But still, just love us. Don’t criticize; don’t judge. Just love us.
And please, accept us where we are. We all hope to climb out of the dungeon one day, but that day might be a long time coming, and even longer without support.
If there’s one thing I can ask you, the family, friends and loved ones of someone with a chronic or mental illness:
Learn about our condition. The more you learn, the more you will understand us and hopefully be able to empathize (note: I did not say sympathize).
I often recommend programs like DBSA and NAMI to persons suffering from mental illness and their families, and there are so many wonderful (though also a lot of terrible) support communities on the Internet. With the Internet, you don’t have to even leave your home to get support. If you check with your local city’s website, they should have a list of support groups.
Please, please do this. Educate yourself, support yourself, so that you can support us.
This is a hard life. It is ups and downs, a hell of a rollercoaster ride. We can’t do it without you. Without your support, we may never be able to do it.
We are not different people; we are the same person you loved in the first place. Work with us, not against us. Support us. Love us, even when we don’t love ourselves. Especially when we don’t love ourselves. Ask how we are doing, in a genuine manner. Respect our limitations and our boundaries. Don’t push us–doing too much can actually make us worse (for some people, myself included).
Some of the comments on my articles indicate there are people out there without any support system. And to them, I encourage you to seek out resources. The Internet is full of resources, and a simple Google search can help you find them all. There are resources that are different depending on the city and state you live in, but there is always help. It may not be a family member or friend, but there are a whole network and system out there to help.
And yes, the system is broken. The system needs help. Be patient. Eventually, they will get you in. Don’t let your pride stop you from feeding yourself because you don’t want to get food stamps. There are even resources for the utility companies and charity programs out there for medical bills.
Even if you have no support system, you can create one. Start by finding a therapist and looking into resources in your local area. If you can’t afford a therapist, there are cheaper, online alternatives with licensed therapists or a website like 7 Cups of Tea (they are not licensed professionals but they are free).
But I repeat:
You can do this.
We all can do this. It sucks sometimes, this thing called life, but whether we are the patient or the loved ones, we have to weather the storm and hope for the rainbow at the end.