Preconceptions of Mental Illness

No one wants to be mentally ill. Being mentally ill implies that there is a lack of ability to reason – whether we want to admit it or not. There is still an inherent stigma attached to mental illnesses and perhaps, since it’s so easy to label those who disagree with us as mentally ill, we are deathly afraid of being diagnosed with a mental illness. Being diagnosed mentally ill is like running into a scary maze except it is full of dead ends and the anxiety that you will never find your way out. When I received my diagnosis as having Bipolar Disorder, I received the opposite of comfort. The feeling I discovered was dread, failure and opposition.

See, being labeled Bipolar means to the people working at the mental hospital that you could have done something to solve it – by taking medications already.

My own psychiatrist said to me this: “You’ve been a burden on your family you’re entire life.”

Was it true? I suppose it was true. I had been the bratty, youngest child all my life. I had been bullied in school and rejected by boys. The only explanation was that I was Bipolar.

Yet I wasn’t happy with getting the diagnosis. I spent the rest of my time trying to pretend that I was getting better while I was in the mental hospital. I tried being extra nice to the workers at the hospital, speaking up politely in group and befriending others who looked lost. I thought if I were pretending to be friendly and better, I would get out and by getting out, could get off my medications.

I ended up going to the mental hospital the next week for a bad reaction to Risperdal. When I arrived at the mental hospital the second time, I was not as happy to be there. I was angry that a psychotic reaction to medications meant I had a “Bipolar Relapse” and needed to be on new medications. The second mood stabilizer they got me on (Zyprexa) made me cry about people killing roaches. The fellow inmates in the hospital were angry at me because I was not behaving. They wanted me to behave so they could get out of the mental hospital as well. The staff hated me for being upset. Just another proof of my “Bipolar.”

I think my preconception of mental illness was that if I was depressed, everything would be easy. Princess Diana was loved by all of Great Britain and Demi Lovato had a loyal group of fans. Already girls I saw who cut themselves ended up having boys who loved them, but when I got on these medications – I feared that I was damned for life to be a burden to everyone around me.

I guess it is because when you are diagnosed mentally ill, you are burdened with the task of getting better. It is determined that you have been moping or being dramatic and others are happy to confirm it to you. You are taught to hate yourself for your illness and are told you have to keep trying and trying to get back to where you were. That it was your fault. Not that you deserve love, or a break, or acceptance for your madness. Perhaps then Mr. Psychiatrist, the reason no one wants to be named mentally ill is because it implies that they will be damned the rest of their life to try incredibly hard to please everyone around them, or they are simply “not trying hard enough.”

Then there’s the “It’s not fair!” syndrome: “Why should I have to put in years of work, when other folks are lovable without doing anything?” Yup. No fair. Boo hoo. Now, are you going to do the work or not? If not, that’s fine. Everything I’ve ever achieved in life has been through lots and lots of hard work, but sometimes I choose not to do the work. When that happens, I take responsibility, and you do, too. Either do the work or say, “I am not going to be lovable in the future, because I’ve made the choice not to try.”

The assumption is that you’re not trying. That you had never tried. People love to blame other people for their problems. That is why my Great Aunt is blamed for her illness and my Grandmother for hers, long after they were dead. Perhaps it means that humans are selfish but ultimately it means we are still unable to treat mental illness with love and kindness – instead we treat it with punishment and blaming. I understand that this won’t be a realization to people now, but someday I hope they will be able to not blame everything for the family members that burdened them or the people they thought did them wrong based on the fact that they had a mental illness. I hope people will start being able to look at themselves, but ultimately psychiatrists are all too happy to blame their patients as well for their problems even though they are supposed to help them.

We want to tell others that biological illness isn’t a choice, but we still assume that a person’s life actions are a choice and take personal offense at their mistakes – shunning them their entire life based on what they didn’t do for them. The narcissists win because they are unable to be diagnosed mentally ill, because they believe they are okay and everyone else is wrong.

I think the reason mental health stigma is so bad is because of selfish people. I don’t think everyone who is mentally ill is selfish, but I do think that when someone is labeled mentally ill – it is an explanation to the others around them that they are fine while their family member or someone they know intimately is mentally ill. It’s a way of projecting one’s own problems onto others.

“Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted


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