I read a few posts over the last few weeks on several blogs that have actually got me thinking about how people treat people with mental illness, and worse, how they take advantage of people with mental illness.
There are countless examples, I won’t be delving into all of them, but I will touch on some that I have also experienced myself, or close to it.
It’s a hard thing having a mental illness of any sort. In a lot of ways, because it is so hard, and because of community perceptions surrounding it, many people who are suffering avoid getting the help they actually need. Because society see’s people with mental illness in a negative light, people avoid owning, or even admitting they have a mental illness, even to themselves, making the whole situation even worse for the sufferer.
So some of the obvious things we encounter include suddenly being excluded from activities and events that before we opened our mouths, and admitted to our issues, people had no problem with inviting us to. The sudden patronising behaviour of others, be it over the top sympathy, or treating you like you are mentally deficient, or even the good old line of, “Oh, everyone gets sad, you’ll get over it.” Would they say to someone with terminal cancer that ” everyone gets sick, you’ll get over it” ? No.
When I was first diagnosed with Manic Depression (Bipolar), most of the reactions of others were either denial that the diagnosis was true, or utter surprise and sudden alienation. These people had lived and worked with me before the diagnosis, treating me just like anyone else, even though I had this mental illness for YEARS before it was finally diagnosed, but suddenly, now it was diagnosed, it was like I had a highly infectious communicable disease. Folks, it is not helpful to treat someone who is suffering like that. It is never okay.
Now, other things I have experienced, and actually read about happening to others in the past few weeks.
The first, the using a persons mental illness against them to abuse them.
In my own case, I had a mental health “professional” who was supposed to be helping my former wife with her own issues, use my mental health against me. She refused to believe that my former wife had schizophrenia, which she has finally been diagnosed with, and that my former wife was abusing me, instead, twisting my own issue on me, accusing me of being abusive and unstable. I should never have been honest about my own issues. Luckily for me, I had Police witness her abuse towards me on so many occasions it was beyond a joke, and they finally freed me from it all. This pathetic excuse for a psychologist didn’t quite stop even when I was finally free, even contacting Children’s Services to investigate me and my care of my son whom I took with me. Funnily, soon after, she was sacked. I guess the fact that my ex had a completely psychotic episode which resulted in her involuntary admission to a mental health facility, and subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia, coupled with the report from Children’s Services that recommended that my ex not be living with or left unsupervised with our son, AND the fact that the Police had observed her abuse of me, finally led to her dismissal. Karma. Abuse of mentally unwell people is very common in the Psychiatric profession (just read the multitude of personal experiences that come up in people’s blogs).
The experience similar to this that I read about in the last few weeks, not involving mental health workers but a spouse, really disturbed me. This woman’s partner keeps on “winning” arguments by using her mental health against her. You know, she’s winning the argument, he gets desperate, and slings the mental health issue in her face, totally belittling her in the process, thus ending the argument, but completely crushing the person that he is apparently supposed to love and care about. The reality is, if someone does that to you, they don’t love you at all. They are pure and simple an abusive arsehole, or bitch, depending on the gender of the abuser. The best thing the sufferer can do is leave. Trust me, my ex also did this to me. Your mental health will improve exponentially once you leave these psychopaths, because anyone who uses your mental health issue as a weapon against you IS a psychopath.
The next I guess is sort of similar. When you are depressed you become very internalised and self focused. You self analyse yourself to the level of absurdity. You really have no control over it. Somebody overloads your already overloaded senses. You snap. You explode. You say things that you may not intend to say. Then, you end up having it all turned on you. The other person guilts you into apologising. Wow, great thing that, making a person that already feels shit about themselves feel guilty for having a reaction that anyone who feels threatened or is suffering from mental overload would have.
I’ll explain what I mean. ANYONE who suffers depression, I mean, the real deal, not just a little sad, but full blown, clinically diagnosable depression (most people never get diagnosed because of the stigma), when in the depths of the darkness, has so much going on inside their heads, so many thoughts, so many ideas, loads of negativity towards themselves, that even the smallest of things, even something accidental, can totally flip the switch. Because people who suffer from mental illness often hide it as much as possible because people don’t like people with mental illness (as I was saying before), the flip, the explosion, comes as a shock to the victim of the rupture of mood. So okay, yes, a little bit of the blame can be directed towards the depressed person, hey, you didn’t let on that you were feeling bad until it was too late. But then again, you didn’t let on because of a self preservation reaction, people don’t really want to know how you feel, even if they act as though they do. That is a complete truth. If they cared, THEY would have noticed long before you exploded that things weren’t going well. There are ALWAYS obvious signs, regardless of how good we, the mental health sufferer, might think we are at hiding it. I have been in sales, and was bloody good at it, and the key to being bloody good at sales is reading people. Taking notice of the smallest things. If someone genuinely cares about you, is a good friend, then they should, if they are such a great friend, notice these things. If they don’t, then they aren’t.
The worst thing about this situation I recently read about, and yet again have also experienced myself, is that the “friend” made the sufferer apologise. They made the sufferer doubt their own worth. They have forced this person to analyse every single other failed relationship they have ever had, and blame themselves for that relationship’s failure as well. Yes, our mental illnesses do influence what happens in our relationships with other people, no doubt about that, but you have an illness that you really have no control over. Yes, you can have medicinal intervention, yes, it can help control it, yes, you can employ other techniques to help control it, and yes, you can have a lot of success with all of that. But it is a fine line. All it takes is one arsehole to make it all come crashing down, to make it all fall apart. Is that your fault, the actions of another? No. Should you apologise for your reaction to their action? No. If they are truly a friend, if they truly care about you, they would not push you beyond your limit, and they certainly shouldn’t expect you to apologise for what is fundamentally their actions. You know what? By making you apologise, they are actually perpetrators of abuse. Yes they are.
I spoke of the fine line I walk in a previous post. I avoid conflict and stress like the plague. I’ll walk away from someone who wants to arc me up. Sometimes they don’t back off, and it ends in the inevitable. Luckily, the majority of people who I consider friends these days are real friends, not friends that are essentially just acquaintances.
And to finish off, a note for friends of those who suffer mental illnesses. If they want to be left alone, bloody well leave them alone. If they look uncomfortable with the way you are treating them, even if you think you are helping them, BACK OFF. Don’t treat them like an infectious disease, because when they do want to talk about what is happening to them, it won’t be you they want to go to, and if all of their friends treat them the same way, then they will have nobody to talk to, and their insecurity of feeling alone is actually a reality. And when they do talk to you, don’t be patronising. Don’t pretend to understand when you don’t have a clue at all. It’s better to listen, and not pretend to listen. Look, after reading a multitude of blogs, after knowing a great number of people with mental illness and being a sufferer myself, every single one of us wants to tell our story, we want to talk about it. Let us do it when we are ready. Don’t force us to, but be absolutely ready to be there when we do. And above all else, DO NOT use OUR mental illness against us.