“A woman is safer in a park at midnight than on a psychiatrist’s couch.” —David Miscavige
How do you have a productive conversation about mental illness, with someone who thinks it’s a myth?
I just got off the phone with a friend who suggested I get my vitamin D levels checked because low vitamin D levels are probably responsible for this “so-called bipolar thing.”
She also suggested I spend more time in the sun, and give up gluten.
Who knew it was so simple?
This friend is also anti-vaccination, and thinks pretty much everything can be cured with chia seeds, colon cleansing and yoga.
I’d love to see that ad campaign.
“I had this pesky brain tumor but then I started yoga. Thank you Happy Baby Pose for saving my life.”
I know this friend is well-intentioned, but to paraphrase Yoda–helpful, she is not being.
Bipolar disorder is difficult to explain, and talking about mental illness makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I think I’m getting better at easing some of that discomfort, and creating a safe environment to ask questions. Most of the people in my life have been really great, as this diagnosis didn’t come as any surprise to most of us. But there is still one or two of ’em who just don’t seem willing to get it.
I call them The I-Do-That-Tooers and The Experts.
It could very well be that people who fall into one of these camps just have no fucks to give. But I’d like to give my friends more credit than that.
“So, how do they know you’re bipolar? What does that even mean?”
ME: “I’m prone to wild mood swings that are, sometimes, completely independent of what’s going on in my life.”
“Isn’t everyone? I have terrible PMS every month and it just makes me crazy.”
ME: “I tend to have extreme emotional responses that are not always proportionate to the situation.”
“I know just what you mean. I get so mad at my husband sometimes when he leaves his towel on the floor. I just become enraged.”
Yeah, it’s exactly like that. Only it’s not.
I cried for over an hour when I read that the newborn panda cub at the National Zoo died this morning. My day has pretty much been shot, ever since. Just thinking about it chokes me up; I’m exhausted, and right now, having taken a shower today feels like a big accomplishment.
I can go from complete elation to feeling like my world is crashing down on me within a matter of days (or sometimes–although rarely–within hours).
“Big Pharma is getting rich off of people who only think they’re sick because they’re told they are. This whole thing is a scam. You just need to realize you are a lot stronger than you think you are.”
“I’m worried about you being on all of those medications. They’re toxic, you know.”
“You can do a lot by fixing your diet/exercising more/seeing an acupuncturist/etc.”
Absolutely. But none of these things are going to cure my bipolar disorder. Believe me, I’ve tried managing my illness without medication. In doing so, I’ve destroyed relationships; ruined my credit; attempted suicide, and have been hospitalized and treated against my will (for which I am extremely grateful, but that’s another blog post).
So, yes, diet, exercise, meditation, reflexology, acupuncture, colon cleansing and any number of adjunct therapies you can list are very good at helping me manage the symptoms of my illness.
(Except for the colon cleansing, because that’s just nasty)
But the medications I take every morning and every night are actually managing my illness. And keeping me alive.
So, how can I get through to these people?
And is it even worth my time and energy?
Short of distancing myself from these people, I’m pretty much at a loss.