There are some things people say that really get my back up. And it isn’t because they come from a bad place, it is mostly ignorance and a lack of forethought. So I thought I would create a general list of things people with mental illness really don’t want to hear. It is imperative that you don’t compare yourself to someone who is mentally unwell. Our brains work differently, we cope with things differently, and we experience things differently. This is true even of completely ‘normal’ minds, but when there is mental illness involved it is a completely different kettle of fish. It is like comparing oranges to apples, black to white, and stripes to spots.
Putting ‘Just’ before a sentence implies what you are asking someone to do is easy. There is no ‘just’ when it comes to mental health issues. They are by definition messy and complicated, and different for everyone.
“Get over it”
Again, this implies that it is something easy to do. You wouldn’t tell people to get over a broken leg, so why tell them to get over a broken mind? If it were that simple, don’t you think we would have done it by now?
“You’re making excuses”
This one really is a pet hate of mine, as I have a friend who says it all the time. I am not making excuses, I am giving you reasons. Just because this is something you can do doesn’t mean we all can. Imagine trying to teach a 2 year old algebra. Their ‘excuse’ is that it is just to hard for them. Do we try to guilt them into learning it? Or shout at them for not knowing it? Do we make them feel stupid for not doing it? Of course we don’t. We know that their brains just aren’t quite ready to handle it yet. There are some things my brain is perfectly capable of understanding, but not capable of doing. When I tell you how something is going to make me feel, that isn’t me putting limitations on myself or making excuses, it is me knowing how I will react. Say if I walk 10 steps, on the 11th step I would fall over. If that has happened the last 100 times I have walked those 11 steps, it is more than reasonable to expect it will happen again. Of course, I cannot be 100% sure until it happens, but expecting it to happen and preparing for it to happen is not the same as making an excuse. In fact, preparing is the smart thing to do, and if I can arrange it so I only walk 10 steps at a time and not the 11th all the better.
“You have the same illness as _____ and s/he manages just fine”
A broken leg may be a broken leg, but it could be a fracture of the femur, tibia or fibula. And even on the same bone, you could have a hairline fracture, a clean break, a spiral fracture and so on and so forth. So while I may have the same mental illness as someone else, it doesn’t mean I will experience it in the same way. More than that, finding the right treatment plan can take years. The amount of time you have lived with a mental illness plays a role in your recovery too. For example, BPD generally gets a little better with age. So it is really intense in your teenage years and slowly gets better until (for most people, particularly those diagnosed in their teens) by the time you are in your mid thirties it has mostly gone. If you didn’t get it until your 30’s, however, the age at which you recover will be later. Therefore it isn’t fair to compare one persons recovery to another’s.
“You seem normal to me”
I get this a lot. People generally wont know I have mental illnesses unless I tell them, and most people are very surprised to hear just how many I have. I blame the media for this. ‘Crazy’ people in films are often shown in the middle of huge breakdowns, unable to communicate properly, unclean and untidy, often sitting in a chair muttering and rocking back and forth. This isn’t the reality of mental illness. The truth is unless you know someone very well it is easy to miss the signs, and we can come across as perfectly normal. That doesn’t mean we are normal though. There is a lot that goes on behind closed doors, and we aren’t at rock bottom all of the time. Mental health waxes and wanes, sometimes you are okay and sometimes you aren’t. The chances are you aren’t seeing the whole picture.
“Stop focussing on the bad stuff”
You are assuming that simply focussing on the good is all we need to do to get better. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Also, lots of mental health issues make you think of the bad bits without really wanting to. Depression sucks all the colour out of the world, PTSD shoves painful flashbacks and nightmares in your face, BPD amplifies negative emotions 100 fold, GAD makes you excessively worry all of the time. Mental illnesses can be all-consuming. That is hard to fight. And it doesn’t mean we don’t cling to the good either, it just means we can’t simply blot out the bad.
“It could be worse”
That is true. For every single person on this planet, their problems could be a LOT worse, and there are always going to be people who suffer more than us. And I know people say this to try to make us feel better. But I don’t feel the way I do because I think nobody in the world has suffered more than me, I feel the way I do because what I have been through sucks. Knowing someone else is going through worse makes me feel bad for them, but not better about myself. I count myself as very lucky, and very blessed. Making me feel guilty for complaining when others have it worse though wont help. When you get a flat tyre you don’t think “well at least I don’t have cancer!”… you think “damn, I have a flat tyre. What a pain”.
“It is all those tablets you’re on, you should stop taking them and then you will feel better”
This infuriates me. And I hear it a lot. It makes me cross for two simple reasons. 1) If I was fine, I wouldn’t have gone on them in the first place. I didn’t wake up one day and think “Hey! I know what! Today I will go on antidepressants! Because they will make me have mood swings and put on weight and make me numb and that will just be so great!” 2) I dread to think what I would be like off the meds. Here is a simple fact… without medication I wouldn’t be here today. It really is as simple as that. And I know that medication alone is not the answer, and I know medications aren’t right for some people. But you aren’t my doctor, you don’t know my medical history, and you don’t know where I was without them. So don’t comment! Advising people to stop taking any medication is dangerous and frankly stupid. Please don’t do it.
What makes me sad is that people with mental illnesses (or any other ‘invisible’ illness like Fibromyalgia or ME) still have to justify themselves to others. I shouldn’t have to explain why I feel the way I do. If you love someone, you should love them warts and all, and realise the line between encouraging someone and doing them harm is frightfully thin. Raising your voice and demanding people snap out of it, or just do what you do, or just get on with it is harmful. More than that, it is out of order. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to stop making a fuss, get off the crutches and start walking already.