Mental Illness

I’ve already said my piece about how people perceive labels as opposed to how labels should actually be used.  Now, I would like to address how we look at mental illness and why this is the wrong way to approach it.

When it comes to our mental health the majority of the focus is put on the symptoms and fixing the problems.  The problem with that approach is that the “problems” aren’t always problematic.

For example, my anxiety is sometimes an illness and sometimes a gift.

Let’s just say, for example, I lost my hearing.  It would be devastating.  I would have to re-learn how to communicate.  There would be a period of time where I would mourn the loss of one of my senses.

Once over that hump though, I would learn to use my other senses differently, more effectively.  Sound would be felt through vibrations instead of heard with my ears.  If I were to go blind, I’d learn to see through touch.  If I couldn’t taste, I would learn to appreciate texture.

When we can’t interpret the world or communicate with it through the more widely accepted ways we learn to interact with it in new ways.

When we begin to look at the world in new ways, we see new things.  We bring new talents, new ideas and new strengths to the world.

Personally, I think the symptoms of anxiety should look more like this:

-Feelings of panic, fear, or uneasiness
-Sleeping problems
-Tense muscles
-Difficulty concentrating
-Irritabilityvideo game
-Cold or sweaty hands or feet
-Difficulty breathing
-Increased or decreased sex drive
-Weight gain or loss
-Increased writing skill
-Great interest in at least one scientific field
-Reflective and thoughtful

….I’m sure you get the point.

Of course, not everyone will share the same symptoms and not all of the symptoms will present themselves at the same time.

If I did not have anxiety, I would not have the talents, strengths or weaknesses that I have.  The thing that causes me to break down and feel like a small child huddled under blankets for fear of an invisible monster about to grab my feet is also the thing that has allowed me to focus my energy on writing and art to learn how to express myself in an alternative way.  It’s also inspired my love of science.  It allows me to think in ways that are abnormal and unique.

This does not need to be cured.  It does not need to be fixed.  For me, it does not need to be medicated and numbed and mixed into a stew of side effects; though I am hesitant to say that it does not need to be medicated for all I’m certain there are many like me who are harmed more by the medications than helped by them.

Though my own personal experiences lie with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and autism and I’ve never personally experienced any of the others…I still strongly believe that people with bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia and so on have enormous stored potential that is untapped and overlooked because all of the focus is always put on the bad and the ugly and the need to “fix” everything so it all fits together perfectly like a nice set of identical dinner plates.  Just imagine the beautiful things that they could show us if we stopped telling them that they’re wrong and they need to work extra hard to become better.

What does need to start happening is that we need to start looking at mental illness as it is:  Strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a gift and a curse.  It’s a talent and it’s dysfunction.  It needs to be treated with love and support and an incredible amount of patience.  We need to start allowing these people to be educated in nontraditional ways and accept them as they are without making them feel broken.

Lets start letting all of our geniuses, artists, writers, entertainers and scientists really shine.


3 thoughts on “Mental Illness

  1. I agree with you … to an extent. The arguments of creativity vs “madness” are endless. Yes there has been research showing that there is a fine line between the two in many cases. Yes, personal experiences and observations have shown a lot of creativity in mental illness. But … a person needs to function too. There are many books written by creative people with mental illness (two authors off the top of my head are Kay Redfield Jamison and Marya Hornbacher). A common trend is that they battled with medications and therapies to keep their creativity, but in the end found a balance with health and creativity. I also know of many people that are too sick to be creative- and the ones that are well enough to be self aware are often bitter when people ask why they aren’t creative. The higher functioning people may be, but the public often only sees them- not the people who are completely psychotic, in depressive stupors, too manic and so on.

    I have personally lost too many people to suicide to ever recommend that people not control their illness. Some people can do it with minimal intervention. Some need medication and hospitalizations. A balance is needed. A person should learn all they can and work with their professionals and family to obtain wellness and happiness. They don’t need to be told that they should be creative because they have a mental illness- it makes them feel even lesser if they aren’t. But if they are creative, by all means nurture it, as long as they are healthy.

    Unfortunately, I have had this conversation with others. And although most lived, some didn’t. Some ruined their careers, finances, and relationships. And some, when they are self aware, curse the fact that they refused treatment in the beginning, because quite often, in the so called “creative mental illnesses,” early intervention leads to greater success, with higher rates of functioning- but more often than not, the people are too sick or debilitated to be creative.

    This is a touchy subject, being that there is no one answer for everyone. And every time I read something that advocates people avoiding medications, I feel the agony of those I lost. One wrote her last blog post while in the hospital, extremely suicidal, with all treatment options tried and failed. She told everyone that nothing could save her. She died shortly after, still in the hospital on suicide watch. Another was near graduating university, and stopped his medications. He wrote a beautiful poem about it, and shortly after his parents let us know that he shot himself. And one girl I know, was bright and talented, and recovering, then relapsed, started drugs, and since then has brief periods of lucidity where she is terrified, and falls back into psychosis.

    Maybe it’s just my personal opinion, but it is what it is.
    I wish we could be free without having to worry when we will fall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t mean to imply that nobody should take medication, but I do think that medication isn’t right for everyone. Every time I sought out help from someone new I had to go through the ritual of starting meds, side effects that made day to day functioning harder than the illness itself, and then eventually withdrawal after it turned out that this new medicine, even adjusted, isn’t working. In the end what I got from my doctors is “Well, if you won’t take the medicine, don’t bother coming to see me.” It was a take these drugs or leave me alone type of thing with little help to be sought. I had to research and fight for an alternative therapy.

      I didn’t need to be fixed. I needed to learn how to cope. I needed tools at my disposal that allowed me to help myself. That was more important than numbing my brain to the point where I couldn’t move off of the couch or wake up with my child. Some people do use medication with success and that’s good. But it’s far from the end. And the journey to finding just the right medication combination is a brutal road to travel in many cases. Once a person does find a mix that works well with them, it’s still important to take steps to ensure your ongoing health and to be supportive of others.

      These illnesses come with ups and downs. It’s never just a straight through thing. Sometimes the ups only last for a few short hours before our minds suck us back in again, and sometimes the downs seem to last for years. I know this. I’ve lived this. When I fail to appreciate the ups while I have them because I focus only on the bad and others around me put significantly more emphasis on the downs than the ups…when most of the time is spent looking at the parts that seem ugly and wrong, we’ll feel ugly and wrong. What if instead of adding stress to a person who’s struggling, we hug them and tell them that we care? Let them know we’re here for them instead of hinting that they should hurry up and get better? Having support from someone with patience and unconditional love is much more healing than people who give up on you because you’re sick and walk away because they don’t know how to handle you.

      By creativity, I didn’t mean just artistic creativity. A person’s talent could lie in cooking, architecture, mathematics, and so on. Everyone has something that they are good at and when we stop telling them to do something else or be something else to fit in, we allow them to explore and shine. When I spent years hating myself and trying to make myself fit in with the rest of the world, I neglected everything about myself that actually needed to be healed before I could actually help myself. In other words, by spending all of my energy trying to be something I wasn’t, I was believing that I was wrong. I couldn’t actually learn how to be good at anything if I’m fighting myself every single day.

      This was never meant to be a “to medicate or not to medicate” debate. It’s just my way of asking the world to realize that there is more to mental illnesses. If we stop treating it as if it’s the worst possible thing that could happen to a person and we acknowledge that there is still beauty within it’s grasp, than we can start to see the good parts of it as well. If I focus only on my son’s social weaknesses and try to force him to fit in with the world, I deny him the chance to grow with his computer abilities. If I teach him that it’s okay to be different, I allow him access to new tools to battle bullies, anxiety and depression that he may well need to face some day.

      I am sorry to hear about your friends, and I’ve lost some of my own.


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