Eeeep! No Awareness! Except…ALL THE AWARENESS!

Mentally ill people find themselves in a weird paradox.

May is national “mental health awareness month,” and I don’t really know what to do with this.  OF COURSE I want people to recognize mental illness as a real thing, and OF COURSE I want them to know more about bipolar disorder. OF COURSE I’m sick of people seeing mental illness as “oh yeah, that’s like, serial killers, right?  I watch those people on CSI.”


Although that would be kind of fun…hmmm…I bet I could play a crazy person really well…um, never mind about that.  Back to the point.

I want awareness brought to mental illnesses, but I certainly don’t want to be the one to bring about the awareness.  Therein lies the paradox: I want the awareness without the attention.  One of my friends posted something about the best young adult books for mental health awareness month to facebook.  She put some status about how they might be tough reads for people who struggle with depression, and she tagged me in it.  She’s a teacher, I’m a teacher, and in reality I’m pretty sure that it would be great for my kids to get some exposure to those things.  It was quite a logical tag.  Still, here was my internal reaction:

*eyes bug out of my head*

She tagged me in WHAT?!  WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!  I don’t want anyone to know I struggle with mental illness!  What if they think she tagged me in this because I’m mentally ill, and THEY WOULD BE RIGHT?!?!  UNTAG! UNTAG! UNTAG!  How long ago did she post this?!  How many people might have seen it? FREEEEEEEAK OOOOUUUTTT!

For someone eager to have awareness, I’m certainly not doing great about making it happen.  Still, it seems a bit unfair.  When there are events for breast cancer awareness, people wear pink ribbons without shame and (rightly so) declare their pride in being survivors.

I’m running a 5k in a few weeks for a place in my hometown that helps mentally ill teens.  It’s a bullying/suicide prevention run.  I’m running it because – *ahem* – “I am a teacher and want my students to know that they can stand up against bullying.”

I would never say, “Because I am a suicide survivor” (a term I hate anyway), or “because I have a mental illness and want people to know that the struggle is real but that it can be overcome.”  That would be the “bringing awareness” route, but instead I’ll shuffle through the 5k and hand over my money to the people who are actually bringing awareness.  Then I’ll go quietly home.

Maybe that makes me cowardly, but you know what?  I’m trying.  I’m telling people about this illness one person at a time, and a lot of times it goes horribly, but I’m still doing it.  I’m never going to be the person who wears my heart on facebook statuses.  I’m not going to walk around town wearing a shirt that says, “LOVE ME.  I’M BIPOLAR.”  I’m actually pretty sure I’d get fired if my work knew about my illness, because those people just couldn’t handle it.  You might say, “No! They’d be super understanding!” but

  1. You have not met the people who run my school, and
  2. Do you want your child to have a teacher who has been diagnosed as mentally ill?

That’s what I thought.  Because no one wants the villains from CSI teaching about adjectives.

This is why it’s unfair, people.  Many people with mental illnesses cannot speak out about their experiences because the personal cost is too high.  I’ve lost friends. I’ve alienated family members.  I’ve…

Wait.  No.  That’s not true.

Bipolar disorder has cost me friends.  Bipolar disorder has alienated family members.  Because none of those people treated me poorly until they learned about my diagnosis, and then I went from being a person to a pitri dish.  I was interesting, but wholly untrustworthy.  What used to be seen as “spontaneous” became “volatile and unstable.”  I’m the same person, but they don’t see me the same way.  That’s not exactly the encouragement I need to start shouting from the rooftops about my disabled brain.

I feel like we all want awareness brought to these things, but none of us want to be the one to do it.  We need to stop hiding, but we need a world that is ready to receive us.  I’m really not sure how to achieve one without the other.  I guess this blog is a small step.  Each person I tell is a small step.  We’ll get there.  It’s just going to take longer than May.


19 thoughts on “Eeeep! No Awareness! Except…ALL THE AWARENESS!

  1. Because none of those people treated me poorly until they learned about my diagnosis, and then I went from being a person to a pitri dish. I was interesting, but wholly untrustworthy. What used to be seen as “spontaneous” became “volatile and unstable.” I’m the same person, but they don’t see me the same way.

    Been experiencing some of the same this side of things.

    Love ya, Girl.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone not personally affected by mental illness, I find myself in a strange paradox during awareness months as well. I’m abubdantly supportive of people promoting all things they find important but, in these situations, I’m sometimes uncomfortable, not wanting to offend anyone. Something that has struck me lately is that the struggle to use ‘politically correct’ language and avoid saying anything controversial may be rather counterproductive. It takes away your genuine response to an issue or situation. And if you dont voice the occasional controversial thought then its harder to actually learn and connect. What are your thoughts on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree – the need to be politically correct sometimes stifles what actually needs to be said. The need to be polite is an ever-present and real thing, but I think people have taken “politically correct” overboard.

      With that said, I don’t even know the “politically correct” way to discuss mental illness openly. Does anyone discuss it other than in hushed tones and always about other people? I don’t know how one would properly start a conversation about mental illnesses. Maybe “This one time on CSI…”

      KIDDING, of course. But seriously – I wonder how to bring this out of the shadows without exposing people to unnecessary amounts of pain.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much for your opinion. This could sound horrific but-dropping the politeness for a moment-maybe pain is neccessary in this case. Perhaps we need to discuss these painful issues painfully and get all that pain and dirt out there in order to recognize it, then connect on a clean(er) slate. I wish there was a space where everyone could discuss with both levity and raw admission of pain. So thanks for discussing with me, it means a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with that too – an amount of pain might be necessary. The problem is, I want that investment of pain to pay dividends, and it seems like a lot of time the people putting themselves out there end up getting hurt without making any real difference surrounding stigmas. I’d take the hit if it would make a difference, but I just haven’t seen that at this point. :-/


      • Yeah its a huge risk and who knows if sometimes it will pay off. I guess if you’re gonna put yourself out there it’s gotta be mostly for yourself. I think small, courageous steps will generally amplify progress over time (I hope!)


  3. Yo Hazel,
    That was one Hell of a post. It echoes many of my own sentiments very well. It was candid and direct without being angry and confrontational. Do you write word problems?
    Hermit Crab, I think you hit that one on the head. PC is a power game. If you control the language, you control the conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks – glad to know you enjoyed it.

      I just commented above as well, but what even IS the PC was to talk about mental illnesses?? I feel like the PC thing to do is ignore them and hope they go away. :-/


  4. Pingback: Reblogged: “Eeeep! No Awareness! Except…ALL THE AWARENESS!” – You're not alone in this world.

  5. Do I ever feel your pain! When people find out I’m mentally ill the immediately start relating me to what they see on tv and think that I’m not cognitively aware of my actions or if I should be trusted. I am not longer a person but a diagnosis. The stigmas of mental illness make things incredibly difficult because everyone relates it to sever schizophrenia with hallucinations and psychosis. Damn you drama TV!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I suffer from multiple mental illnesses and I feel the same thing. I enjoyed your story. I have a blog where I try to dispel rumors about mental illness using the stories of every day people. We all start with our own voices. Your story is amazing. Keep up the good work

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a lot of teacher friends, and they don’t even like to go to a dentist in the town where they teach. It seems like teachers are the local gossip mines—everything they do is under scrutiny. So, I absolutely support you keeping your status ( ANY status) private. Folks with families and jobs have to be careful who they “come out” to. You could lose all that.

    So, just know this isn’t your particular burden to bear. I’m very comfortable being “out” about my bipolarness. It’s often part of my introduction in meeting new people, or part of my explanation why I’m doing one thing or another. I give little talks to service clubs in the area. I don’t have a family to shame or a job to lose. I’ve already lost the friends who are going to leave. I can do this work, so rest easy knowing you’re doing what you can safely do.


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