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.”
I AM NOT A CHARACTER 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
- You have not met the people who run my school, and
- 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.