I don’t know if I am just stating the obvious with all of these Tips & Tricks, but sometimes it is the most obvious things that we forget when illness hits. This next tip is something that I have personally struggled with for years and sometimes a glimmer of it still pops up every now and then.
7) You need to accept that you have a mental illness and then respond appropriately. This is a major issue, I would say especially for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I have schizophrenia and every day it gets easier to actually say that. Maybe “normal” people think you just get sick and it is easy to realize you aren’t well, you pop some pills and then you are all better. La dee dah! Whatever. I’ve actually never heard of it working like that for anyone. I honestly don’t exactly know why it is so hard to accept having a mental illness, except that our whole lives are lived through our brains, and it is really weird when you sort of feel like the same person, only now you are doing and thinking weird things. I’m the same girl I was when I was seven years old swinging on the swings at school, but now things are so different. I’ve been through so much and I’m older, but I don’t feel like a freak of nature. I just feel like me.
I can’t speak for bipolar people that well, but I know that some bipolar people enjoy being manic. It is a real thrill, especially compared to the depressive times. So people just feel really good and why complain when you are just really really happy? Being schizophrenic is not really that much fun. Usually I am very angry and scared out of my mind about some delusional thought, but when I’m in it, it seems to make sense, just like this reality. You pretty much have to have gauges outside of yourself to clue you in that something is not right.
For me, there were times when I could tell that something was wrong. Like when I would drive the wrong way up a one way street and then argue with people that I was in fact going the right way, because I thought that the direction of the street traffic had been changed for me that day. I eventually turned my car around to the right direction and started thinking that maybe something wasn’t quite right. That was the day I drove myself to the hospital emergency room and tried to tell them that I was not doing well, but they didn’t believe me and they sent me home. That is when I still had some grip on reality, however tenuous it was.
But later, because I didn’t get help, I tried to rationalize in my sick mind everything that happened. Other times I just didn’t think about it. I just wandered the streets consumed in one delusion after another. The only reason I’m not still wandering the streets is because I almost jumped off a freeway overpass and then people thought there was something wrong with me.
Acceptance of mental illness has to happen on a LOT of different levels though. Somehow the sick brain has to realize it is sick. And somehow when you are doing better on medications you have to realize that a) you are better because of the medications and b) without the medications you will inevitably get sick again at which point something will have to happen to convince your sick brain that you are sick which is ten million times harder than convincing a well brain that it WAS sick.
With the exception of a few strange people, no one wants to think that they have a mental illness, especially when it is probably the least desirable thing in the world to have. And, it is kind of different from other illnesses, because you don’t necessarily wither away and die from it. There is no outward physical manifestation of the disease really. So, how do you know you have it? I think that is part of the reason why people who are cutters like to cut themselves. On some level it is easier to understand that you are in pain if you are actually physically in pain or are bleeding and hurt. It just makes more sense to our weird little minds.
I think we tend to think of our bodies and our brains as receiving input from the outside world too. I am angry because x, y and z things from the outside world made me angry. I am afraid because I saw a spider on the outside or I saw a shooting outside or because you hid behind a door and popped out at me. Those things make more sense than I am angry because the inside of my brain is making me feel angry. Or because the inside of my brain is making me feel afraid. For centuries we have conceptualized our bodies as machines receiving input from the outside world. But stuff is actually going on INSIDE our bodies and brains. We don’t realize this, and then when we are acting weird, we try to make it make sense with our surroundings. Like when people who have mental illness and are sick start attributing things falsely to other people who are close to them or to some concept of god.
But, it isn’t only the mentally ill who don’t realize they are mentally ill. Think about all those millions of people out there who think psychiatry is just a conspiracy to take away peoples’ freedom. In fact, I just saw some weird show by the Church of Scientology the other day on TV where they were trying to convince people that psychiatry’s agenda is essentially eugenics and that we need to save all the mentally ill people from being chemically castrated and what not. AS IF we still live with lobotomies. That is just like saying that we shouldn’t trust regular medical doctors or any science, because they used to perform amputations without anesthetic. Was it barbaric? Yes. Was it the best they could do at the time? Yes. Did psychiatry have some affiliation with eugenics in the early part of the 20th century? Yes. Does it now? No. Are psychiatrists putting people into chemical stupors now? No, except if you get a bad psychiatrist maybe. Are the medications powerful? Yes, they can be. And yes they need to be.
Truthfully, the less you know about psychiatry and psychology today, the easier you can be bamboozled by people like the Church of Scientology. And, it is the Church of Scientology that is the real embodiment of conspiracy, not psychiatry. But they know how to shape arguments to suck people in and fuck with their minds, and maybe they aren’t even meaning any harm. Maybe they believe their own bullshit and think they are saving people from the horrors of the past. It is kind of like showing pictures of the holocaust and saying that the holocaust is still going on today like it was back then. Of course we want to save those people, but it was 70 years ago and we can’t get in our time machine and save them, so the Scientologists and others like them want us to save a completely different group of people who are living now.
Anyway, I digress. I didn’t mean to get into the Scientologists. What I was trying to say is that it is difficult for people mentally ill or not, to believe that mental illness exists. That is why it is ultimately hard to come to acceptance. And if you don’t accept that you have a problem, then it is hard to get help for that problem. It is imperative that we people with mental illness do come to accept our problems, because we are the ones who have to live with the illnesses for the rest of our lives. Ultimately doctors and nurses don’t want to be forcing patients to take the medications. That is why a lot of inpatient programs have mental health education groups where they try to teach people about what is going on and about the medications and the brain. I actually think it would helpful if they taught MORE classes about the brain and the medications in the hospital, so people might clue into it more while they are recovering. Instead of just one class once a week and making stupid bead projects every day, maybe they could do the education bit more. Something. Because in most peoples’ lives there will come a time when they have the choice whether or not to take the medications and put it into their body.
You have to be committed to taking the medication every day. You have to be unwavering in your understanding that you do have an illness and the medications are making a difference. You have to remember the times when you were sick and you have to be willing to work through having side effects or a recurrence of symptoms. You have to remember that there is no cure for any of this, that it is all about maintenance. And, this is asking a hell of a lot. It is no wonder so many people have such a hard time.
So, that is my schpeel about acceptance. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to accept the problem for what it is. And, it isn’t the end of the world even if it feels like it. It takes practice, the accepting stuff. It probably won’t come to you overnight. You have to get it through your thick skull that you have issues, but it doesn’t mean you are subhuman or anything less than amazing and wonderful. You have a problem. You can deal with it and take care of it and you can live a full life. If you don’t accept it, you will end up running away from it your entire life. You will probably turn into a nut job that goes around saying that psychiatry is fake and everything is a conspiracy. Trust me, it just isn’t. I don’t get paid by the pharmaceutical companies to tell you that either. Forget the conspiracies and shoot for living in the real world. You’ll be glad you did.