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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

I Have Mental Illnesses And I'm Not Ashamed


I am mentally ill. In my local language, the term used unfortunately translates to "sickness of the soul." I prefer the term "having mental illness" or rather, in my case, having mental illnesses, because I have more than one. 5 diagnosed ones, to be precise, not counting my diagnosis of ADHD which I personally consider more neurodivergence than mental illness.

You might ask why would I publicly write such a thing? Why would I taint myself like that especially in such a public forum while I'm going through divorce? Why shoot myself in the foot like that?

I'm doing it because by doing so, I'm publicly calling out those that tell me that it is something to be ashamed of, that those strings of letters attached to my name are but another scarlet A for adultress emblazoned on my chest. That these multiple diagnoses, the way my brain ticks, are a moral failing of mine, a flaw in my essence.



To them, I say no.

Would you tell someone 'Don't tell the public you have diabetes/thyroiditis/asthma because it could be used against you in divorce'? I would bet not because people generally don't apply moral failings to physical illnesses but somehow having mental illnesses is a mar on my character, a shameful secret that must be buried, deep under ground, so no one can see my blackness.

I'm not ashamed to tell you that I have mental illnesses because I know it doesn't mean I'm a bad person, a bad mother, a bad friend, or a bad anything. It just means my brain says tick when the world wants it to say tock. I'm not ashamed to say that I have mental illnesses because if anyone wants to use it against me, it makes it quite clear that the only one with a black mark on their heart is the one who uses this illness to imply moral failings on my part.

I'm also hopeful. I'm sharing that I have mental illnesses because hopefully, by my sharing that I struggle with my mental health, you might see mental health differently. That if you admire me, like me, or look up to me in any way, the picture in your head when you think of the term mentally ill doesn't end up being what you see on the media, but instead is someone like myself, or like any of the other public figure that has spoken out about their struggle with mental illness.

I'm public about my mental health struggles because I want to let people know the truth about the mentally ill, that they're your neighbors, your friends, your sisters and brothers, your children, your college roommate, your teacher, your boss. They're not this scary, mysterious other, but one of you. We're not so different. We have many of the same struggles and accomplishments. You could be one of us too. (Many people with mental illnesses are undiagnosed for many reasons. I was undiagnosed until age 29.)

And you know what else we're not? Monolithic. The same. Identical 'crazy' people.
People who are mentally ill are as diverse as the rest of the people on the planet. Putting us all in one box, labeling us as deficient, incompetent, messed up people worthy of scorn... Just shows your bigotry and bias.

In fact, one of the biggest reasons I will gladly publicly proclaim my mental health struggles is to expose the bigots, the ones who'll try to tear me down and hurt me because of my openness, and show that the only ones worthy of condemnation here are they themselves.

You know what else?
Sometimes I hate having mental illnesses. Sometimes I want to curse out my brain and yell out how much I hate my brain and bemoan the fact that I'm not 'normal'. But other times, like right now, I'm actually quite happy to be mentally ill.

What? Is that statement alone proof that I'm truly crazy?
Absolutely not.
I'll tell you what makes me happy about my mental illness.

It's given me extreme amounts of empathy; because I struggle, I'm able to identify with the struggles and suffering of other people. Because I've been there, done that. And even if I haven't been exactly in your shoes, it's still made me be able to empathize with others so much. (Sometimes, I'll admit too much; I can be an emotional sponge at times for other people's negative emotions and when that happens I've learned to take a step back, put up some emotional armor, and try again.)

It's connected me to a community of amazing individuals. Through support groups and similar, I've met so many individuals going through mental health struggles, and I have to say, they're some of the most amazing people I know, and am glad to have in my life.

Therapy is such a wonderful thing and I thing everyone should go to it. Because of costs I couldn't justify the expense until my mental health issues got extreme enough that I realized I had no choice. And therapy has been such a life saver, not only helping me understand better how I tick, but also in understanding why I got that way, and work on changing the things that need improving based on that. Therapy also has given me a confidant which is invaluable, and also has taught me so many important life skills, especially emotional regulation skills, which I am then able to use in parenting, teach my kids, and demonstrate to others. Here is an affordable way for therapy if you thought you couldn't swing it financially.

I'm not going to go on and on about the perks of mental health issues because when I see posts like that I cringe at how much they whitewash the struggle. But I did want to point out that it's not all bad.

I'm sharing that I am mentally ill because I want to break the stigma. I want the world to stop moralizing mental health issues and painting people as problematic and bad because of their illness.

And I'm not afraid of the backlash.

PS. For any of you worried that this public declaration will hurt me in divorce, hurt me in court, hurt me with custody, I just want you to be rest assured that we have professional evaluators involved, who evaluated myself and soon to be ex husband and our fitness for parenting the kids, and they and the courts have, thankfully, agreed that my mental health issues do not interfere with my ability to parent the kids and they have not affected custody arrangements negatively.
And if anyone does try to hurt me because of this... All I can say... your bias is showing. And goodness and truth will prevail.

PPS. I want to add a caveat at the bottom that yes, there are cases when mental illness can really cause problems. But that is usually when people are in denial that they have issues. As long as people are aware of their issues and are seeking treatment, whether therapy, medication, both, etc... this is who I'm talking about. When people refuse to get help, that is another story. (Just be aware, though, that some mental illnesses, by their nature, make getting help sometimes a herculean task.)

10 comments:

  1. I feel the same way about addiction. Addiction is a disease. It doesn't make someone an unfit parent. I'm tired of people shaming parents with drug and alcohol addictions. It's not fair.

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    1. I know of children adopted by a friend and fostered by a family member who do have unfit parents. Foetal alcohol syndrome is having a terrific impact on those childrens' lives. They are fortunate to be getting the best care possible now but loving substitute parents, but their lives will never be normal. So respectfully I have to disagree that in some cases it does make someone with addiction unfit to carry a child.

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    2. Thanks for this enlightened post Penny. I hope that your divorce proceedings run smoothly for you.

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  2. Thank you for the first PS!
    Good luck with everything and I wish you and your children well

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  3. Good for you. Mental illness is challenging for both the patient and the family, and the social stigma makes it so much worse. (I have a family member with schizophrenia, two with severe anxiety, and both my parents had dementia. We have lousy genes, lol) Part of the difficulty is that a clear-cut diagnosis is tricky; sometimes brain scans reveal problems and sometimes they don't. So it's way too easy for outsiders to tell the sufferer to buck up, that their only trouble is they think about themselves too much. I'm sure you've heard it all.

    I'm glad your therapy is working! And congratulations for helping to break down the barriers and really talk about mental illness.

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  4. Congratulations on your truthfulness and in getting help. May the future bring you joy.

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  5. Who said that "normal" is a binary thing anyway? That there are "normal" people (who never lose it, snap, or act unreasonably), and then "people with issues?" While I'm not trying to trivialize genuine diagnoses, it's not like all the "normal" people don't have any of these challenges, ever. And, conversely, the "mentally ill" people are not as far away from "normal" as they/others think they are. It's a continuum, and anybody (everybody) should try to help themselves and work on themselves (with whatever means necessary) for their sakes, and the sakes of everyone around them. Everyone should get advice from others more objective and wise (therapists and/or other mentors), accept that it's not their fault for being the way that they are, but that it's their responsibility to work with what they've been given.

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  6. Thank you for this insightful post.

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  7. We really must do better in ridding the stigma around mental illness. People should not be ashamed. 75% of adults will struggle with some kind of mental illness, whether temporary or permament!

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  8. According to Dr Tim Cantopher depression manifests itself when a part of our brain called the limbic system malfunctions. Since it is a physical condition there should be no sense of shame in making it public anymore than any other physical illness. The reality is that until people exhibit the bravery you do Penny in coming forward and risking a judgemental audience stigma will remain. Thank you on behalf of all those who feel a little more emboldened as a result of your courageous efforts. Having followed your blog for some time I believe it is evident you are an exemplary mother. Children need love not perfection to thrive.X

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