In one of the photos, Spargo-Ryan is visibly upset. In the other, she looks “put together.” She said an article about “faking” mental illness is problematic because it perpetuates the belief that people with mental illness just “aren’t trying hard enough.” The real issue in the workplace are people with mental illness who are faking being well, not the other way around.
“Both of these photos are mental illness,” she said. “I hope this helps you to spot the fakers.”
Read her post in its entirety below:
These photos of me were taken three days apart.
In the first one, I have a mental illness.
And in the second one, I have a mental illness.
The Sydney Morning Herald today published an article by James Adonis, about how employers can identify people who are “faking” mental illness to get out of work.
One of the recommendations from this absolute dropkick of a human was to “issue a warning to those you suspect are faking it.”
Part of what makes mental illness so hard to identify in at-risk people is the constant reinforcement that we’re “imagining it” or that we’re “just sad” or that we “have to want to get better”. It’s an ethereal illness, existing only because we can’t be bothered to be well, or because we’ve talked ourselves into it, or because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we are faking it.
Garbage “people-management thinkers” who choose to perpetuate the myth that mental illness is probably a fakery do so to broad societal detriment. Good people have mental illnesses. We need them to feel supported and empowered in their places, whether that’s work or home or school or somewhere else. Not that someone is waiting to “catch them out”. Not that their illness is not legitimate. Not that the time they take away from work to seek treatment is bogus.
Both of these photos are mental illness. I hope this helps you to spot the fakers.
You can tell a lot from a person’s hands, especially if they have dermatophagia. Seems calm and collected, but the fingers are all torn up? Yep, it was a bad week. It was a quiet disease that overtook my mind slowly. I always thought I had control over it, until I realized it wasn’t a habit anymore; it was a mental disorder.
Dermatophagia, as it turns out, is actually a mental disorder related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in the body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) family. It is the obsessive urge to bite the skin, usually around on the fingers and sometimes insides of the mouth. Unfortunately, some with BFRB disorders might just think they have a “bad habit,” or they’re too ashamed to bring these disorders to light. Dermatophagia, in particular, is very damaging to the skin, and like all BFRBs, it is damaging to self-esteem.
It starts out as a nervous habit, but then spirals into a horrific cycle that comes subconsciously. I never see myself doing it until I’m already biting the skin. But the scariest part of it is not being able to stop.
It hurts, yes. But the feeling of ripping the skin off, so the surface of my fingers is smooth, is satisfying enough to cause me to ignore the pain. Sometimes on really bad days, I bite my fingers until I bleed. Sometimes I bite my skin while it’s still bleeding. And when I’m not biting my skin on my fingers, sometimes I bite my inner lip until it bleeds.
It sounds terrible, and it is. It can go unnoticed by most, until you have to do something that involves showing your fingers, such as typing or writing. Holding someone’s hand causes anxiety because all you can think about is if they can feel the callouses that have formed on your fingers. The skin around your nails is weak and pink. You try to hide your hands whenever possible.
If we don’t like what we are doing to our bodies, just stop, right?
For 15 years, I’ve been through the routine: bite and pick, feel remorse, swear you will never bite again, and go to bed with healing lotion and bandages on your fingers. But somewhere along the road to recovery, either you start again without noticing, or you have this indescribable urge to bite off a hangnail. You feel like you’re in a trance when you’re biting. And so it begins again. It haunts you throughout your life and you don’t know how to stop. So you just cover your fingers in bandages and try not to think about how you’re destroying your own hands.
I’m still struggling with it. After much trial and error, I haven’t found a way to stop by my own will. If you have it, you know what I mean when I say that clear nail polish, gloves, Band-Aids, etc. do not make it stop. Dermatophagia is definitely in the mind. It has nothing to do with the actual biting. If it did, I’d be over it by now. I’m trying to face the fact that BFRBs are a form of mental illness, and I do need help.
For sufferers of dermatophagia or any of the various BFRBs, please know that while you might feel alone in this, there are other people out there who understand what you are going through. As we bring awareness to this subject, we will be able to experiment and share what works and what does not work. We actually have an awareness week: October 1 to 7, 2015 was BFRB Awareness Week. The best thing you can do for yourself is to seek help if you have a BFRB. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
I used to only disclose my mental illness to a few people because I was worried about the reactions I would get. I had already received negative responses when I had to stop working. But not talking about my mental illness limited my ability to converse. It was hard to think of things to talk about. I was afraid my secret would get out, so I’ve slowly been opening up. And although being open about my mental illness makes me feel free, it comes with a cost.
Here are some of the worst things people have told me after I’ve opened up about my mental illness:
1. “I want the old you back.”
First off, I know I’ve lost a lot because of my illness. Jobs, friends, income, time. I feel that loss. I want those things back, too. But, I’m realistic enough to know time has moved on and I have to deal with where I am now. But, more importantly, I’m right here. I may act strange sometimes or think unusual thoughts, but I’m still the person I’ve always been. Accept me as I am now.
I’ve been given a lot of unsolicited advice. But I’m actually doing pretty well at the moment and don’t need suggestions. But, even when I was more symptomatic, I didn’t need people to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do.
3. “You’re too emotional.”
I’m not sure what that means. I have a mood disorder and changing moods come with the territory. When you point out I’m “too emotional” or “too sensitive” it’s completely unfair. I can’t help how I feel.
4. “You don’t look like you have a mental illness.”
I don’t know what to say to that. I think it’s meant as some sort of compliment, but it negates all I’ve been through and denies something that I know is real.
All I expect from others is to listen and be understanding. To treat me like a whole person and not something that needs to be fixed. To feel loved and like I matter. That’s all I need.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them?If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
You know who you are. You’re the fierce mama warrior of a child who is traumatized. You may have adopted from here or there. You may be knee-deep in fostering. You may have brought a baby home from the hospital or they may have crossed your threshold as a 4- or 14-year-old. You may have flown for what felt like a million miles to get them, or they may have been delivered to your doorstep with a garbage bag and a broken heart. You may have a child who has fallen victim to violence. Or neglect. Drug exposure, abuse. Abandonment, heartache, feeling like it’s all their fault. We are mamas to little wounded souls.
I see you. I know you. I am you.
I know how it feels to love one of these children. I understand knowing a story you cannot un-hear — and how you have to live with the fact that it happened to your child. Yourchild. Your family now looks like a book with some unpleasant chapters written in invisible ink — and when you look in the eyes of your little one, you hope to God that there are countless empty pages ahead and that they might be filled with hope and joy and testimony, rather than fear. I understand unearned feelings of regret, knowing you were never there to comfort them before they were yours and how you can never regain missed milestones and opportunities and chances to protect.
I also know how you have to hold tight to a raging child, unsure when they will come down from their hysteria. I have been that mom who has looked into the eyes of her son and realized he was not quite there — and how frightening it feels to see an unfamiliar gaze that looks an awful lot like hatred. I am that mom who regularly gets the worst of it — the rages, the spitting, the hitting, the kicking, the ugly words, the pure disgust, the fear — while the world gets the best of him. “Parenting as usual” has been thrown out the window, and sometimes I wonder if we may as well nail that window shut and cover it with shades. It feels like being alone in a very busy room. Are you in that room, too?
I’ve been that mom on the playground who is surrounded by other mothers saying “My kid has meltdowns, too” or “My kid does that” or “He’ll grow out of it.” I’ve felt that sinking, sick feeling when you realize at that moment that some things can’t be shared because your kid does stuff and has seen stuff and has experienced stuff that would make other moms gasp. I’ve been that mom who says no to play dates because they’re just too much or because he can’t handle the freedom or because there’s only a handful of adults he considers an authority figure and they do not happen to be any of them.
I know how it feels to be that person in the IEP meeting who sounds so harsh when describing the strict boundaries needed for her child. How I constantly have to check myself and my words because I don’t want others to think I don’t care or that I don’t love my son. I know how it feels to want sometimes — just sometimes — to reveal the “ugly” side of parenting a child who’s experienced trauma because everyone else just sees the “cute” side. And how tiring it is when people think your life looks easy. Once, amid an epic meltdown, someone kind said to me, “Bless his heart.” I shot back, in deep frustration, “You know what? Bless my heart,” and I walked away in angry tears. I later apologized because it wasn’t her fault and who wants to be the kind of mother who sounds like she dislikes her own child?
But I know you love your child because I love mine. Deeply. I’ve devoted my life to him and to helping him heal. I love him as if I had birthed him myself and in a lot of ways I have, given the amount of pain, struggle, pushing and pulling that has been involved in bringing him home to us. It’s a messy birth story like any other, I suppose. No birth arrives without blood, sweat and tears.
I also know how euphoric it feels when we hit a plateau. You know the one? When you want to pinch yourself in order to see if it’s real? When things seem to be whirling and moving and flowing and life feels so good you might burst from happiness. I know what it feels like to almost forget all the pain and struggle and how easy it is to slip into that blessed place of contentment. I love that place as if it were an exclusive vacation destination and I am the only one on a hot beach with an umbrella drink in my hand.
But I know how trauma sneaks in like a lion, often silently and without warning, and knocks you off that perfect plateau, rocks crumbling under your feet, and you both fall down a chasm a little — or a lot. It hurts more during those times because things were so good and then quite suddenly they are not. And just like that, we believe things will never improve and this is how it will always be. Sometimes it just feels like we’re slugging our way through quicksand with a child on our shoulders, nose just above dry-drowning.
But you know what I also know, mama? I know redemption comes from brokenness. You cannot have one without the other. I’ve seen slivers and slices of miracle after miracle that can only be described as beauty from ashes. I’ve seen a million small tears in a tiny human heart be sown up by a masterful surgeon. I’ve seen pennies deposited in a bank — rarely nickels or dimes, but pennies — and over time, add up to mean something called trust. And love, growing, growing, ever so slowly like a garden, much of its work being done beneath ground. If only we had eyes to see the big picture, mama. Or maybe, just maybe, that would reveal too much glory for our tender hearts to take in all at once.
How about for today we trust that this healing parenting is our sacred work? Let’s take off our shoes where we are and declare it holy — in the midst of the rages and the crying and the plateaus and what sometimes seems like the endless days of “Will this ever get easier?” I don’t know our future, but I do know we are held in the hands that love us in the midst of our own brokenness. And where there is brokenness, there can be redemption. I’m going to rest in that. I pray you can rest in it, too.
In the meantime, I know we are weary. But I know we are fierce. I know we are vulnerable. But I know we are warriors. For we are lovers of little, wounded souls. And we, fellow Trauma Mama, are the ones they need.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a moment you had a breakthrough with your child who has a mental illness. What happened that helped you better understand what he or she is going through? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
On August 28,1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…that all men are created equal.” He also famously said he dreams of the day his children will not be judged “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Since then, huge steps have been made toward racial equality.
Who is going to stand up and say that all people, regardless of what illness they have, will be treated humanely and without stigma or discrimination? When will the voices of people with mental illness and their advocates be heard? We, the mentally ill, often blend in with society. It’s not usually obvious that we’re “different” than anyone else.
However, what if all people who had a mental illness had to wear a purple dot on their cheek? How many employers would hire them? Who would listen to what they had to say? Would doctors dismiss their medical problems as soon as they saw the purple dot? Would friends and family turn the other way? Would people run the other way? I believe the stigma people with mental illnesses have to endure is often unbearable.
That’s why someone needs to say: “I have a dream that some day, people with mental illnesses will be viewed as people, equal to all others in society. I have a dream stigma will no longer exist and my children, if they have a mental illness, will never have to endure the pain, suffering, embarrassment and discrimination that so many people with mental illness face today. I have a dream that patients with mental illness will get the care and medications they need, will be treated humanely in psychiatric hospitals and will no longer be fired due to their mental health problems. I have a dream today.”
They’re moments we might want to forget — the ones that show us the scary truth of how bad things can get. When you live with a mental illness, these moments can be breaking points or breakthroughs — perhaps halting recovery or making you realize how badly you need help. Regardless, we push through them — learn from them — and hopefully grow stronger each time we face them.
We asked our readers who live with a mental illness what’s something they needed to hear at their lowest point.
We hope these messages find you when you need them most: