There is one thing that really makes me angry, and that is how mental illness is wrongly portrayed in the media. Usually people with mental illness are painted as incapable of living a “normal” life, that they’re a bit odd and don’t fit in with society. Most commonly and most dangerously, people with mental illness are depicted as frightening and violent. Of course, this makes me frustrated because I know these portrayals are untrue and add to the stigma we fight hard to eliminate.
But recently, new depictions of those with mental illness show movie and TV characters as eccentric geniuses, desirably quirky, cute and vulnerable, or that their mental illness is a trendy fashion accessory.
While this is better than stereotyping people with mental illness as violent, this still makes me angry because it trivializes mental illness. It’s also dangerous, but in a different way — it makes an undesirable health condition seem desirable and even an advantageous trait. Though I live a “normal” and successful life as someone with a mental illness, I can tell you, mental illness is not desirable. Mental illness is not trendy or glamorous. Mental illness is devastating, debilitating and deadly.
I have bipolar affective disorder, which means I have episodes of depression and episodes of mania. I have periods of stability in-between episodes. I’m only 25, but I have had a tumultuous few years thanks to my mental illness, involving suicidal depressions, psychotic manias, long hospital stays and electroconvulsive therapy. I would give anything to have a life without these interruptions and to not have to worry about how my illness may impact my future.
Mental illness is not something to be desired. There is nothing trendy in not washing for days or not being able to get out of bed. There is nothing to be desired when your thoughts are going so fast it is scary and you cannot concentrate, or when you talk with such speed that no one can understand you. It is not attractive when the only legal thing that immediately slows you down is a cigarette. Neither is waking up hung-over because you drank yourself into oblivion the night before.
The hospital is not trendy. It is a facility to keep people from intentionally or unintentionally harming themselves. It is not glamorous to spend weeks in hospital; it is upsetting because you have to put everything on hold.
The public breakdowns are not cute; they’re embarrassing. During various hospitalizations I have been so agitated I tried to break windows, tried to escape, paced for hours, cried hysterically, lay comatose on the floor and was sedated and put in seclusion. I assure you the distress I felt was not trendy.
The constant fighting with family when unwell is not glamorous and neither is feeling alone. As hard as loved ones try, no one can completely understand how hard it is to live with mental illness. This loneliness can feel like isolation at times.
The crying is not cute. Crying so hard that your eyes become puffy, that you have snot pouring down your chin, that your sobs turn into grunts and your body uncontrollably shakes is unattractive. And this crying can go on for days and nights.
Having to take medications to function is not “hip.” It can take years to find the right medication and the side effects can be terrible. It is not trendy to be unable to walk straight, to have double vision, to have vivid nightmares, to always have a dry mouth, to feel sedated, to wake-up every night drenched in sweat, to have wild tremors and to have your head down a toilet continuously vomiting.
Being talked down from the edge of a cliff is not trendy; it is soul-destroying for everyone involved. It is not cute to lose touch with reality. It was not cute to see things nobody else could; it was confusing and disturbing to say the least. The paranoia is not quirky; it is downright scary when you think people are following you, so you don’t trust anyone – especially those who are trying to help. Those times were not fun and I was not being eccentric, I was severely unwell.
The terror that mental illness brings is not trendy; it is real. There are no words that can describe what it is like to be in the suffocating grips of an acute episode of a mental illness.
There is nothing trendy for family members who have to care for loved ones struggling with mental illness. There is nothing glamorous about the destruction that mental illness brings. The reality of mental illness is destroyed relationships, job losses, financial losses, disrupted studies, lost futures and lost lives. There is nothing trendy in the stigma and discrimination sufferers of mental illness still face; it is unfair and a disgrace.
Portraying people with mental illness as dangerous only contributes to the stigma and makes the fight for fairness harder. But portraying mental illness as trendy or as a cute quirk trivializes the damaging experiences of suffers — it’s an untrue representation of the devastation mental illness can cause.
Mental illness has the potential to kill, and there’s nothing trendy about that.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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.