Many things in life are funny and are meant to make people laugh. Funny Vines can be hilarious. YouTube videos and SNL are all meant to have their viewers holding their sides as they crack up laughing. There are even things in life that are in poor taste, but still make some people laugh. But the people who aren’t laughing are hurt or offended, and find nothing funny about whatever tasteless joke was just made.
That’s how I felt recently while reconnecting with an old friend from high school. As we exchanged messages on Facebook in attempt to get to know each other again, I decided to be up-front and honest about my mental illness. I told my old friend about my bipolar disorder because I believe educating others about my mental illness is the best way to get them to understand me.
Advocating for mental health is a big part of my life because of my bipolar disorder, and it’s a part of my life that I believe people need to know first, before what my favorite color is or what I like to eat.
His response was surprisingly accepting, and I felt good about the direction the conversation was going. That was, until he said something that shocked me, and hurt my feelings. His comment left such a bad taste in my mouth, and utterly shocked me because of his kind response when I told him about my bipolar disorder. But that kind response meant nothing once his insensitive comment followed.
We were in the process of making dinner plans when he said, “But I only want to go with one of you.”
He said it was a joke, but it wasn’t funny to me. I thought about letting it go and convincing myself it was no big deal. But then, I realized that if I didn’t tell him that I was offended, he might think it’s OK to joke about my mental illness in the future.
It was clear when he made that comment that he has no understanding or knowledge of bipolar disorder. So, I took the opportunity to explain to him that having bipolar disorder does not make me into two people. I explained that I am not my illness, and I am one person who just happens to have a mood disorder. It affects my moods, not the person I truly am.
I went on to explain that cracking jokes about mental illness only fuels the stigma that surrounds it, no matter innocent the joke may be. I told him the joke he made would make the ignorance of mental health worse had he not said it to someone who has a mental illness. I expressed how offended I was and stood up for myself instead of ignoring his insensitive comment and dwelling on how it made me feel.
Mental illness is one of those things you just don’t joke about. It is not something to be taken lightly or in fun. Mental illness affects many people in detrimental and heartbreaking ways every day, and there is absolutely no humor in that.
Mental illness is gravely misunderstood, and that is why people make uneducated, insensitive statements about it. Being open and starting the conversation about mental illness like I did will help silence the insensitivity and stop stigma. People need to know that mental illness is a serious topic of conversation, not a humorous one.