Yes, I have a mental illness, but I am a person first.
I came across a post on Facebook that someone from The Mighty had written about borderline personality disorder (BPD). One of the comments was, “I think once people know you have a mental illness, they see everything you do as a symptom.” Someone asked the person who left the comment to explain. And I was motivated to write here instead.
I know what it’s like to have BPD, as it is one of my illnesses. I know what it’s like for people to know you have a mental illness and then see everything as a symptom. This is spelled out in the following way. Say you have a mental illness and people around you know this. Someone says something to you or something occurs in your life that makes you angry. You have a right to experience anger, as everyone does. It is a normal emotion. You tell the people around you that you are angry or they notice it.
Now add the mental illness onto the fact you are justifiably angry. You might be asked by the people around you if you have taken your meds today. You might be told you are being unreasonable and maybe you are too angry, they say.
Maybe one of the symptoms of your mental illness is people with your condition are “prone to anger.” This makes people question you and feel justified for doing so. They may tell you that you are overreacting and dismiss your anger as seeking attention or just a symptom of your illness. You are just making things up, they say. There’s nothing to be upset about, they say. You are just being “crazy,” they say, even though you are expressing a normal human emotion. All they can see is your illness and scoff at you for being too sensitive.
As a person with several mental illnesses, and I know my friends will agree, all we are looking for is a little compassion. We are hoping you will see us, and understand when we have a justifiable emotion or opinion. We have regular emotions like every other person, and we would like to be able to express them without being treated like we are just being “too emotional” or dismissed simply because we struggle with a brain illness. We are human and we just want to be treated that way.
So, if you know someone who has a mental illness, and they express a normal human emotion, instead of asking if they took their meds today or dismissing them as “crazy,” try a little compassion. Talk with them about what they’re feeling. Listen. Validate what they are feeling and try to help. This is what you would do for a friend or loved one. So do it for us, too.
Image via Thinkstock.