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How This Controversial Comic Can Actually Promote Better Mental Health

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I’ve been following the Instagram account @pet_foolery for a while. Their account is comprised of cute comics of little animals that usually have humor or a positive message, and for me it’s been an uplifting account to follow. However, one of their recent posts led to a lot of controversy in the comment section due to whether the message was positive, realistic or downright invalidating and dismissive. I personally think the comic in question is a great message to anyone with a mental health disorder and found myself relating heavily.

If you haven’t seen the comment, it starts with a mouse exercising. He’s then seen saying, “If I work hard enough, one day I’ll be as strong as a bear! Right buddy?!” To which his fellow mouse friend said, “Hehe, of course! You can do anything you set your mind to!” It’s at this point when a snake comes in and states, “Sorry, but that’s a load of BS.” The mice look shocked.

In the next slide of the comic, the snake expands, “I know you’re only trying to spare his feelings, but saying things like that is only going to set him up for disappointment. Such shallow feel-good platitudes always backfire in the face of reality. You’re a mouse. You can never be as strong as a bear, no matter how hard you work. But that’s OK! Everyone has their limitations. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have big goals, those goals just need to be attainable, and you should have a clear sense of reality while pursuing them.”


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A post shared by Ben Hed (@pet_foolery)

This is the part I think relates to anyone with a mental illness. For example, if I were to wake up today and say, “I’m going to be happy all day long,” despite knowing I’ve been dealing with debilitating anxiety and just got out of a psychiatric hospital, that would be setting the bar too high. Instead, saying, “I’m going to try my best today and cope when I feel anxious,” would be a lot more realistic.

Likewise, I’m on medication. That’s a limitation of mine. So, if I woke up and decided, “I don’t need these medications. I’m not mentally ill anymore. I can function without them,” I would be setting myself up for failure because I know from past experiences that going off my medications lands me in the hospital every time.

I think this comic can be used for any mental illness, too. I truly believe that every diagnosis comes with its own set of limitations and things the diagnosed person will need to adapt to.

Examples include:

Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I can’t simply not react when I have a trauma response. I can work through it in therapy, but to say “I’m going to be ‘normal.’ This isn’t going to be a trauma response anymore,” isn’t going to work. Trauma responses are knee-jerk reactions that I have no control over without extensive therapy work. Likewise, saying, “I’m going to stay at my family gathering the entire time and not leave early,” while knowing that means I’ll be triggered and have flashbacks isn’t going to work. To keep my sanity intact, it’s better to just draw boundaries and leave early.

Having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I can’t decide, “I’m going to remember everything in this lecture without writing notes,” when I know that writing notes is my way to compensate and pay attention to what’s being said — and to also retain the information of what’s being said. By not taking notes, I would be setting myself up for failure.

As someone who has experienced the lowest lows of depression, I can’t decide to just “be happy.” I can decide to cope. I can decide to make realistic goals for myself to keep me from spiraling. I can take medication. But I can’t go from despair to being happy just because I decide I should.

Experiencing nearly every type of anxiety, I cannot control any of it. So, saying, “I’m going to cope and not need my medication for panic attacks today,” could come to fruition. In theory, I might not need that medication that day. But on bad days, when intrusive thoughts come in, if I don’t take that as-needed medication, I’m going to become suicidal. It’s who I am. I’ve adapted and learned I need it.

And lastly, as someone with bipolar disorder, I have many, many limitations. The most famous one, however, is needing a sleep schedule. If I decide that I want to be like my neurotypical peers and say, “I’m going to pull an all-nighter,” for any given reason, I’m putting myself right in mania‘s path. It’s almost certain that even if I don’t experience full-blown mania, I will experience manic symptoms that will need to be treated. So, my limitation is that I need to go to bed before 10 p.m. and wake up after 5 a.m. because that’s what happens to keep me stable and balanced.

So, yes. This comic may not be the most uplifting thing in the world. It might be a reality check for some. But I think for people like me, who experience symptoms from multiple mental illnesses, this comic is the reality check we need. We need to remember we can’t do everything our neurotypical peers can — and that’s OK! It’s OK to have limitations and adapt. It’s OK for me to limit my time at family gatherings as to not trigger my PTSD more than I have to, and it’s OK for me to accept that I need medications, even when others tell me I don’t. It’s all OK.

Because through accepting these limitations and adaptations I’ve made, I’ve been a functional member of society for years now. At one point, I lived in psychiatric hospitals. Through realizing my limits, setting boundaries and learning to compensate for “weaknesses” I have due to my mental illnesses, I’ve learned how to thrive.

So, yes. It’s not always easy. It’s not pleasant to come to realizations that you might have set the bar too high for yourself. But making attainable goals is so important because when I don’t, I only fuel my mental illness more.

For that reason, I hope this comic helps others out there too. Even if it’s just a simple reminder. We cannot have the strength of a bear. We need to be realistic.

Image via Instagram/@pet_foolery

Originally published: April 8, 2021
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