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Why Mental Illnesses Are More Than Just Words in Casual Conversation

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There are a lot of words in the English language that are overused or misused — love, hate, literally, like. Those are just a few examples.

But, there a few words that either frustrate me or stop and make me think when I see them being used out of context. They’re used in phrases we all hear, and maybe some don’t think twice about it, but I do.

“This weather is so bipolar.”

If the definition of bipolar was simply unpredictability or moodiness, bipolar disorder wouldn’t be so difficult to treat and live with. Trust me.

“I’m so depressed you can’t come to the movies with me tonight.”

A person probably isn’t depressed that their friend can’t go to the movies with them. Disappointed? Sure. Sad? Maybe. Depressed? Doubt it.

“Thinking about you going skydiving is giving me anxiety. Haha.”

Anxiety. It’s tougher to explain in a couple sentences why this one stops me in my tracks, but it’s the flippant way it’s used out of context and, in turn, seems to be blown off when people do have an anxiety disorder. The slightest thing can trigger someone who has an anxiety disorder, but I promise they’re not laughing or easily forgetting about that anxiety two seconds later.

It’s a common misconception that mental illness isn’t serious, debilitating, or can’t be life-threatening. Key word — misconception. Most people, rightfully so, don’t want to tell their whole story to every person they meet, or dredge up all of the things they struggle with on a daily basis just so people will understand or believe them. Especially when there are so many stigmas attached to their illness. We take things physical illnesses seriously, no questions asked. And yet… here we still are when it comes to things like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc.

Sometimes, I have to tell people I don’t feel comfortable with something and I can’t do it because it triggers my anxiety. Sometimes I have to tell them I can’t do something because I can’t get out of bed or, on the flip side, I haven’t slept in days and slowing things down enough to function, like I can on a good day, feels impossible. Sometimes, I’m angry — irrationally so — so it’s better if I keep to myself on those days. I don’t enjoy having to admit that, but I’m trying to be more responsible about my mental health in recent years — how it affects me and those around me. I also don’t feel like I need to explain all the details of what living with social anxiety and bipolar disorder is like. I mean, that should be enough of an explanation anyway, right? What really trips me up is when people respond with things like, “I know this makes you uncomfortable, but could you do it for me anyway because…?” “I know you’re tired, but you just have to get up and face the day.” “Well, you need to sleep at night. Try counting sheep.” Problem is, it’s not simple discomfort if I’m going out of my way to say I can’t do something and why, and it’s not as simple as getting out of bed or… counting sheep.

Think about it; if someone broke their leg and said, “Sorry, I can’t go for a run today,” I’m pretty sure their buddy wouldn’t tell them to suck it up and get on the track. Unless their friend is a bit of a jerk, and in that case, someone needs a new friend.

I have to wonder, though, if these things weren’t constantly said in casual conversation when they don’t actually fit, would they be taken more seriously when stated by the people who do live with mental illnesses and attempt to share that part of themselves for whatever reason? To raise awareness. To educate. To set boundaries. Or to simply talk about it because everyone needs to do that sometimes.

Maybe the careless use of words doesn’t seem like it matters so much in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a figure of speech to use them in that way, I get it. But understanding, or at least trying to understand what those words mean to someone who lives with them every day? That does matter. They are, after all, much more than just simple words to people like me.

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Getty Images photo via Julia_Sudnitskaya

Originally published: December 10, 2017
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