August 13, 2009

About Mental Illness

To preface, let me say that I have Bipolar Disorder. It's a mental illness, also known as "manic-depression". Here are some common misconceptions I've run into when telling people I have a mental illness:
  • Having a mental illness does not mean I'm crazy. In the world of psychiatry, "crazy" has no meaning.
  • Mental illness is not contagious.
  • Just because I'm mentally ill does not mean I'm retarded. My IQ is 154, well into the genius range.
  • Mental illness is a legitimate disease. I'm not faking, lazy, or lacking in self-discipline. "Pulling myself up by my bootstraps" is not an option.
Here are some things that upset me:
  • I don't want or need pity. Sympathy & understanding, yes - pity, no.
  • Sometimes I need your help, sometimes I don't. Let me be the judge of that.
  • Yes, I take medications. No, they don't make me stupid. Drowsy, maybe, but not stupid.
Here is some information that you might find helpful when interacting with a mentally ill person:
  • Living with mental illness makes life a daily struggle. Please forgive me if I don't always live up to your expectations - it's not because I don't want to, it's because I simply can't.
  • Practice compassion. Try to put yourself in my place.
  • Learn what kind of help I need, and provide it to the best of your ability.
  • Listen carefully. Sometimes it's difficult for me to communicate.
  • Before you criticize me for my failings ask yourself "Would I say this to someone who has cancer?"
And finally, here are some tips for those of us with a mental illness:
  • Learn everything you can about your disease and try to get those who love you to do the same.
  • Take your medications as directed and know what side effects to look for.
  • Be patient when it comes to finding the right medication combination. It took me six years to find one that works, and there are no guarantees that this combination will continue to work in the future. Try to accept this as part of your illness and use hope to combat the frustration.
  • Depending on your illness, just accept the fact that you will probably be on medication for the rest of your life. This fact can come in handy if your doctor doesn't want to prescribe something just because it's addictive. If s/he thinks it will help, push for it to be prescribed.
  • Be completely honest with your doctor and/or therapist.
  • If something about your treatment doesn't seem right or isn't working, ask questions. If you're still not satisfied, find another doctor or therapist.
  • Be accepting, forgiving and patient with yourself.
  • Realize that living with you can be a trial and go easy on your loved ones. It will take them some time to get used to your illness.
  • Don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help from those around you.
  • And finally, don't ever give up. It may take work, but you can find the right treatment(s) that will allow you to function at a level you find acceptable.
Any other comments on mental illness? I'd love to read them.

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