Invisible Illness, Real Impact

Hey all. I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL these last 6 months from the blog… you may or may not know how it goes when things hit and you start pulling inward, like when your body is cold and it starts pulling blood from fingers and toes to keep the core warm.

I was away because my child lives with significant bipolar, and they had a really rough stretch there. And it educated me about the way the world still sees mental health.

Forgive me if I’m preaching to those in choir robes here, but let me say this unequivocally:

Mental health is health.

Period. Mental health is a health issue. Bipolar, OCD, Diabetes, Asthma, Anxiety, Heart arrhythmia… These are all HEALTH ISSUES.

We have spent a long, LONG time relegating the issues that originate in the brain to the realm of weakness, laziness, general ‘weirdness’ or various moral failings. Why? Because we can’t measure the symptoms.

If you don’t personally suffer from a mental health disorder, bless you and count your lucky stars.  Cuz I want you to imagine for a second what life might be like.

Start by imagining that you have diabetes. Your body doesn’t process sugar properly, you have to check your sugar levels every day. You have to take insulin. You have to think about what you eat in great detail. Some days it’s going great, and some days you get cocky or you just relaxed a bit and then you find yourself woozy, and unable to think clearly and you’re weak and you realize it’s because your sugar level is super high… or super low… because you don’t really know until you check.

You treat yourself, you wait. You hope. Maybe you wind up passed out for a bit. You wake up because the paramedics came and they started an IV and they gave you dextrose and you’re fine now, but you have to decide if you’re going to go the ER (again) and sit there and rack up a huge bill… or maybe you sign yourself out and deal with the scolding and the pressure.

Now imagine that you can’t check your sugar levels. There’s no test. You have to just rely on what you feel and what your brain tells you.

But wait… YOU CAN’T TRUST WHAT YOUR BRAIN TELLS YOU.

Instead you need to create a whole elaborate system of checks and balances. You need to have people you check in with. You need a plan for how to get expert help if things drift.

Because they will drift. You’ll wind up looking at the oncoming traffic and thinking how much less work it would be to just pull left and not be here anymore. Or you’ll be left thinking about how if you don’t flip that light switch 7 times before you leave it on or off… your mother might die. (There’s a chain of logic which your brain fully believes between those things)

Nobody else can see the data in your head either. You’re stuck living a life that a significant portion of the world will respond to with an eye roll, or an uncomfortable glance, or asking if you’ve tried just… NOT being depressed/bipolar/anxious/weird.

(I encourage you to ask them if they or their aunt/father/cousin has tried just… not HAVING cancer)

 

The good news is: People with the invisible illnesses can live their lives. They can be a success. They can thrive and grow.

And everyone can help them.

How? Start by believing them, and not treating it as their one defining characteristic. Stop thinking of them as “that autistic woman” or “my bipolar sister” or whatever. They’re not their illness. They are people who live with an illness.

No more, no less.

Sure, there are gonna be people who use it as an excuse for all manner of bullshit behavior. Just like there are a few people who use their diabetes, their arthritis, their PTSD, their bad childhood… WHATEVER to be a complete douchenozzle.

You know what? There will ALWAYS be people who are complete douchenozzles out there. Doesn’t mean everyone is. … even if they do seem to vote in blocks lately.

If you have one of the invisible illnesses? Know that you don’t need to be ashamed. It makes some people super uncomfortable to know that you think about taking your own life sometimes, or that you occasionally make your hands bleed because you need to wash them so often. But it makes some people super uncomfortable to know that you have a chemo port, or that your new scarf is giving your head some protection cuz all the hair fell out during treatment.

FUCK. THOSE. PEOPLE.

ok… no we can be kind. But seriously: it’s not on you to manage their discomfort, or educate them, or somehow be a sort of ill that they are OK with.

YOU BE YOU.

You have a disease. It SUCKS. It’s unfair, and it’s crap, and you don’t deserve to have to deal with it, and sometimes life is just super bullshit.

But YOU are not bullshit. 

You are not your disease. (your friend is not their disease)

You are not a burden just because you’re not the same as everyone else. (Your friend is not trying to be a bummer)

You have value. (really? Do you need this reminder about your friend?)

If you want someone who will respond with empathy and encouragement when you want to talk about doing a long weekend inpatient because your meds were wonky and you couldn’t trust your brain? Shoot me a note.

And the rest of us?  Let’s work on striking the implicit or explicit negative language where we can. Stop talking about people getting “locked up” or how they’re “batshit” or how they just need to “cheer up.”

When in doubt, swap out Diabetes, or Asthma for Anxiety or OCD when you’re thinking about why your friend can’t do something with you. (Does it sound absurd to be frustrated that Kim can’t come to pizza night AGAIN because she has diabetes? How about Celiac?) Replace “depression” with “cancer” when you think about someone nearly dying but not.  Seriously, next time you think about someone who survives a suicide attempt… recast it in your head as “beat cancer” and see how it changes your point of view.

 

Listen to people’s stories. Share your own. Be kind.

 

Love to all. Keep reading, keep writing, keep listening.  Keep sharing your stories.

 

Bisous and cheers.

-G

7 thoughts on “Invisible Illness, Real Impact

  1. Susan Kline

    Thank you for this!

    For reasons. So many reasons.

    May your family continue to find support to treat your child’s illness. May research continue so that like so many other diseases we can discover a cause and a cure.

    Peace to you and yours, friend.

    Like

  2. Sue C

    I’m sorry your circle have had it tough of late. But i’m glad you feel you’re coming to the other side of it now (… sending hugs…).
    I’ve missed you posts. In this world of political correctness and not wanting to offend – not many people are brave enough to tell it like it is – thank you for your words. xxx

    Like

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Greg. I had no idea you were dealing with this kind of challenge. I know all about depression and meds and hospital stays. I hope your child is doing better and I’ll keep both of you in my thoughts. I’m a huge fan of yours and send all the love and kindness I can. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

    Like

  4. Jennifer Morris

    Oh, Greg. Yes. Yes. Yes. Well said and with such love and compassion. My heart is bursting with pride for your ability to articulate the reality of mental illness in a way we can all understand.
    I also thought of the problem of obesity. People get the eye rolling, why don’t you just ‘TRY’ attitude. How people love to blame the patient! It’s an insulin disorder, not a moral failing.
    Kindness is so crucial to living well. Giving it, and getting it.

    Like

  5. Jacob Clark

    I’m sorry things have been tough on you and yours.. I may not understand the exact situation but I have my own battles, as does my fiance, and we both try our best not to let our brains get out of hand. Some days it’s good, some days I’m crying because I feel like I’m nothing but a burden who should just relieve everyone of my presence. *shrugs some* it comes and it goes and it sucks the whole way. But I hope you have an amazing support system, and if you ever need someone random, with no expectations or prior thoughts, feel free to reach out any time. The support you are extending also extends to yourself 🙂 and that goes for anyone who may be reading this as well. I may be a random string of 0’s and 1’s in your screen but these 0’s and 1’s will happily help give support whenever possible.

    We are not our illness. We are strong, amazing, loving, kind, empathetic, passionate people who have a different colored lense we view the world. We can do this, especially with support from each other.

    Like

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