Having an invisible mental disorder that nobody really understands is like having the scarlet A pinned to our chest. Suddenly everyone we used to know stares at us differently, people begin to start talking about you and at you but nobody speaks to you directly anymore. It’s like somehow we are less human. It can be so hard because it feels like nobody is standing up for us to be a voice for us. People think our absences or struggles are us using our disorders as an excuse. We are called lazy or accused of wanting to stay the way we are, like somehow we enjoy being the way we are or that we aren’t trying to be “normal”. Well I say forget their normal. We have our own normal and yes it’s weird, yes it’s confusing, yes it can be hard, but damn it it’s my normal and I’m okay the way I am. I am so tired of people talking for me. I am so tired of people handing me medication after medication instead of asking me how I really am. Nobody asks us what we want because they assume we all want the same thing: to be normal. Well yes, I would love to not have a mental disorder but the truth is I do. And that’s okay. Why isn’t that okay with everybody else? Isn’t it my life? Aren’t I free to choose what my normal can look like?
In America we all have this standard we’re supposed to meet and then exceed. Mental disorders have become something we look down on mostly out of fear. People fear what they do not understand and it’s nearly impossible to understand mental disorders unless you have one. People with mental disorders can respond differently. One way that I’ve done personally is to disconnect from the disorder. In my case, two disorders: anxiety and depression. I’ve talked about it like somehow it wasn’t a part of me but a monster outside of me that takes control of me every once in a while. I think this helped me at first because it was denial. I tried to deny that the disorders were a part of me because I was aware of the stigma that comes with the phrase “mental disorder”. This is probably the most common response. We try to make everyone around us think we’re on the same side as them as if somehow having a mental disorder makes us not human anymore and we’re not like them. The truth is we are just like everyone else except we have a little extra that takes a little more adjusting to than everybody else. For anyone disassociating themselves from a mental disorder, my friend, I hope you learn to accept it as part of you and love all of you, disorder and all. It’s something you live with and it can be beautiful if only you allow it to be. You don’t HAVE a mental disorder because to me, that implies it somehow has you too. You live with one. You are not a walking disorder. We live with and cope with mental disorders but it doesn’t mean it is who we are. It’s a small part of the amazingly complex human being we are. The sooner we accept that, the sooner freedom comes.
The other response I have personally experienced is acceptance. This stage passed rather quickly for me. I decided to love all of me, mental disorder and all. It wasn’t hard to talk about anymore because the shame had disappeared for me. The stigma wasn’t something I thought about anymore because I learned to love me and see myself the way God sees me. This stage is freeing but to me, it felt stagnant. It was amazing, yes, I won’t deny that but there was a drive eating at me that I didn’t quite understand which leads me to the stage I’m in right now.
This stage where I’m at and want to be for the rest of my life is the stage where I have decided to stand up and be a voice for people living with mental disorders. No, I won’t try to speak for all of us but I want to actively fight against the stigma so those with mental disorders and those who will come in the future won’t be so afraid to seek help and to live their life free of shame and fear. I’ve sat here talking about how much I want someone to stand up for me and get rid of the stigma so my life with a disorder wouldn’t be so scary but I realize now that I can’t sit here and wait for someone to stand for me. I want to stand up for myself, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m choosing to stand and get information, learn more and get involved. I recently stumbled across this great program called NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) which provides information and resources to people and their family regarding mental disorders. This summer, I want to get involved with this program and participate in as many groups and classes as I can. Education is the first step to being rid of fear. I want to start by changing myself and hopefully influencing my family and helping them become educated in mental disorders. From there, we can move to our close friends and family. From there, we can continue expanding. Before long, we’ll have made a ripple in the pond which will eventually become a wave and then maybe true change can come. This is my goal and the fire inside of me is driving me to be brave. It’s a terrifying experience. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who try and stop me and call me ridiculous. It’s like standing up in front of an audience and performing for the first time. Who knows what will happen? I certainly don’t. But I know that I need to do something. I can’t sit here and get comfortable. I want to do something and change the world for the better. Who will stand with me?
The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of myths and stigma that comes with having a mental disorder. People can deny it all they want but at the end of the day, we feel it everywhere we go. So allow me to clear a few things up…
We are NOT dirt. We are NOT trash. We are NOT too much to handle. We are NOT too broken. We are NOT too much trouble. We are NOT too messed up. We are NOT to be left behind. We are NOT defined by others. We are NOT door mats. We are NOT mistakes. We are NOT animals at the zoo in the cages to be stared at. We DO NOT sit in our mental disorders. We DO NOT choose to stay this way. We are NOT people that make excuses. We are NOT lazy. We will NOT be put down. We will NOT be forgotten.
We ARE children of the one and only creator of the universe. We ARE chosen. We ARE good enough. We ARE worth sticking with and sticking up for. We ARE worthy of respect. We DO have a purpose. We ARE beautiful. We ARE worth listening to. We DO have good ideas even if we have fifteen at once. We ARE saved. We ARE part of the elect. We DO have a voice. We ARE human. We ARE loved. We ARE children of God. We ARE struggling but we ARE also strong. We ARE more than others think we are.
And don’t you ever let anyone tell you different.