If you have been formally diagnosed with a mental illness, I am sure you have heard about the importance of self-care. Most of us can repeat them of the top of our mind like the Pledge of Allegiance. It is these set of “rules” to live by to keep your disorder from spiraling completely out of control. And trust me this isn’t some kind of smoke your therapist is blowing up your ass to constrict your lifestyle. When you actually follow them, they do make a difference. However at one point or another we have been horrible at self-care, including myself. Some of us are still very bad at it. We are all about making sure the newly diagnosed are informed on the importance of self-care. We speak about the things we say we do to help prevent episodes of some kind. But the words we spew forth are all bullshit. It is an illusion that we want the general public to believe or we ourselves believe.
So an example of self-care is establishing a healthy sleeping pattern. This means turning off all the electronics and social media notifications at the same time every evening and then going to sleep. This in theory should be really simple. I mean millions of people do it every day. My children go to bed the same time every night and get up at the same time. However for someone like me it takes actual effort on my behalf to accomplish this small aspect of self-care. It was easy for me to lie in bed for hours with thoughts running through my head at a million miles an hour and keeping me awake. So I would just pop on Facebook from my phone as a distraction and then next thing I know it was 4am. Yet by the same token I would tell someone like me that they need to establish a proper sleeping pattern to prevent insomnia and set off a manic episode. How I can tell someone how to help myself without practicing it myself? It happens all the time.
I have come to find out that the mental illness community is a tight knit one. We are always jumping at the opportunity to help each other out. We have all been there before so we know how to help each other out. However we run on the “Do as I say, not as I do” concept. Kinda like when you tell your child he needs to eat his peas and you quietly scrape yours into the trash. By the way, I hate peas. I see this happening all over the community and it is not really helping anyone at all. Why should I take advice from someone who doesn’t follow their own? The problem is we fill our minds with this illusion of self-care. I think it is a coping mechanism. We get into the thought process of as long as we are helping someone it is ok to let ourselves go. It’s not! Let me repeat this: IT’S NOT!
I remembered hating the way my mother would baby me about stuff. It’s time to go to bed. Did you take your meds? I used to get so frustrated at her because I felt like she didn’t think I could take of myself. But she was right. I couldn’t. I would just let my disorder run just wild. But I had this image that I had my shit together. I convinced everyone that I was the girl that had her life together. I was so swept up in this illusion that I even believed it myself. Even though I hadn’t slept in days and I had blown my paycheck on everything but bills. I even had the nerve to preach self-care to people. I would come down on those who did not take their disorder seriously and take the necessary steps to treat it.
Then one day I realized that I was only feeding the stigma against mental illness. I was everything that the general public thought I was. How many have lost a job or a relationship because you just let yourself just spiral out of control? People tend to focus on the negative side of things. So for every twenty people who actually have their illness in check, the world only sees that one who doesn’t. It is like watching the news or reading the newspaper, the headlining story is not often a feel good story. It is just how the mind works. By not actually practicing self-care ourselves, we are making it ok for others not to do so. We are only perpetuating the stigma. We are showing the world that we can’t be responsible for our own care.
We can easily blame the media for the image the public has of us. And yes they do bear some of the blame, yet they have to get this idea from somewhere. We need to start fighting the stigma by leading by example. We need to the poster children of self-care. Yes, it is going to be a struggle. Being a mother myself, it is hard to my needs before my children’s needs. However to be the best mom I can be I have to do it. I need to set the example so they know what they need to do if they are diagnosed. Self-care is not being selfish. It is showing our critics that we can manage ourselves. It is showing them that they are wrong about what they say about us. We can do this. We can beat the beast of stigma but we have to start with ourselves.
Becca Moore of the Bipolar Parenting Foundation posted the above graphic on Facebook and tagged me in it. I was shocked initially because that is not what I intended when I starting blogging. When I started this blog initially two years ago, it was out of shear boredom. I was on bed rest with D. I think a posted one whole post and then forgot about it. Then when I was getting ready to quit my full time job back in March, I decided to try again. I thought I was going to be the go-to mom blog. I was very inspired by a woman who used to live in our town and then moved to Pittsburgh. She started a blogging and it inspired me to start writing. Many know her as Mrs Burgher of ‘lil Burghers. So I began writing about my kids and our day-to-day life and waited. And waited some more. I would get some likes here and there but not like I was expecting.
I thought I would be the kind of blog that did reviews and giveaways but it just didn’t feel natural. I felt like I was forcing myself to write. Then I decided to do a kind of writing project through WordPress. One of our first assignments was a free-write piece. It was the first time I really received any kind of reaction from readers. I really opened up about myself. At first I was kind of upset because I didn’t want the focus of my blog to be about my bipolar disorder. The original concept was to show I can be a regular mom despite my bipolar disorder. So I continued to hold myself back. It was like wearing a shoe that was slightly too small. Yeah you can get it on but it is uncomfortable as hell.
I held on to my little fantasy for about a month or so. I mean there are tons of quality blogs that are about bipolar disorder and mental illness. What could I possibly write that would be any different than what is already available? So just out of nowhere I decided to write “Feeding the Beast’. It was a child of word vomit. Most of my writing is. However the reaction was completely and totally unexpected. I had more views in one day then I had had in the two weeks. People commented on how they could relate or they never knew what it was like to have bipolar disorder. I had mixed feelings about this.
I mean who wouldn’t be excited that after 3 months of blogging something was finally noticed. I actually started to panic. I mean how could I possibly write something like this again. I was afraid it was some sort of lucid writing fluke. I felt this enormous amount of pressure to do this again. Plus this is NOT what I wanted to my blog to be about. I wanted to be the wholesome, give-a-way mommy blogger. Even though that is not me at all. I am not saying I am not wholesome but those kind of blogs are not my thing. Matter- of –fact I don’t even read blogs like that with a few exceptions. But who wouldn’t want to be a tester for awesome stuff and be on panels for mommy blog conferences. I did!
However in the blogging world you have to be true to yourself. It is how you procure followers. It isn’t that I don’t love my children. They are the center of my universe but I am not sure I want them to be the center of yours. However I have always wanted to help others. So I changed focus and began talking about my bipolar disorder. I am open and as honest as I can possibly be. My goal is still the same. I want to change the world’s concept on what mental illness looks like. And I am going to do it. One post at a time. Watch out one day you are going to see me on the Today show talking about this.
This week’s submission to Stigmama
When you have a mental illness is like perpetually being at a wake for a funeral. I am sure many you are scratching your heads because you cannot fathom how the two are alike. Trust me. It makes a lot of sense. If you having ever been a part of the receiving line at a funeral for a loved one, you are approach by two kinds of grievers: “the aunt” and “the date”. The first kind, “The Aunts”, are the ones who are the true grievers. These are the people who probably knew the passing party on a close personal level. These might be siblings, close cousins, maybe a family friend, these people really knew who this person was. When they come up to you in the line, they know how to approach you. You can see and feel that they had lost also. You find their words or maybe lack of words the most comforting. There is a connection between you and this person where you want to comfort them also. These people will usually tell you something genuine and honest.
And then you have the people who are there because the feel like it is something they should do, “The Date”. I think in our lifetime, we have all been this person once in our lifetime. These are the people who are the Aunt Beth’s son’s girlfriend of a couple of months. You know them. You can usually spot them from a mile away. Standing there. Awkwardly clinging onto the party they came with. The uncomfortable smile and “Oh hello. Nice to finally meet you.” Then they approach in line. They feel the need to give you an extremely uncomfortable hug. They tell you that it will get better or some other kind of generic sentiment. They may go on about how they couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose someone. Or they will go on for 45 minutes about when they lost their childhood dog which is a lot losing a loved one. Right? Then they will realize their escort has moved one and they will quickly rush off because they don’t want to be alone in a room full of crying strangers. Not that I could really blame them.
So you are wondering how this all applies to having a mental illness? When you have a mental illness like bipolar or depression, you come across two kinds of people. There are the people who either have/had a mental illness or someone close to them struggled with one. Then there are the people who only know about mental illnesses from their high school health class or television. When you tell these people of your mental health status, you come across two general reactions.
The first of the two is the reaction of understanding. These are the people who have been there before. They understand that mental illness isn’t quick fix or a matter of changing your outlook on things. These people may recommend treatments you may not yet heard of. They will listen to your stories and get out of it a sense of connection. You yourself are at ease to talk about your mental health history without feeling like freak is written across your head. They may even feel a sense of relief that they can share their story with you and not be judged. You are not inhibited by the feeling of shame when you speak. When I get to talk to someone like this, I am overjoyed because I know they are seeing me not my disorder.
However the world is filled with too many of the second kind of people. I don’t fault these people for how they at. We are not raised to be comfortable around things or people that are different. They only have the information they have been given over their formative years to go off of. I was one of these people. For some time before I was diagnosed my only point of reference for what mental illness was health class and my schizoaffective grandmother. I thought all people with mental illness were like her. She would take her meds and function until she thought she didn’t need her meds. She would get really weird. And then she would get tired of hearing all the voices and take all her fucking pills at the same time. This occurred a number of times over my childhood. So I already had a mistrust of people with mental illness. Television and health class only fueled my concept. So I understand the awkward comments I get when they find out I have a mood disorder. I get the why they have a look of surprise on their face because I am not at all what they perceived a person with a mental illness is like.
I participate in quite a few blog hops. I can always tell who has been exposed to mental illness and those who haven’t. Usually when someone leaves a comment that completely misses the point of what I am trying to say, I know. It usually is always something along the lines, “I am sorry for what you are going through. Hope you find the help you need.” You know the standard answer. I first I would get angry at these people. I wanted you write in all caps, “DID YOU EVEN FUCKING READ WHAT I WROTE!!!” However I am a nice person and refrain. It is not their fault. It is the way we are raised to react. Just like at a funeral of a complete stranger. “I am sorry for your loss”, it is just what we say.
Now I have thought about what is the point of me even trying to write about this. I am not going to change the minds of thousands of minds with just a few words from my life. I have thought about just keeping my blog to myself and go back in to hiding. Then I received the comment that changed everything. I had someone tell me that they had no idea what bipolar disorder was until they read my words. They had a new respect for those with mental illness. I changed the view of one person and that is all it takes. If we all change the view of just one person, we can change the view of those thousands. Because that one person will changes the views of one person. It is a ripple effect. If enough of us make ripples eventually we will makes waves. So I leave you with this task: Change the mind of just one person. Then leave that person with the task of changing one person’s view on mental illness. Then have them pay-it- forward. Because it just takes just one.