Funerals and Mental Illness

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Funerals and Mental Illness

  1. Beautifully expressed, Lauren! I’m finding that these days I don’t want to hang out with people of the “second kind” you describe so well in this post except for my husband, kids, my therapist, doctor, my puppy (!!!!!) and just a few others. I wanted to start a women’s group for moms like me only a few days ago because I’m so tired of feeling isolated with bipolar.(I write about this in my blog post that’s coming out tomorrow…I discuss social anxiety so I thought you’d be interested. :)) Then I realized that project is too much for me to take on now and there’s no way I could pull it off. So, I’d rather be alone. I know it’s not healthy to be this way, but it’s what I need to do for the time being. I don’t feel safe around others who simply don’t get it.

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  2. This is so true! Since my very recent diagnosis I have mainly had people either say “I am so sorry that is the case” or say “I am surprised you have Bipolar/ I don’t think you have Bipolar”z

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    • I think that we need to change how we respond to those who don’t understand. A lot of times if people tell that they sorry, I simply respond, ” Oh Is this your fault?” Most times they will say no. I will then tell them ,” Then don’t be sorry because I am not.”

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      • That’s a great way to respond! I agree that we should change how we respond to people who don’t understand. I sometimes got quite frustrated and ended up aggressively arguing my case of bipolarity to people who didn’t believe me.

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  3. I have been more vocal then most about my condition, letting people know I have it and I’m doing stuff about it. The reactions vary from you have some kind of contagious disease to I would never tell anyone if I had it. With my mother being a schizophrenic I can see them wondering if my appliances talk me into bizzare behavior. We all need some way to vent/relax/unstress even the “normals” it isn’t a sign of weakeness rather courage to admit you have an issue and the strength to do something about it.

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  4. What a heartfelt post! Thank you for sharing your perspective of this complex disease. I never thought about it in that way. It helps. to know. My brother is bipolar. We have lived through up and down times, on the meds and off, and my heart just bleeds for him sometimes when he is trying to get back on schedule. You know what I mean. I just want people to see past his differences and see his good, sweet and innocent heart. He just came out of the hospital in late December, where he spent more than two months. He is doing well now. Love him!!

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  5. I love what you said about if you change just one persons mind, or just touch one person, then you have made all of the difference. There is a huge ripple effect at play in our worls and it truly does take just one.

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  6. After losing my Dad and dealing with Mom’s mental disorders for years, I think this post finally helped me put things in perspective. I always want to help her, but sometimes the only help she needs is me being present and silent. That’s what I needed when I lost my Dad, and what I have to remember going forward. Thank you!

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  7. I thought that your analogy was quite useful in conveying the two main types of encounters that a person living and working through mental illness deals with. As someone close to a person dealing with PTSD I found that the same analogy applies. Keep writing, I think your voice is important.

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    • Thank you. This is really for who are dealing with some kind of mental health issues. Since I have bipolar disorder it is easier for me to focus on that. However I am for helping everyone get past the stigma.

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  8. Yes! .let’s create that ripple effect my friend. I think it was very courageous of you to open up and share with the world and for what better reason than to help people understand.

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