Monday, January 26, 2015
Mental Illness is not a Weakness nor a Character Flaw
These are not character flaws. They are not "all in your head." These are diseases as real as cancer or diabetes.
No, you can't just think your way out of depression. Slight, situational, depression, yes (to a point). Your girlfriend broke up with you, you're sad. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about chronic depression where no mater what happens, you feel sad. I called it the "floating cloud syndrome." No matter what, I had a dark cloud hanging over me. I could fake being happy for short periods. I could function (I was lucky). But every day I felt very sad. And it was worse in winter.
It's not a character flaw. It's brain chemistry.
"But aren't you dependent on a drug?" they ask when they learn you're on anti-depressants or another drug for your mental illness. "Yes," I say, "just like the diabetic is dependent on insulin, or the person with his cholesterol is dependent on a Lipitor." (In my case, it's three drugs since lithium turned me into a zombie so I take a cocktail of drugs to control my bipolar.)
Do I still get depressed? A bit. Technically I'm type-2 bipolar with dysthymia. This means I'm depressed most of the time, with occasional flashes of mania. Sometimes the mania is fun. Most of the times it's not (I'm an angry manic). Without the meds, the swings were wild: low lows, high highs. Now they are muted. Now they are less common. But I still have depressed days and manic moments. They are just not destructive to my life.
So don't tell a depressed person to "get over it." Don't tell someone with bipolar "it's all in your head." (Well, of course it is, where would it be, my kidneys?) The person with a mental illness wants to be treated like everyone else, with perhaps a bit of consideration for their condition when it flairs up and overwhelms the drugs (it happens).
(Yes, I know ADHD and ADD are controversial and yes, I think kids are way over-diagnosed with this because it's easier for schools to put them on drugs than to deal with a bit of rebellion or rambunctiousness. But the ADD drugs I'm on have done wonders for me. I can concentrate on something a lot better and my brain doesn't take off 60 different directions at once. Meetings use to be hell because my brain would run around everywhere and refuse to stay in the meeting. But I'm an adult and I'm not being drugged for the benefit of overwhelmed educators.)