I was having a good day. Everything was fine until I heard one stray comment. Do you have days like this? Can one or two sentences ruin it for you? I wish I could say I have the self assurance to shrug off what other people think and say, but it’s not me. Not at all. It sticks with me. It burrows and churns through my mind, infecting everything that follows.
“I don’t get it. This guy supposedly can’t work because he’s got bipolar disorder? What kind of bullshit is that?”
This was an opportunity to intervene. I could have spoken up. I could have defended this person – a stranger, circumstances unknown. I could have spoken up for all those who can’t speak up for themselves: people who know the cruel reality of severe mental illness. I could have spoken up for my mother, who can’t be left alone for more than a few moments in the hospital because she may hurt herself, who can no longer communicate rationally with the world outside the confines of her own mind, let alone live independently and earn a living.
My mother has bipolar disorder. That’s no bullshit. I’ll tell you what is though: the way we simultaneously stigmatize and dismiss mental illness. Could we be more cruel?
I shouldn’t ask that. Things can always get worse. Anyone who knows our history knows we’re capable of much worse. I guess I just wish more of us aspired to something better.
We’ve all heard how mental and physical illnesses are perceived and treated differently; from the disparities in insurance coverage to the sympathies of the public. Instead, let’s think about how similar they tend to be. They have biological causes. They have ranges of severity. Some people respond to treatment, while others don’t (many fall somewhere in between). Some treatments poison other parts of the body, causing further complications. Both can lead to the death of spirit, hope, and body.
You could watch a hundred people get thousands of colds over your lifetime, and never see one person develop life threatening pneumonia. Obviously that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Yet someone can know one or two people with mild depression and think psychiatry is a scam?
Some of it has to do with plain old ignorance. That’s why I feel like I can’t sit still when I hear evidence of it – even when it’s just a throw away comment in passing.
And yet, that’s exactly what I did. I sat still. I let the comment go.
I wish I hadn’t. I’ve rationalized it since. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference. I would have sounded like one more fanatic from the fringe. Bringing up my personal experience would only prove my inability to be impartial.
Look ma! More bullshit.