a script for mental illness

life happens despite our best efforts! i’m sitting here, sweating like a pig, mostly because we have a heat wave but also because all of a sudden my mother has moved into the old-old stage, complete with confusion, needing to move into a home ASAP, and all of that happening in germany.

and with all of this i’m happy to be back blogging again! what an eventful 5 weeks. my husband was absolutely wonderful in healing this blog, i hardly did anything myself. it’s almost completely back to normal, just a few hiccups left. the people at dreamhost, my new host, were also incredible.

so that’s the hot, sticky, confused and bloggy side of life.

now on to something else.

talking about mental illness!

this is something i’ve discussed before, here and here for example. the question is: how do you talk about mental illness?

how’s that for a conversation:

“how are you?”

“not so hot. i’m on the downswing again.”

if you suffer from depression or bipolar illness, how many people do you know with whom you could casually have this exchange? zero? one?

the thing is, we don’t have a script for this. most casual conversations have a loose script. like

“how’s little lydia?” (script: ask after person’s kid, spouse, dog, etc.)

“oh she’s fine. bit of a problem with math at school but otherwise great. really enjoys skating. and doug?” (script: answer the question, give a bit of detail but not too much. then ask a similar question.)

but there’s no script for mental illness – not in “polite society.”

we all know this needs to change, for so many reasons. the biggest one that comes to mind has to do with isolation. isolation of two kinds: the isolation of stigma is one (because mental illness is not supposed to exist, and if it does, it needs to be swept under the carpet). the other is the isolation that is built into many types of mental illness. in many ways, experiences like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or anorexia – to give just a few examples – are illnesses of isolation. the sheer act of opening the mouth can seem almost impossible when one’s throat is constricted with fear; the effort of sending forth a sound can so often not be mustered when depression has laid a leaden blanket over everything.

it is in those moments that we need others to help us out of isolation. and once again, there is no script.

in a way this is exciting. those of us who want to change this state of affairs are in the position of helping to open up the world to create a script, maybe even a whole language of mental illness.

who wants to contribute to this new language? what’s your experience with talking about mental illness?

24 thoughts on “a script for mental illness

  1. isabella mori

    so great to be talking with you guys again!

    i agree with both of you.

    however, one of the challenges i’m seeing is how to start and maintain a conversation when you’re right in the middle of it. for example, what youre saying re descriptions: i find that if i don’t use the label (“depression”, “bipolar”, “anxiety”, etc.) people don’t get – or don’t want to get? – what you’re talking about, or it’s easy to get the , “oh, everyone feels blue once in a while” response.

    this notwithstanding, without a doubt it is important to listen, to enrich the label-talk with descriptions, and to acknowledge the gifts that come from what we call mental illness.
    .-= isabella mori´s last blog ..a script for mental illness =-.

  2. Christa

    The depression discussion, or script, is loads easier to talk about than the suicide discussion, meaning, post (completed) suicide.

    I think the depression script is a lot easier today than it was even 10 years ago when it was much more hush-hush.

    I put it out there – s0me people are uncomfortable and don’t want to talk about anything but flowers, candy and puffy clouds and that’s fine. I won’t force a conversation on or with them.

    For me, I’ve had friends and even FAMILY turn their back on me for my need to talk about suicide prevention and support for survivors. You’d think I had a crack habit or something. Now THAT makes me crazy.
    .-= Christa´s last blog ..Is it Depression or lost Mojo? =-.

  3. sandy

    Because I’m a shrink, I have friends who will get right to the emotional nitty gritty. But you’re right, in general society, people don’t open up about their mental health. I think one reason is because people believe they themselves are responsible for their emotions. “If I’m feeling down, it’s because I’m not handling my life very well.” So there’s the shame involved.

    I’ve also noticed a tendency among acquaintances to give upbeat, “life’s great” answers initially. Takes quite a bit of getting to know someone before they’ll own that their life has any problems.
    .-= sandy´s last blog ..Working Out. Must Have Music. =-.

  4. Marie

    For me, having a blog that brazenly describes what is going on with me “in secret” is helpful. I write under a pen name; but when I want to share that side of me with someone in my 3D world, I can simply point them to my blog. They can read as little or as much as they care to.

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..March 24, 2009 =-.

  5. Joe

    I’d just like to share something from my experience with having both bipolar and schizophrenia, that the only way I got to a well enough state to have nice conversation (and completely well *I believe* as of today) was to continuously talk until I got better. I t was the case, at least with me, that others’ abuse, including, and no offense to the professionals here, doctors I had, were greatly responsible. But as I gained my wits, I also gained the ability to avoid trouble, and this alone should inspire hope in other victims.

  6. aliyah

    i find it hard to talk to people about mental illness unless im very close to them or their close family, but even then i generally dont tend to speak about it much.
    it feels good to talk about it to other sufferers, or people who have recovered. the only person i can speak to it about it very openly is my boyfriend and friend.
    but i do think talking openly about mental illness should be encouraged, no one should be ashamed, and no one shud be judged.

    x

  7. Nature

    It’s awkward talking about mental health issues with daily casual contacts of your life, especially when they ask you what you have been up to or how you’ve spent your week. “Err, yes, I get counselling/therapy twice a week, I work on my other days, and relax on my days off,” which is basically my lifestyle at the moment since school is out.

    Nope.. doesn’t come out that way at all. I don’t even know how to answer those questions. People in my age group (teenagers) sometimes don’t even get what depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, etc. are. In fact, the majority of the people (including teens and adults) use the word “depressed” so lightly. “Oh I’m so depressed today, I missed my friend’s birthday party.” I mean, it’s not really their fault, but you can’t help but get the feeling of uneasiness.

    I think being able to talk about these issues more or less depends on the person’s readiness to talk about it. It takes time to acknowledge that you have a problem, and it also takes a lot of courage to open up to the ones you love since you’re afraid of them not understanding or them judging you. The only person I can openly talk about my struggles is my boyfriend and one of my good friends. However, even that was quite difficult at first.

    I wish luck and strength to the beautiful people who are struggling with mental health issues because I know that they are intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and bright people.

    The best to all of you,

    Nature.

  8. Thandelike

    Thanks for the topic Mori…I’m not a mental health professional but I’m writing a book dealing with some of these topics. I’ve come to understand that mental health is a community issue and a communal responsibility so the fact that we cannot talk about it — even in passing — is major problem for society.

    Referring to mental health status labels may be a useful shortcut for people who understand them. However it seems psych terms are overused and poorly-understood by the general population and distance us from empathy. People are so comfortable with what they understand them to mean that they misapply diagnoses to themselves. “Oh boy I feel schizo today!” No, I don’t think you do. And, that person is actually saying they feel like a “split-personality”, whatever they think that is.

    It’s a strange dichotomy: mental illness is something we don’t like talking about in reality, but we often toss happily around in abstract!
    .-= Thandelike´s last blog ..Decomposing self =-.

  9. Laurie

    I have found that dealing with mental health labels comes a certain stereotype of being somewhat unstable. In my case, having an eating disorder and depression along with anxiety tends to scare people that don’t understand it. However, I do believe this recovery process has made me a stronger person, possibly because of the coping skills I have learned in therapy. I am learning that I am not as afraid to be judged by others as I am afraid to be judged my “me” and the bar I set for myself. My struggles are my own and my choices are my own. I am learning that not everyone will understand.. only I need to accept and understand. So I guess I choose who I tell and if someone asks it is very hard to give reasons of why you were out of work for 6 weeks and keep it vague.
    At times I also feel very isolated because only a handful of people understand and will accept you unconditionally.
    Mental Illness is real but is something you can’t see so people shy away from it like a person with the flu.

  10. Lew

    This may sound a little controversial – and oxymoronic. I have found my troubles have worsened since I’ve been able to speak about my ills. Therapy taught me this. Before, I could pretend I was alright – to an extent – or else hide – for right of wrong. Of course, before, at times it came up, but now I find myself telling people, if not happily, willingly. It seems the stigma mostly lies in the affected, in my town. Each and everyday, when I can leave my flat, and usually in vino, I encounter another person suffering from mental illness. It likes a goddam club. We have conversations about not being able to tell people, which is a contradiction, considering more often than not I’ve just met the person – and not in a clinic environment.

    The mental health service perpetuates mental illness. I’ve spoke, and joked, with my CPN about it. And the laughter came from my CPN’s disillusionment with his career and seeing it spiral. Ironically he is the best CPN I’ve ever had, and he knows it.

    I’m not saying that to hide your feelings is the answer for most, but I suspect it was the answer for myself. Now, tellling people, weakens me further.

    But there are times when it isn’t accepted, or at least it appears that way. Avoiding a friend’s wedding because you feel deeply depressed, feels like an excuse, yes, whereas flu seems believable – but who sees it as the excuse? The stigma might stem from our own isolation and feelings of worthlessness.

    But this is all very easy to say.

  11. isabella mori

    thanks for your thorough comment, lew!

    of course the experience varies from people to people – but one thing that can be observed is that for some, telling about it (naming it out loud for all to hear) WILL make things more uncomfortable – for a while. maybe it’s a bit like being let out of prison. in the first moments it’s freeing and exhilarating but then for a while it’s really scary.

    here’s an exchange i had with someone the other day:

    person: “you’re always so calm.”
    me: “that’s because i live on the bipolar rollercoaster. if i let myself get all hyped up, it wakes up the manic dog. and i don’t like that.”
    person: “well, i like you.”

    it was a moment of intimacy, lightness – and it felt normal.
    .-= isabella mori (@moritherapy)´s last blog ..blog post #1000: possible dreams =-.

  12. Lew

    Yes, it did feel exhilarating to begin with, expressing who I really was to my friends at those times when life became a lonely torment, like lifting the lid off the tea pot – but this is where the problem lies. At first I was happy that my friends were sympathetic, and that I wasn’t going to lose them. But very soon it became my identity. I used to be primarily an actor, and before I’d let the lid off, that was my identity (amongst other things – being a caring friend, I hope). Then I became tragic.

    ‘That’s what actors are like,’ my fellow actor friends would say (and my parents). ‘Look at Stephen Fry.’

    And this exacerbated my problems (I write in ever-faithful hindsight), perpetuated a myth that would continue throughout my short career as an actor.

    Before, I was strong for my friends’ sake, a good listener, and I liked that role. Then my friends felt that they had to be there for me, which is all very good (and truly beautiful), but as I lightened the load further, some friends left, others treated me like a wounded pigeon. And – for me – I began to realise I wasn’t the sort of person that liked to be helped. I’d rather help myself, or even fade and shrivel away (as ugly as the fact is).

    I realise that we all need help at times, but that doesn’t make it easy to take. And now that people see me as this ‘tragic’ character, I hide in drink to pretend I am not, but sustain this image in that very action. At least, this is one of the reasons I drink. And, when I am drunk, I am who I want to be at times, I am there for people who want to shed a tear, express their problems (I’m somehow a beacon for it). When I am drunk – again, at times – I am free.

    This is the great paradox of alcoholism.

    I find it hard to like the sober depressive that I am, anxious, or else the falsely exaggerated, regular and contented John. And I can assure you, it is hard for others to like me too (this is not say they dislike me).

    Yours,

    Load-Lightening-Lew

  13. Evan

    Hi Lew,

    I think it is possible to build the new within the old. That is, build the new character while retaining the support of our old way(s) of operating. Does this make sense?

    It sounds like you jumped from the old to the new but hadn’t developed new supports or habits. This may be reading far too much in to a few comments on a post. I know I may have it all wrong – but did want to say what I felt may have happened.
    .-= Evan´s last blog ..Predicting a Healthy Old Age =-.

  14. Lew

    Hi, Evan. Could you explain a little more.

    Therapy unleashed this new way of the world on me. I started talking about it, and not being entirely truthful back then, but enough to feel the relief of it.

    I wouldn’t say I was a new me. Not at all. I was perceived as a different person. And I wasn’t prepared for that, I suppose, even though I felt fine about it for a while.

    The thing is, when I spoke of my troubles and the past, I created a new identity that wasn’t actually myself. This was exacerbated when I began to see this person in other people’s reactions – which may be the only way we ever see ourselves, in that, I saw who I was in other people, and it wasn’t me.

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  16. Max

    Hi,

    Just want to say mental illness is a bitch that I know well. But I have recovered thanks to some good people in my life. Also because I made some good choices that lead me away from the illness and toward recovery. I like to see the world we live in as being unaccepting of mental illness just like back in the days alot of other things were unaccpted that are today. Its only a matter of time before change comes about. Until then I consider everyone who is working towards understanding of mental illness as a revolutionary. Also don’t fall into the trap of being a victim, get out and join forces with a mental illness foundation/charity/group. Find a way to make a difference. If people turned their back on you look for ones who wont turn their back, you’ll need those people around if you should ever experience any other life circumstances which may be devasting to you, mental illness is only one of those rememeber that.

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