I have a mental illness. Stability is a dream of mine. I pray, I hope, I imagine what it could look like to be sane. I wonder what goes on in other people’s head. Is it quiet? Do you make choices about what you think about? Or do you live your life as if you’re in a war zone and most of the time you’re losing the battle? Do you know peace? Do you experience control? Or is your mind divided in two? One side rational, logical while the other is . . . how do I put it? Crazy? Completely irrational, overpowering, overwhelming. No matter how hard I try, how often I pray, how careful I am about diet and exercise, how committed I am to my medication regime, I can’t MAKE my brain work.
All I want is peace. I dream about living a life that I define. My prayers consist of me BEGGING God for relief. I read the scriptures and even though my heart believes that God is Love and He accepts me as His child, my head disagrees. My brain rebels. Why? Because my brain is stuck in a prison of insanity. The Holy Spirit tries to soothe my spirit but my brain won’t let me accept the soothing messages. I find myself filled with doubt. My brain fights my spirit and, too often, wins.
So, what does all this mean? It means that I am in a continuous battle with reality. You know the voice in the back of your head that sends negative messages? It is disembodied in mine. It’s not a voice I can rationalize with. It’s a banshee that inserts its tentacles into my brain. It doesn’t stop and is rarely quiet. There is no escape.
I’m lucky. I can still function. I have a job and I volunteer. I’m able to live my life in my home, not a hospital. I have family that loves and accepts me. I have friends and, while most don’t understand, many try.
I need you to understand the battle I’m fighting and that others fight as well. We don't often fight the way you think we should but we are fighting. Sometimes, people refuse medication because psych meds are not fun. There are an assortment of side effects I experience ranging from shutting down my immune system to producing so much saliva I drown – it goes down into my lungs. At its worst, I had bronchitis 3 times in 4 months. Then there is the perpetual exhaustion. I require 10+ hours of sleep – just to be functional. The other treatments are even worse. I have significant memory loss due to ECT. It makes life a challenge and is extremely frustrating. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to escape. The negativity wears them down and they just want relief. Sometimes they lose the battle.
Friends and family try but they don’t understand. They don’t understand how getting up, taking a shower, going to work is an ACCOMPLISHMENT! It takes herculean strength and a leap of faith to keep moving forward. It takes commitment to ignore the voices in our heads and try to live a normal life. We desire sanity much more than you want it for us. We CRAVE it. We fantasize about what it would be like to be productive. We yearn for love and acceptance.
And the response we get? Distrust. Ignorance. Anger. People look down on us, seeing us as the failure the voices insist that we are. They don’t see how tough we are, how FIERCE we are. Doing what we do takes a tremendous amount of fortitude. We are not weak for not being able to “positive think” our way out of our prison. We are strong for getting ourselves out of our prison long enough to take a step forward.
What is my point? Stop looking down on those of us with mental illness. Stop judging us or, just as bad, refusing to trust us. See our accomplishments not our failures. See our strength not our weakness. Know that those of us who are productive are lucky. Those who aren’t as successful are doing their best, in their own way. I can’t say we’re all fighting still. But those who have given in to drug use, given up on living outside a behavioral health center, or get lost in their own head are not worthless. They have fought the battle and the insanity won. It’s a tough opponent. Grieve their loss don’t punish them for it.
Everyone is fighting their own battles. Commend those who are still fighting and for those who aren’t, try to understand. Don’t judge, love. Don’t criticize, encourage. Don’t give up on us, help us fight. We’re trying our best. Are you?