Wednesday, 7 August 2013

It Is Not What Happens In Someone's Life That Causes Mental Illness It Is About The Person It Happens To

I increasingly think 'Mental Illness' should be termed 'Mental Condition' or 'Mental Disorder'. The word 'illness' gives the impression it is short term, that is has a horizon, and a horizon that can be movable with the correct treatment or medication.

Unfortunately I have come to the realisation (that I think most sufferers will in their own time) that sadly, it is likely to never be completely irradiated from you. This by no means implies that it will continue to control your life, or that it will run at the fever pitch that it is at when it is at its most severe. But yes, it will always be a part of you. It is much like a skin condition such as Exma that can fade for months at a time with the right conditions/cream etc, but can easily flare up and make life miserable and itchy and sore once more.

By the nature of it's longevity there will be ample chance for you to experience the damaging effects of some peoples unsympathetic misunderstanding of your condition at some point in your life. I guess I always knew it would happen to me at some point.

This week it happened.

What really bothered me though was because it didn't come from someone who didn't really know me. That wouldn't have been nice either but I think it would have stung for less time. As it was it came and smacked me in the face from someone I am quite close to. Someone who knew me before Anorexia moved in. Someone who continued to be close even when I was suffering. Someone who claimed to have experienced (in a smaller portion but experienced none the less) much of the mental distress I suffer/suffered.

I am not going to go into details of my personal experience, firstly because it will probably bore the pants off you, secondly because it will only make me upset and angry again- I prefer to try and let it scab over for now.

 Instead I just want to write a little bit about the common misconceptions of what it means to suffer Depression or any other mental condition.

You have to have had some major, easily identifiable trauma which 'validates' your condition...
No one has to have died, parents don't have to have split up, you don't have to have suffered physical or sexual or physiological abuse or any other noticeable horror in your life to develop a mental disorder. Of course there is a trigger (usually a combination of little things) but it does not have to be anything as shocking or dramatic as anything like the above listed triggers. I, myself have known many mentally tortured people who I thought came from Chocolate Box lives...I was forced to reassess my own misconceptions.

You CHOSE not to see the good in your life or your own assets/ qualities/talents
Many people with depression would be able to tell you things they are 'good' at. Many would have jobs they know they do well. Many will have families they adore. The problem often is these things do not outweigh the negative things and problems that they perceive with yourself and life. I mean, look at Marilyn Munroe- she accepted her icon image as a Sex Symbol and seemingly embraced her body; but people only considered that she could have problems when she committed suicide.

It is acceptable to point out all the other 'worse off' people
One of the worst things to do when communicating with someone with a mental disorder is to say things like 'but at least you're not starving to death' or 'at least you're not short of money' ANYTHING like that is not only hurtful but also very destructive to the sufferer. I think I wouldn't be wrong in saying an awful lot of people who's suffering is in their mind would gladly have a 'real' physical problem to deal with rather than the inescapable, constant battle in their own mind. All it does is make the sufferer feel ashamed and now even more guilty than they already did.

People with mental disorders don't see or don't care what it is doing to their loved ones
Ok, so sometimes you might not know the entirety of the extent to which your suffering is affecting those close to you, but you are rarely unaware at all. It just hurts even more to be constantly told how much your actions or behaviour is pulling those you love to pieces.

Depressed people or 'properly' ill people always look sad, always feel shit and have no life
Some people do seem to always look depressed and they are the few that the stereotype has unfortunately been built on. I was the opposite really- when I went out with my friends or was in any social/work environment I always had a happy face. I smiled and acted normal. It wasn't even a conscious thing. I only realised I did it by the fact that as soon as I was out of that situation it was like I'd walked back into my empty house that I hated. So in many ways the play acting in a sense turned into temporary reality; I believe this is what saved me from further decline.

So there a a few, sadly there are SO many more.

What misconceptions have you been faced with? How did it make you feel?


  1. I had exma as a child. I no longer have it. You know, life is crappy so frequently but at the same time, you can rise. Sometimes it just takes a while. I don't know if I'll ever be free from anorexia but I know it won't hold me in chains either. Maybe it's perspective. I don't know, I just kelp pushing forward.

    I'm sorry about things with your friend. Sometimes even the strongest break.
    I love you dear. :)

  2. I think you explained things so well Katie, no one should ever minimize your feelings and no one is unhappy all the time... Depression happens to many people, it is always ongoing. I have my ups and downs, most of the time it is manageable... Sometimes I cannot cope on my own, that is nothing to be ashamed of...