When people think of mental illness, they think of one of two things: the straightjacket-clad, stereotypical ‘mental patient’ you see depicted in tasteless halloween costumes, or the black haired, teenage girl, crying to the Smiths with eyeliner running tragically down her face, as she writes poetry about her broken heart. Most significantly, one never thinks of their best friend, or their dad, or the bartender at their local. People distance their depictions of mental illness from their friends and family, and even themselves, because it’s something that only happens to ‘other people’.
I take daily medication for my mental illness. It helps me to disguise the fact that I’m irrationally panicked by pretty much everything, and that a jealous twinge can send me spiralling into self-hatred.
If you met me, you wouldn’t necessarily think I suffered from a mental illness. You might see someone who’s a bit shy, dresses weirdly and needs coaxing to engage. That image of the cute, quiet person, who just needs a kind word, that romanticised depiction of mental illness. People like it when mentally ill peers present that way – discrete, quiet, blending into the background. They want to help us, they feel sorry for us.
All that changes as soon as we actually display our symptoms. My quietness can be annoying, my moods can be erratic, and I can start having a panic attack in the middle of Tesco because two people knocked into me. Then, no one’s sympathetic – they’re exasperated, they want to know why you didn’t do something you said you would – and the answer is because I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. I missed a fair few lectures because of this reason. Everyone says they’re sympathetic of mental illness, until they meet a mentally ill person.
Furthermore, what’s the deal with so much hatred towards medication, anyway? My mother was horrified when I told her I’d started taking antidepressants, and was hoping I could kick them off over the summer. Obviously, I don’t want to be on them forever, but they’re helping me. We should remember that they’re a good thing, that they’re designed to help us function like everyone else. And, yeah, they do alter my brain function, just like my contraceptive pills alter my uterus’ functions, how my granny’s inhaler affects her respiratory system’s functions. It’s medication, that’s what it’s supposed to do. It affects my brain’s functions because my brain isn’t functioning correctly. I’m not enhanced, I’m being brought up to speed.
I’m arranging therapy, currently, and I do hope to come off antidepressants before next year, but I am always going to have a mental illness. Even if you can’t see it, it’s still there.
(One of my next posts is going to detail my experiences of sertraline, or zoloft, from when I started taking them until the current day.)