There are lots of trending hashtags about mental illness lately. #endthestigma. #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike. #mentalhealthawareness. #mentalhealthmatters.
Talking about mental illness is trendy. Self-care is a hot topic.
People are tweeting about their experiences with mental illness. The medications they’ve taken. The therapies they’ve sought.
We’re told now is the time to be open about our struggles. To reach out for help and support. People are more accepting now than they were in the past. Admitting you have a mental illness isn’t as taboo as it once was.
Except when you talk about your struggles with mental health openly, and people automatically assume it means you’re violent.
Except when an admission of mental health treatment makes others so uncomfortable they leave the room.
Except when the first thing said about every school shooter is that they were mentally ill. When ten seconds after the news of another shooting breaks, there are claims the shooter was taking SSRIs. Or has taken them in the past.
And someone looks at you and asks, “Isn’t that the medicine you take?”
Except when friends ask if you aren’t afraid of “getting addicted to that medicine.”
Really, Susan, I’m no more afraid of being addicted to Zoloft than I am of being addicted to my asthma inhaler. If I need it, I need it.
In sum, it’s a new era. People no longer need to be ashamed about struggling with their mental health.
Be proud! (wait no not that proud)
Be open. It’s the only way to start the conversation. Just… you know. Not that open.
It’s kind of hip now to talk about depression. But mostly the depression that hits you after your dog dies and you cry and eat six gallons of ice cream and you feel sad for a while and then you remember all the good times and you get outside and get some sun and then you’re fine.
That’s the comfortable kind of depression people want to hear about.
Nobody wants to hear about lacking the energy to shower. Or get dressed. Or roll out of bed for three days straight. Nobody wants to hear you need a combination of four medications to make your brain work well enough to function at a minimal level. Nobody wants to hear you can’t make basic decisions or remember how to get started washing a stack of dirty dishes.
When I’m open enough with someone to flat out state that my brain went to shit for about six months of the last year, people avert their eyes. Tell me I’m exaggerating and I’m fine. Ask how much longer I’m going to keep taking these medications (probably forever tbh). Can’t I just take a vitamin that would do the same thing? Or talk loudly over me about a completely different topic (all righty then, point taken). Sometimes they get up and walk out of the room.
Last fall, when I abruptly realized I was definitely not okay, I was honest. I told the people around me, “I am not okay. My brain is not okay.”
Mostly the response was, “Of course you’re okay. You’re fine.”
But I wasn’t. I really, really wasn’t.
When I say I’m in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist I feel like I automatically need to follow that statement up with an assurance that I don’t own a gun, actually wouldn’t know how to operate one, am pretty much a pacifist, and feel guilty if I inadvertently step on a worm and hurt it. I am whatever you want to call the opposite of violent. Listen, all I want to do is make sure everyone is warm and safe and has enough Reese’s peanut butter cups to last the weekend.
Mentally ill is not a synonym for evil or violent.
Until we stop using it as such, all the hashtags in the world aren’t going to make mental health an easier topic to discuss.