This is not going to be popular. It is a good thing I’m not running for office, because if I was, I would lose the vote.
Because, I see it, and I read it, and it makes me squirm.
People glamorizing their mental illness. I see it mostly in young adults and artists, especially writers.
Let me set the record straight from my point of view. Mental illness is not glamorous. It doesn’t make you wildly creative (in fact, I was a successful and budding poet in my twenties and now I can’t write a poem half as good as I could before my first psychotic break). I was so much more creative before I ever had a diagnosis. The difference is stunning.
Medication and psychosis rob something from you. They are thieves that steal parts and pieces of your personality, talents, and skills. I remember being on a medication for a couple of years where I couldn’t read. Not at all. Not a single book. I couldn’t focus. Even though my medication now is what I would consider fantastic, I still haven’t completely regained the absolute love of reading most of my family shares. I have to force myself to read in order to get better at writing. Plus, once into it, there is nothing like a good poem or story. But getting into it is difficult.
I think young people like to play around with the idea of being on the dark side, misfits, edgy, all in black or all tattooed and just plain different. Those young people love to toy with the idea of being mentally ill. They write dark poetry. They produce dark art. Fine, okay, I hope you grow out of it, and most likely you will.
There is a fascination in this country with the truly dark history of mental illness. People like to look at pictures and visit the old abandoned asylums that exist across this county. People imagine they are haunted with the souls who endured all kinds of bizarre treatments that were popular in the past – lobotomies, insulin therapy, water therapy, straightjackets, etc.
There is the fascination and there is the romantic. I remember years ago, when I was first diagnosed as bipolar (I have since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia), I studied and read about every famous person who was ever considered bipolar. I wanted to be a genius. I wanted to be hyper-creative and brilliant. That is such fantasy. It really is. The majority of people with a mental illness are not brilliant. I don’t think anyone’s mental illness helped them achieve anything, imagine the famous people with a mental illness and what they may have been capable of achieving if they were not ill. That is a reality to ponder.
I don’t mean to be depressing. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble, but I do mean to be serious. Mental illness kills people. It destroys perfectly productive lives. Those of us that manage to thrive regardless of our diagnosis, do so with our teeth clenched. We do it by fighting every single day. We fight to stay healthy. We fight to stay sane. We seek treatment, we work with our doctors, and we learn ways to manage debilitating symptoms.
I have met many people who had a parent that was mentally ill. None of those people think mental illness is cool, romantic, glamorous, or makes you hip or cool. All of them suffered as children, because their parents were mentally ill. (The people I am talking about are all middle aged now, so there were much fewer options for treatment for their parents). But this truth still holds: mental illness can damage relationships.
If you read something from an artist and they are manic, or depressed or delusional, don’t get sucked in by their ability to convince you that staying up all night creating new music, or painting, or writing a novel in six weeks is the way to go. It’s not.
Staying centered and living simply is the way to be. Study any religion or great philosophy and they will teach you that peace is what to strive for. Mental illness can rob people of the chance at peace. Don’t let anyone fool you, it is a tough road and even covered with lots of red lipstick and high heels, it will never be glamorous.