There is a woman who I am friends with on social media that uses her mental illness as an excuse for everything: didn’t study for a test, and failed it? “It must be my mental illness!” Someone doesn’t like me? “It must be my mental illness!” I sent harassing e-mails to someone, and they called me on it? “Must be my mental illness!”
Using mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior or not doing something (look, if I don’t study for a test, I don’t expect to pass it) makes it difficult for the rest of us. If someone who is an advocate and very visible uses their mental illness to explain away anything that happens to them that is unpleasant, it makes the rest of us, who occasionally need help, compassion, and understanding, less likely to get those things when we need them.
There are days when I need my husband to stay by my side and help me get through a tough time (usually a panic attack). There are other times when I need my husband to respond to my feelings of paranoia. In the worst of times, I need my husband to care for me when I am psychotic. It would be easy to try and manipulate my husband on a regular basis by claiming that I can’t do this, or I can’t do that, or I did something mean, or whatever because of my schizophrenia. I think manipulating someone that way would prove to be fairly easy, but I think it backfires in the long run.
If those of us who are mentally ill are using our symptoms as excuses for our bad behavior, or our not wanting to do something, or whatever, then those people who help us on a regular basis are going to get burned out, worn out, and sick of us. People can be fooled for a short time, but it doesn’t take long for most people to see the truth of a situation.
I try to be honest about the difficulties of living with a severe mental illness, but at the same time, I try not to make everything difficult. It isn’t easy to live with the symptoms of schizophrenia, but it isn’t all bad all the time, and as an advocate who writes about the illness publically, I try to be realistic, while at the same time I try to be uplifting and positive. I consider part of my goal is to set a good example (but an honest one) for others who are learning about or battling a mental illness. Taking responsibility for my behavior is part of that, and it is a part I take seriously.