Living with mental illness means I run up against some pretty odd myths about my situation. This leads to some strange encounters with so-called “normal” people. So I’d like to take up some space to clear a few of these up.

  • Having a mental illness does not mean the person is dangerous. Okay, so let’s admit it. Some mental illnesses can lend themselves to some pretty unusual ideas. Like aliens are probing you at night and stuff. However, having a mental illness does not make that person dangerous. The media likes to play “find the reason” when a tragedy occurs and will often point out that this person had a history of being hospitalized or depression, etc. Let’s get this out of the way. Mental illness DOES NOT cause you to pick up a gun and shoot out a theatre. The mental illness may be a contributing factor but it is NOT the reason for it. The truth is there is no reason. These tragedies are senseless and, sometimes, there was no way to prevent them. This person made a decision to kill others. You can line that cage with all the excuses and reasons you like but the bottom line is they made that decision.
  • The mentally ill do not need a babysitter. Having mental illness means I see my world differently than you do. I see scary monsters where you see a group of strangers (okay, that woman at Walmart did bear a strong resemblance to a goblin). This means I interact with my world differently than you do. Be okay with that. If you need to know or understand, ask us and we’ll try to explain. However, understand your “help” may cause more problems than it solves. I have a rhythm to my day that works for me. I was doing things and making decisions long before you arrived on the scene. I’m an adult, look at me adulting all over the place. If you want to pamper us, that’s fine but stop trying to take care of us. We don’t need a babysitter.
  • Don’t challenge us. There is this weird phenomenon going on that I’ve recently discovered; loved ones will challenge their mentally ill partners/friends/toys to do things to help them “overcome” their problem. I blame Jerry Springer. Please know that if we avoid something it’s for a reason and we don’t want to do that thing. You are setting up a situation for us to fail. If we meet your challenge, it’ll be scary and bad and just reinforce to us why we didn’t do it in the first place. If we don’t do it, we’ve let you down. Speaking as someone who has anxiety, I would rather slit my own throat than let down my loved ones. That’s a horror I will live with for a very long time. Please respect our boundaries.
  • Not all mental illnesses are the same. Two soldiers may both have PTSD. However, it is not the same for both of them. One may react to loud noises, another may react to a smell or a color. You don’t know. Please don’t assume that because Aunt So-And-So had This or That, that you understand what my This is like. If you want to know, ask.
  • People who are crazy don’t know they’re crazy. Oh we know. We don’t give a shit.
  • Crazy means dumb. Oh so not true. Crazy people can think spirals around the normals because we have so few limits. The “you can’t do that” that limits those who are normal isn’t there for us.
  • There’s no such thing as mental illness. Oh how many times have I been told it’s all in my head? Yes. That’s kind of the problem. There is this weird belief that mental illness has been created by the drug companies. Wow. People call me crazy.
  • You can fix yourself. I’ve been told almost every home remedy going to overcome my anxiety. Usually this advice starts with, “I used to have <insert mental illness> but then I <insert remedy> and now it’s gone.” Nope. You still have it. It’s just better hidden.
  • Mental illness is a punishment. This is usually when religion and psychology meet. Their love child is not pretty. It is the belief that mental illness is the mental manifestation for some sin committed. A variation on this is that the person is a bad person and this is their punishment. Nope. I enjoy my sins a great deal, thanks.
  • Only bad/evil people are mentally ill. Again, religion and psychology. The belief that there is something wrong with your morality has caused your mental illness is so ridiculous that I fail to see how anyone still buys into it.
  • Mental illness is an excuse. There is a myth that those with mental illness are faking it to get out of being a part of society because, for some reason, we like being outcasts. Mental illness is not something you fake. It’s something you have.
  • The mentally ill should be locked up. Would you lock up someone with diabetes or Multiple Sclerosis? Probably not. So why would you think it’s okay for the mentally ill.

One last thing. Please stop using phrases like “my OCD kicked in” or “I’m so bipolar today.” It demeans our problems when you use it as an excuse for your behaviour. Mental illness is not an excuse or a punchline so please stop using it that way.

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