Having mental illness is like fight club. The first rule of fight club is: do not talk about fight club. The second rule is: do not talk about fight club… The eighth and final rule is: if it’s your first night… you have to fight.
To some readers, the very point of Chuck Palahniuk having written those rules in his book (called… Fight Club) is that those rules were meant to be broken. And, in the spirit of Project Mayhem, rules that are repeated should definitely be broken.
Break the rule. Talk about mental illness.
I wanna escape the status quo of societal treatment of mental illness. Right now knowing someone else who experiences mental illness is like a wink- someone who understands you and you, them. But it’s still not openly talked about. I asked my psychiatrist to display my Christmas card a few years ago because I was proud to visit a psychiatrist, proud of my progress, and an advocate for seeking help that’s needed. I want patients to come in his office, see my and Rick’s photo on the bulletin board and say, “hey, that looks like a regular person, just like me.” It’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, seeking help and making strides should be celebrated.
I’ve said for a long time that with my affluent white lady privilege I’m happy to die on the hill of normalizing mental illness. I believe I have a responsibility to do something with these unearned gifts, and this is my cause.
I encourage you all to talk about mental illness like you would Parkinson’s or macular degeneration. Talk about it as you would epilepsy or pancreatic cancer. As you would the use of a cane or hearing aid. The only difference is that all of the aforementioned have, at some point, outward indicators of the issue at hand. Because mental illness typically does not have an outward indicator and is still in the throes of destigmatization, it may as well not exist to people with and without it who don’t have a community telling them otherwise.
Sample script of normalizing the conversation:
“Hey, Bailey, how are you? Congratulations on graduating!”
“Thank you, friend. Exciting times, although a bit anticlimactic during a pandemic.”
“I know, that sucks. I’m sorry! Are you writing your book?”
“You know, I’ve actually been struggling with my depression more than usual lately, which reflects in my creative output. Our new lives in the age of COVID don’t help, either.”
“Oh, man, I’m so sorry to hear that. My anxiety was absolutely out of control in 2017…”
“Oh, so you get it! It’s nice to feel understood. But, I’ve been working with my psychiatrist on how to best move forward. How’re you doing now?”
And so on, and so forth. Sometimes your honesty might receive a wide-eyed stare or an uncomfortable laugh. That’s okay. The more these things are touched on, the more used to it people will become.
In a conversation between friends:
“You know, I met this girl Bailey last week who writes and talks about her struggles with mental illness. She’s described her body feeling heavy and life feeling hopeless sometimes.”
“Uh, she sounds… delightful.”
“For real she was funny and nice. I would’ve never guessed she had issues like that. I wonder if you might be experiencing something like she does?”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that, maybe you’re depressed. You’re funny and nice, too, and you deserve a well-rounded life. You can have that, you know. Having mental illness seems to be something a lot of people deal with, now that I think about it…”
If I’d never been open with that first person, the following conversation wouldn’t have happened.
The first rule about mental illness is: don’t talk about mental illness. The second rule of mental illness is: don’t talk about mental illness. Wink, wink. We are a community, and a welcoming one at that. Break the “rules,” invite someone in. Don’t be frustrated by people who don’t believe in mental illness. This is all going to take some time. Embracing invisible illness is hard. My parents didn’t even fully grasp it until they saw me have a completely meltdown last summer, and they’ve known me better than just about anyone else for 32 years!
Fight the good fight. Open yourself up to others and be receptive to them, too. Allow space for nuance and a space for grace. #spaceforgrace
See ya next Wednesday.
Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.
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If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.