Mental illness is a lot of things. Debilitating, alienating, painful, survivable, stigmatized, misunderstood – to name but a few. But it isn’t special.
I’ll explain myself in a minute, but I want you to keep that statement in mind while you read over the next few paragraphs of this post.
We live in a world where pretty much everything is offensive. Political correctness runs rampant, and Feelings Are Hurt as easily as a peach bruises. I’d like to note I’m not always exempt from this, though I try to monitor myself when I take offense at any given situation and question why I’m really getting upset and whether those reasons are strong enough that I can justify my Hurt Feelings.
Anyway, my point here is not necessarily that we should stop taking offense at things, or even necessarily that we should find less things offensive, though that’s probably a blog post for another time. What I’m trying to point out here is that I write a blog on the Internet, and quite often the content of this blog deals with sensitive subjects (primarily but not always mental illness-related), and quite often my posts contain my own personal opinions on the subject matter. My personal opinions are not going to be shared by everybody. In fact, lots of people are probably going to disagree. That’s good! I’m probably also going to offend people along the way, mainly because I’m a flawed human being just like anyone else, but also because sometimes people need to be offended. Whoops, I said it.
Anyway, let me apologise if the views on and/or handling of the subject matter on this post, or any post before or hence, offends you. If you disagree with something I’ve said, please feel free to write a comment explaining why. I want to always remain open to other points of view, and to challenge the way I think about important issues. However, I do kindly ask that you don’t be a dick about it. ‘Being a dick about it’ includes, but is not limited to, “YOU SAID THIS ONE THING WHICH OFFENDS ME ON A PERSONAL LEVEL SO YOU’RE FUCKING STUPID AND U SHOULD GO DIE IN HELL”. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I seen it happen before on the Internet and I wanna make sure I’ve covered my ass.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I want to return to my opening statement: mental illness isn’t special.
And what I mean here when I use the word “special” is that mental illness isn’t a quirky character trait that makes you a super shiny special snowflake. It’s not cool. It’s not something you decide you have because you felt a bit sad one day or because you wanna seem more deep and complex. “But Beth, where is this even coming from?” I hear you wondering. Well, about a year ago, I posted a lengthy status to my personal Facebook account which kinda spoke about this subject. Here’s a condensed version for you to read.
There’s a worrying subculture that exists on Tumblr, one of the features of which is diagnosing oneself with various mental disorders. As someone who legitimately suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and was diagnosed by an actual doctor, this really gets under my skin. I haven’t been very open about my anxiety or panic attacks on Facebook in the past, but I do think this is something that needs to be addressed.
These “social justice warriors” typically list in their about pages a plethora of mental disorders, including OCD, bipolar, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, that are all admittedly ‘self-diagnosed ;)’. (Alongside this they will usually have a ridiculous list of trigger warnings, but that’s fodder for a separate discussion.) They use these mental disorders, among other things, to build themselves up as super special snowflakekin, and expect the rest of the Internet to treat them as such. The way they wear these mental disorders as accessories and expect special cottonwool treatment because of them really fucks me off.
Having a mental disorder is not fun. I would do so much to be rid of my anxiety for good, so it really bothers me that these people who have never even been to a doctor are waving anxiety around like a flag. You want to have anxiety? You can fucking have mine.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely support open discussion about mental disorders. There’s this weird stigma surrounding them, and it would be awesome if that didn’t exist and people could feel comfortable saying, ‘yeah, I have depression’ or whatever. But this needs to happen in a constructive and positive way, and all these people going around diagnosing themselves kind of takes some of the gravity away from people who actually have to deal with mental disorders every day. Not to mention it’s a bit insulting that someone would take something that made my life hell for months and wear it like a badge denoting their special snowflake status.
People like these Tumblrinas, who self-diagnose and wear mental illnesses like accessories, contribute to societal misunderstanding of mental illness. It becomes difficult to take mental illness seriously when a lot of people treat it like it’s something you can choose to have, or like feeling slightly sad instantly means you totally have depression and also probably anxiety disorder and also PTSD as well. And don’t even get me started on self-diagnosing.
It’s important to see and understanding mental illnesses for what they really are: illnesses. This is something I will continue to reiterate five ever and ever amen, or at least until I feel it stops being necessary to say it, because people already know. What mental illnesses are not is a get out of jail free card, something you can whip out every time you feel like not doing your homework or not eating your greens. I don’t say that lightly – it’s a delicate statement to make and I am well aware of the importance of recognising that mental illnesses often impair people’s ability to perform otherwise-easy tasks such as getting up, getting dressed, eating meals. But this applies to people with diagnosable mental disorders, not cotton wool kids who are mentally fine but just don’t want to have to do anything for themselves, or who want to use mental illnesses as badges they pin to their chests to show how cool and unique and special they are. In case you couldn’t tell, this is something that frustrates me a lot.
Do I feel special because of my anxiety disorder? Certainly not. I feel like it impacts my life and colours the way I act and the way I view the world. But “special” is the wrong word for it. It’s not a character quirk that makes me more interesting. Loads of people have anxiety disorders for chrissakes. It’s not something I actually feel like going around telling everybody (read: waving around in everyone’s face like look at me, look at how DIFFICULT my life is). It is something I would much rather do without. I’m stuck with it, though, so I get the fun task of figuring out how to live a full and meaningful life regardless.
You might have a lot of feelings about this post. Not everyone’s going to like it. If you do have thoughts, whether in support or in opposition to anything I’ve said here, please feel free to leave me a comment and we can talk about it! I love discussions!
I want to end this post by saying that if you do feel like you might have a mental illness, please seek out professional medical advice if at all possible. I delayed this for too long and regret doing so, as it has made such a difference to my life and to managing my disorder. I hope you’re all having a happy Sunday, and I’ll talk to you again next week!