Why do you think those of us who have mental illness tend to hide when we’re not feeling well? The easy answer is: stigma and misunderstanding.
The more complex answer, although the above is true, is that perhaps we are like birds. No, I’m not making fun of us, I’m just telling you that in a flock of birds, if one is sick the others will turn on it so birds go to great lengths to not appear sick even if they are. I learned this when my darling cockatiel died from a respiratory infection. She put her best face forward and it was difficult to really tell that she was sick. I only knew because she would no longer eat and she sat on her perch all puffed up. When I took her out of her cage she rallied and was as affectionate as always. I took her to an avian vet and he told me she was getting ready to die. I lost it and asked for a few minutes with her, Nils. I held her against my chest, my lips on her tiny musty smelling head and cried and cried. The vet made a clay imprint of her feet with her name in alphabet beads. I cried for days.
When I don’t feel well I don’t broadcast the fact but I also don’t lie about it. I make light of it and perhaps I should be more honest. On examination, I make light of it to people who are not mentally ill and who don’t necessarily understand how it feels to not feel mentally well. In this I am like a bird. I’m afraid of stigma. And it is stigma and misunderstanding that keep me quiet.
You might say that I’m not making sense since I speak in front of large audiences, people who are not mentally ill. I must say that speaking is very different from talking on the phone or talking to a friend one on one. When I speak to a crowd I am there to specifically talk about my journey with mental illness. I also touch on my son’s journey. I’m there to be an example of what can be done with a life burdened by living with a mental illness.
Otherwise, I’m just a person living my life, loving my kids, taking care of my doggies, going to the grocery store, paying bills and on and on and on! Mental illness tends to be cyclical so my mood, during any of the above activities, can change. As mentally ill people we have to shop for groceries no matter how we feel, we have to pay our bills no matter what. We have lives and those lives must be led. I don’t like using my mental illness as an excuse for not living life well. But it is a reason and if I’m not doing well, if my mood is not okay, I don’t need to apologize. Feeling like I have to apologize is stigma at work.
So, I will leave you with one question: Do you push yourself to rally on a bad day just so no one will know that you are suffering?
And one answer: Slam against that stigma and if you’re not feeling well because of your mental illness, just say so and fight stigma by doing so.