Having a mental illness makes a great actor. All we do is act, act to make the people around us comfortable. Act to stay normal, act to hide hurt, act to hide pain, act to hide our illness. Act to hide the fact that we can be sick. That we have weakness, that we have symptoms, that we are ill. We’d make great athletes, push on through the pain.
As someone with a mental illness I spend most of my suffering in silence. The truth is, when I’m hurting, it makes people uncomfortable. As much as people can hear the science, think they “get” the concepts and read the words on paper, reality is a different matter. I’m meant to be happy, bubbly, positive, energetic… not sad, depressed, withdrawn, in pain from inner demons. I become almost a pariah, people tiptoe around me, fidget nervously, scared to touch me, like I’m a monster that might implode. That I might bite you?
I’m just sick, there’s nothing wrong with being sick but you make me feel like I’m an outcast. If I had the flu, you’d be by my side, tending to my fever, helping me eat, checkin on me, wanting to make me comfortable, asking if I was feeling better and staying by my side. I can give you the flu, I can’t give you a mental illness. I need TLC, I need caring and a gentle touch, just like if I did have the flu or broke my leg. I don’t need to be ignored, treated like a leper, walked around, gaze avoided, like I am the bearer of some contagious disease, that I might infect or hurt you. That I am so strange you would spend as much time away from me while sick, as opposed to helping me through.
So, what do we learn when we’re sick, that stigma always raises its head, it makes us feel different, that what we have is outside the boundaries of normal. That we don’t fit, that our illness is not acceptable. We know how people with AIDS feel, why they want to hide, why they suffer in the shadows. Stigma. People are scared of what they don’t know, what they can’t see, what they can’t explain into a little box, or find a solution for on Google. And so we pretend. We feel sick inside, our fevers are raging and yet we put on that happy face and pretend, drag our bodies through the motions to make the people around us comfortable, put ourselves in the box that makes people happy, make us explainable.
And we suffer in silence. Stigmatized. Isolated. Alone. This is our dirty little secret, we make this our normal so you can keep your normal. We adapt to you so we can belong, we can be accepted. The truth is we can’t come out of our closets. I mean, yes we can, on paper, logically, but not with any symptoms, not publicly. Because from that point on, there’s something wrong with us. No one looks at us the same again because we’re “different”, we make them uncomfortable, we make you step out of the box.
And so alone, eaten up inside, and pretending to be OK so the world feels OK. Aches, pains and fevers along with a stiff upper lip, ignored, pariah, leper, weirdo, psycho, crazy. I’m just sad, sad enough that it hurts, do you think I want to be alone and ignored when I’m sad, would you? Do you think it feels good to be sick and kicked to the curb, shivering while the world walks around you like the beggar on the street. We avoid their eyes, scared to look at poverty and suffering. It’s pretty similar what you’re doing to us. You like us when we’re pretty and shiny, not so much when the tarnish starts to show.
It’s just a flu, it passes, we’re not abnormal. You’re hurting me. I’m hurting me. #nomorestigma