It may seem that my blog entries thus far are very positive, that I have gotten better as a result of my treatment at Menninger and at the step-down afterwards. I think I have improved a lot since I arrived, and most people who know me (or have gotten to know me) would probably agree. But while I have certainly improved, I think it is important to note that I will never be cured.
Mental illness is a life sentence. Whether you have depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or any other mental disorder, you won’t ever be entirely free of it. Medication can help to lessen the symptoms, and therapy can make it easier to change how you think, but nothing can make it go away completely. Those of us who have them have to deal with this unfortunate truth on a daily basis.
It is a hard thing to deal with. Broken bones heal; the flu has a vaccine; you can tough out the average cold. But like inoperable cancer, this is something we will have to deal with every day until the day we die. And even with medication and therapy, there are no guarantees. We might become resistant to the medication, or find that therapy methods that worked yesterday don’t work today. All we can do is go back to our doctors and see if we can find something new that works, and try not to lose hope.
One of the worst parts of having a mental illness today is that for the most part, people who don’t have mental illnesses have difficulty understanding those who do. This isn’t the problem of those without mental illness, though, any more than it is a cancer-free person’s problem having trouble understanding cancer. It comes down to the fact that our thought processes work differently, even while in treatment and on medication, and that is hard to explain.
Even worse is the way those with mental illness are treated by society at large. TV and movies tend to portray mental illnesses in ridiculously exaggerated or outright false ways, and this colors the perceptions of others. When things like school shootings happen, mental illness is always suspected, and those of us who did not commit a crime must bear the stigma. We have to be careful about who we reveal our illnesses to, lest we be fired, transferred, demoted, or never hired in the first place. And because there are no visible symptoms of most mental illnesses – they are, literally, all in our heads – people constantly wonder if we are really sick or if we are faking. They think that because there aren’t any signs, that it must be easy to fix, or that we were weak because we succumbed.
I have had to watch as friends were discriminated against because of something in their heads they could not control. I have felt how awful it feels to have someone close to you believe that your mental illness isn’t real, and you can fix it if you just work hard enough. I’ve heard of people committing suicide because it was all just too much. I had to come to Menninger in Texas because there was simply not a treatment center of the same caliber closer to St. Louis. It is a sad truth that mental health care is lacking all across the country, if not much of the world. It is very real, and, as of now, there is no cure.
We don’t want pity, though. What we want is support from those who care about us, help from those who care to give it, and the ability to abate our symptoms enough to live relatively normal lives. We may have to live with it, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t fighting it every day.