On most days, I don’t think about my mental illness. In fact, most of the time, the only time I think about it is when I take my meds, as they are the only reminder I truly have of my mental state. Otherwise, my life is fairly normal. My bipolar disorder doesn’t dominate my life, and isn’t the focus of my daily life. In fact, it really only becomes a focus if I find myself fading into darkness, or becoming a bit too manic. And those are not that often.
But, when people hear the words mental illness, regardless of the actual diagnosis, they begin to become a bit frothy and indignant toward anyone, pointing fingers as if they had the plague. Oftentimes not realizing what technically qualifies as as a mental illness.
For one, most look at news headlines, and whenever there is a major crime, the words “mentally unstable”, “bipolar”, or “schizophrenic” often are used freely, but often in a misunderstood and misused way. Thus creating a stigma against the everyday citizen who may just be struggling to get by on a daily basis to just feel normal that day. In fact, the majority of us who struggle with mental illness have no desire to harm another individual. If we want to harm someone, it is generally ourselves.
In order to understand and not stigmatize mental illness, we must first understand that there are different types of mental illnesses. They are generally categorized under disorders, so I will go through them by these.
First, anxiety disorders is generally characterized by a response to situations or objects with fear or dread, as well as physical signs of anxiety or panic. Usually, people with this disorder are unable to control their responses to these situations. For example, after the I-35E bridge collapse on August 1, 2007, I found myself to have an uncontrolled panic attack anytime I would find myself unable to avoid crossing large bridges. Most notably ones that were high, long, or both. I had crossed that bridge just hours before the collapse, so my response, while irrational, is not 100% without cause. Other anxiety disorders include general anxiety disorder, general phobias, panic disorders, and social anxiety disorders.
Next is mood disorders, also called affective disorders. This is where your depression, cyclomythic, and bipolar disorder would reside. Most would be familiar with the periods of extreme sadness, but periods of extreme happiness are also included. Bipolar disorder 1, which is what I have, is a fluctuation between the two.
Psychotic disorders are where distorted thinking and awareness lie. This is where hallucinations and delusions become most common. Schizophrenia is one of the most common disorders in this realm.
Eating disorders is an ever growing concern among young adults and teens, and even younger children. These include a wide fluctuation from bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and even binge eating. These disorders are fixated on the body dysmorphia and an individual’s inability to see their body as it truly is.
Impulse control and addiction disorders is one that most do not consider. This is where people have the inability to resist the control their urges. Most usually relate this to kleptomania and compulsive gambling, but it can relate to other avenues, as well. Such as, sexual, food, drug, alcohol, spending, and other addictions.
Personality disorders is one of the more commonly known disorders where borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder reside. There are times where these may also be triggered by a trauma that has also caused PTSD, or may be a chemical imbalance, as well. These are disorders that affect an individual in social situations that can impact their school, work, and interpersonal relationships.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is one that a lot of people like to make fun of, but if you have ever struggled with it, you know it is no joke. OCD people feel like they are plagued with thoughts or fears that cause them to perform actions or tasks in a ritualistic or patterned manner/routine. The thoughts that are aligned with these are called obsessions, with the rituals being obsessions (which is where the obsessive compulsive comes from).
Post traumatic stress disorder is something that many can relate to. An individual who has experienced an event or activity that has left them marred mentally, physically, or emotionally, will leave long lasting mental stressors in the form of frightening thoughts and nightmares. These can trigger other disorders in this list, such as clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, and others.
One thing that I have learned over time is that many who have one disorder, generally have another underlying disorder to accompany it. This does not make an individual broken or evil. Knowing what an individual is dealing with helps them know how to treat it and how to work to make their lives as normal as possible.
My biggest thing is that I hate labels that society places on people. Another list of mental illnesses included other disorders such as ADHD, dementia, autism, and several others. What is surprising to me is that 1 in 5 Americans has a mental illness, while many more remain undiagnosed for one reason or another. Some remain undiagnosed out of pride, others out of fear, others out of not knowing about programs to get free or reduced cost help.
Mental illness should not be a stigmatized category in our world. Nor should it be feared. The thing I want most to do with this blog is to educate and help people to better understand what mental illness really is, and what it is not. And what it is not is a dead end for the people with it.