Last time I left off with the grandiose and radically claim that current attitudes towards mental illness are killing us. Here is my justification. Also, Trigger Warning for Suicide and Angst.
People internalize attitudes. It is why aboriginal people can be racist towards aboriginal people, why women can be mysogynists, anf why homosexuals can be homophobic. When you are raised in a culture you are immersed in the assumptions of that culture’s unwritten rules that we all ‘know’ to be true. For example: wearing a hat inside is rude. Wearing a hat at a funeral is rude. Wearing a hat into court is rude. What you may not know is that hats being rude is a Christian value, and there are many religions where wearing headgear is a sign of respect (Sikhs, Muslims and Jews are a few examples). So the claim that hats are rude is a cultural assumption that is very North American, but also found in nations that were historically established as Christian territories.
These assumptions are based on our histories, our mythologies, and our current institutions. They are re-enforced in our media, in our political system, and in our legal structure. Having them is how we build a society. But problems occur when we refuse to examine these assumptions and they become oppressive. A Canadian Muslim woman was denied the right to present a court case in Quebec because the judge deemed her headwear to be rude and demanded that this woman remove her hijab, while the woman didn’t because her hijab was how she demonstrates her faith and being forced to remove it is religious oppression.
Right now, we have a lot of assumptions about neurodivergency that are killing people.
The first time I seriously considered suicide I was in my mid teens- around 15, 16- and I had come into the possession of five feet of rope and our house had an unfinished basement, which meant exposed rafters. I fantasized quite seriously but I never followed through on anything that could be called an attempt because my little brother would have been the person to find me, and my older sister would have never forgiven me for that. That wasn’t the last time. That wasn’t the last time that year. But one thing never changed. My little brother would find me.
Then I moved out. Things got a bit better for a while until they weren’t anymore, because that is what being sick means.
When I was 21 I was severely depressed. To this day it remains my worst episode. I would go for days without sleeping and then sleep for days. I only left my room for food, and my room was tiny-maybe three and a half feet by seven feet?- and I only left the house when the food in the fridge was all gone, which took a long time because I was eating small meals once a day, and by meals I mean something out of a can because I certainly wasn’t cooking. The only people I interacted with were online and my friend Kate, which is also complicated but a story for another time. Also, Kate was an agoraphobic so she was still more of an online friend. And everyone but here thought I was a guy, probably from the states but possibly from Europe. My actually personal life was never a topic of discussion. When we were sharing details, I lied. When they wanted pictures I used ones of a guy who had a travel blog and claimed to be him. I wasn’t working and had a little bit of savings scraped together, that lasted longer than it should have because I wasn’t leaving the house, what with all the social anxiety.
I started to think about suicide a lot. This wasn’t the warning sign it should have been, because I had been flirting with suicidal thoughts since the first time I got serious about it. They’d come and go and were so familiar they were comfortable instead of terrifying. It was like having an option in an option-less world. Even if I wasn’t planning on taking it, it was nice to know it was there. I made and discarded plans with varying degrees of seriousness. The weirdest part was that I wasn’t always unhappy. I was a satire troll on this one website, which means I was a hilarious jerk who attacked opinions instead of people, and I enjoyed that immensely. Kate acted as my partner in crime and man, did we have schemes. I took over the forum so thoroughly that someone wrote me a bible and I founded a Troll Guild and was invited into the Troll Basher Guild. It was fun.
But I wasn’t okay.
I wasn’t making plans to get back at everyone, but I was in a lot of pain. Much of it was physical. I developed an unspecified form of arthritis (still unspecified) at 18 and was undiagnosed bipolar, so I lost a lot of friends and many of the people left weren’t good for me. My family, turbulent at the best of times, wasn’t giving me a lot of support. I got told to stop wallowing a lot. I didn’t handle my arthritis gracefully but I was young and damaged and losing the ability to handwrite. So whatever.
I remember I was walking somewhere. I lived in a small city, so no public transit and taxis were sketchy and expensive. Also, I don’t drive, so if I had somewhere to go I walked. I was headed to a department store, Zellers or Walmart or something. There was a four-lane highway that cut through town, busy because it was a main route and often used for trucking.
I still remember very clearly watching the cars go by as I was walking, and wondering what it would be like to step in front of one. How much would it hurt? How could I make it hurt less? How close would I have to time it to get maximum impact before they were able to slam on the brakes? Which model would get the job done?
I was obsessing. It was a hyper-focus. It’s another symptom of mine in either side of a swing. I latch onto an obsession and I can’t let go or be rational or reasonable about it. And in this case I had this deep, unyielding need to know. I don’t remember why I snapped out of it, but I do remember looking down at my feet and discovering I had crossed from the far side of the sidewalk so I was closer to the road. I was maybe an inch from stepping off the curb. I didn’t remember moving.
And that scared me.
I called Kate and made me take me to a walk in so I couldn’t run away before my appointment. I still had a small panic attack. And I was still crying because I was so terrified the doctor would tell me I was fine because that was the only thing I knew I needed. I needed someone else to tell me I wasn’t fine. The doctor was good enough. He believed me, gave me samples of an anti-depressant, and told me how to get to a psychiatric walk in. By the next week I had a job interview, a crappy psychiatrist, and a manic episode, but I wouldn’t be diagnosed bipolar for three more years.
My family doesn’t know the only reason I sought treatment was because I was suicidal. But I now know that they had been worried about me for months. They had been talking to each other about it. But not to me. No one called me. No one came to see me. And until I started walking towards the road possessed by the sound of breaking glass I thought I was fine because no one who could see that I wasn’t bothered to tell me. And as someone who is ill, I lacked the mental capacity to figure this out on my own.
I had a narrative. I was taking time off for me. I was slumming it. Wearing pyjamas all day was a way of spoiling myself. I was being frugal by not eating. Sleep was for the weak. My down moments were passing moments of emotional weakness that just proved me to be a self-centered individual who couldn’t stop wallowing in self pity, even though other people have it worse.
And that’s the thing. People who are neurodivergent are the last to notice. We have either always been like that, because we have been undiagnosed since day one or we rewrite the story so our current behavior seems like its always been, or we fall into it so gradually that the sinking from yesterday to tomorrow seems miniscule, but over the span of a month has become catastrophic. I used to joke about being bipolar, and sometimes it was because I was scared it was true, but mostly it was to justify my ‘quirks’, like how stress made me hyper (manic) and then I calmed down and was fine (depressed). So we need other people to point this out. And no one ever does because it is uncomfortable or because the other person may take it poorly or it isn’t our place.
But even after identifying the problem it doesn’t get better. Bipolar patients go off their meds all the time because they believe they are ‘cured’. Because that is what society tells us. Taking pills = being sick. Not taking pills= being cured. This is a dangerous false dichotomy. It simply isn’t true. As is not taking pills = strong. Going to Bipolar Forums is terrifying for me because of the number of people who aren’t taking medicine and are expecting to control it through will power. Being bipolar means your willpower is broken. You have failed your will check. Also, physical. You don’t will a wound to stop bleeding. You apply pressure, find a doctor, and stitch that sucker.
Or you die.
So it is up to us, the cops who arrest us over and over again (I’m 4 times more likely to be arrested) or the doctors who see is for an hour once and a while or have revived us after our latest botched suicide attempt to figure out we are sick, instead of the people who know us well enough to be worried. And when we are sick we need to get better (ie cured) instead of accepting that we are neurodivergent and it isn’t are fault. We aren’t weak. And not being able to be cured doesn’t mean that things don’t get better.
I’m lucky I was hit with arthritis first. It taught me that lesson before I was diagnosed bipolar, and it was hard enough to learn when it was a fairly common physical issue. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to sort through while trying to accept that I really do go a little crazy sometimes in a world where going crazy isn’t really a thing.
But even after all this there are more problems. I have to brow beat my support network into willing to be able to point out I’m in an episode. They’ve been taught to not talk about it their entire lives and the one thing I need is for them to mention it to be. The worst case scenario is that I don’t believe you, and if I am irrational in my disbelief then they know they are right and can take appropriate actions, like telling me I really don’t need a $200 Darth Vader plushy.
My mom believes I should be off medication because I had a bad round with something that washed me out. My dad believes I should be on medication but that I was raped* in my second year of university and if I could admit it and talk it through I would come out cured.
*I was not. I’ve told him. I’m telling you on my super over share personal blog. I’ve never been raped. I promised myself I wasn’t going to consciously lie here, because the only person I would be lying to would be me. But my parents are both obsessed with the idea I will be/have been. They have problems.
Back to the main point. I’ve discovered I’m sick. I’m miles ahead of almost everyone else because I’m okay with being sick. This is something I want you all to know. Despite the fact that I have bad days, I’m actually kinda okay. I don’t resent this. I’m okay with being sick and I know the difference between being cured and being in remission and I know which one to aim for. And people still do not believe I am sick or that drugs will help. My older sister believes me when I am manic, but has not actually discussed what manic me needs (needs, not wants. Very different). She’s great with depressed me though, and to be fair I need to approach her and tell her what I need when high.
And once again, I’m lucky. I took philosophy in school and it saves my life over and over. Logic is more important to me than being emotionally comfortable, so when people tell me I’m manic I’m able to consciously consider if they are right and still make a reasonable judgment. So far they’ve always been right. And I logically know my parents are incorrect about my state and how I need to deal with it, though the idea that I can be fine and off meds is romantic and emotionally alluring, it is like a siren leading sailors to death.
And it is all of this, together, that is killing us. We aren’t sick. But if we are it isn’t real. And if it is we will get better. And if we don’t we are weak.
There is a TED talk about the speaker’s experiences with suicide. It’s quite powerful and I recommend it. I’ve linked it below. It’s not for those easily triggered, and the comments are worse. But I suggest going through them and see what I mean. There is a lot about suicide being self. There are a lot on how this isn’t the real story. There are a lot of comments that kill us.