on mental illness

Why mental health matters to everyone:

Mental health is the well-being of human beings. Our ability to feel connected, of service, and part of something greater than ourselves; our ability to experience fulfillment and provide for ourselves; our ability to establish a sense of belonging and feel like a valued member of community; our ability to lend a hand, and reach out for one when needed; our capacity for diversity, our resiliency in the face of adversity; our ability to establish and maintain balance of work and play — all of these, as individuals, communities and the planet.

October 17, 2011: “What to Say to People”

I live with an emotional disorder that gives me the following characteristics:

  1. I often don’t know where I stand with people.
  2. I often can’t tell if I’ve really screwed up, or I just think I have.
  3. My sense of confidence and status is highly unstable.
  4. My energy and creativity are highly sporadic.
  5. I often engage in activities impulsively and compulsively.
  6. I tend to be a perfectionist, and sometimes overcompensate for this with sloppiness.
  7. I need extra re-assurance, feedback, honesty and validation.

Yes, we all feel unsure of ourselves at times, and we all have different moods; it is the intensity and extreme of these things, and how much we are affected by them that determines and defines mental illness. And how chronic they are; when they cannot be alleviated or healed by simply thinking positively or not giving fuel to our “negative thoughts”, and when they affect our ability to live well and be fulfilled, it is mental illness. We must deeply and intimately know the cards we have truly been dealt in order to adjust our expectations appropriately and play our given cards well.

In short, it’s only a label for a certain experience of life. But the role that such a label plays:

  1. To offer additional support to those who struggle to lead healthy lives and experience well-being due to emotional and/or psychological intensity.
  2. Naming emotional states also helps to identify and recognize them. By doing this, I can choose to manage myself accordingly, and reduce the harm these states may cause to my well-being.
  3. Illuminates the fact that I am not alone in the patterns and cycles I experience, and sheds light on them.
  4. Helps me to be gentle on myself.
  5. Helps others to understand me.

I guess one could resent the word “illness”. It’s more like an emotional / psychological reality I find myself in, having led the life I have led, with the personality I have.

It seems I might not meet the criteria for bipolar 2 because I am so (painfully) aware and articulate of what is going on for me. Would that not be even more of a concern than the usual bipolar 2? I mean who wouldn’t want to off themselves after 30 years of witnessing mental illness, knowing exactly what is happening, as it’s happening, seeing it isolate, and yet not be able to change the pattern? I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

The people in my life who mean anything to me understand and are supportive. They are not the people who disregard me or write me off, or who can’t figure out what to say so don’t say anything and disappear out the “back door.”

With this realization, I suddenly felt like a piece of cattle. Like I was no longer unique in the world, no longer a human being. I am a Borderline. I am a number. I am predictable. I am being herded.

There was always the (incredibly agonizing as it may have been) perception that I had a choice. But now I have been seen, now I have exhibited this pathology without even being aware of it.

Whether i choose to believe that it is solely a chemical imbalance in my brain or a deep psychological wound from my past and the cumulative effect of my life on me, the thing that i am realizing with a lot of relief is to give myself a break for not overcoming it.

Knowing that my ideas and visions can get so out of hand and my intensity can sabatauge it all and that i can come crashing down at the end of it is simply good information.

The stigma – the common perception of mental illness, of psych wards and over-medication and the loss of truth and integrity and reality—kills me; but the validation is my only hope

I can hear a lot of people in my mind rebelling, criticizing me, that I have given up by “admitting” mental illness when in reality I am perfectly fine. After all, if I am “not fine” then neither are they.

The misperceived and ridiculously exaggerated gap between normal and pathological experience seems to be the staple fuel for the stigma fire. The fact that the gap is not actually that big at all is so terrifying because of the terrible reputation that the most extreme cases of mental illness have given mental illness. If I am mentally ill, then mental illness is just not as scary and horrible as most of us have been lead to believe. The gap is not so wide. It is not such a dramatic leap I am making. I am still me.

No one is crazy, or we all are; it depends on whether the glass is half empty or half full.

So many pieces of music, feelings and inclinations all pulling and grappling for my focus. There is so much I could do now while I am capable that I don’t know where to begin. After several minutes unable to commit to anything, I decided to write.


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