We need a new poster child for mental illness. It is obvious the old one is not working. Maybe it should be a working mother, a neighbour, your best friend or a co-worker. It might even be you. If we are still questioning whether mental illness exists, I would have to reply with that timeless cliche, "Walk a mile in my shoes".
I would not wish this life on anyone. I cannot count the number of times people have said to me "but you look so normal". Just what is that supposed to mean? I am not sure what others think a person with a mental illness looks like. Mental illness affects all of us in one way or another. As a society, we love to pigeonhole people into categories. The problem with this is that people are multi-dimensional. You cannot just hang a tag on someone that says "mentally ill" and expect him or her to act a certain way. There is no huge umbrella that covers every situation. For instance, a person with schizophrenia is mentally ill but not all mentally ill people have schizophrenia. There are numerous types and degrees of mental illness and not all of us, or very many of us for that matter, belong in the non-functioning class of mental illness.
Twenty-five percent of the population will, at some point in their lives, experience mental illness. If you do not actually experience it then you probably know someone who has. I believe what scares people about mental illness is that they cannot see it. If you have a broken leg, people see it in a cast. When it is better, the cast comes off. Mental illness is not like that. You cannot see it; you can only see what it does to people.
I was diagnosed with mixed rapid-cycling bipolar type 1 around ten years ago. I was actually happy because finally I knew that there was a name for what was wrong with me. I had known forever that there was something that just did not fit together as it should and now I knew why. Little did I know that the diagnosis was just the beginning of a long, difficult journey, both for me and everyone who knew me. The people closest to me treated me horribly. It was not on purpose but that did not make it hurt any less. Most of my siblings are well-educated people, who chose to ignore the fact that I was ill. They decided I was a drug addict. I do not even drink let alone take drugs. I thought they knew me better than that. It was so much easier for them to consider me a junkie or an alcoholic rather than a person that is mentally ill. My parents were the first people to say that I did not inherit the illness from them because no one in their family had it.
I raised my daughter in such a way that she always knew what I had. As she grew older, I told her what I thought she was capable of comprehending. She has dealt with information very well and I believe it has made her a stronger and more compassionate young woman. My daughter never passes up a chance to educate her schoolmates on what mental illness is all about. I have always tried so hard to make sure that she does not become the parent and me the child. My daughter has always been my reason to keep going, fight harder, and comply with my medication. I pray that she does not get the same illness that I have. Anyone who believes that mental illness does not exist has the right to his opinion. All I know is that I fight every single day to keep my particular demons under control. Please understand that no one, absolutely no one, chooses to live this way.