Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How Do The Mentally Ill LOOK?

A few of you yesterday brought up a really good point about my story about the man with the purple beard. A few of you thought he might also have a mental illness. You are right and that is entirely possible and in some ways I did to him what many others do to our loved ones. I judged him. It's tough to say exactly what was wrong with him, if anything at all, but in a lot of ways it doesn't change my mind about the experience. Here's why.

I have been in many similar situations that included people from all walks of life. One such incident was with the doctor who does my occasional botox. I'll never forget telling him about Thomas and I'll never forget his reaction. THIS man is THE SWEETEST, FUNNIEST, KINDEST professional I have run into. He has done good work for myself and my family and he has always done it with a kind of love. That was why when I told him and he reacted in the WEIRDEST way and literally (again) said nothing and turned the conversation to something else that I was a bit shocked and bewildered. Even more interesting was how forthright he had been in the past about his own bipolar disorder and how accepting he was of me and how solicitous of me he's been when I have talked about my own illness. I was left, from that experience, wondering what it was about Thomas having schizophrenia that shut him up. He knew he was in safe company with myself and my mom and I don't think there was one thing wrong he could have said to me had he replied to my announcement. Even if he had been disparaging I know as sure as I sit here writing this, that he would have stopped to have a conversation about it with me had the whole thing been pursued. He wasn't my first time I was met with silence about this subject and he wasn't my last.

I think my issue with the man with the purple goatee was a part of the larger picture about society. I see it all the time and read about it all the time. People are just not receptive, for the most part, when the subject of mental illness comes up. People are scared. People run that piece of information through their minds and take less than a moment to decide for themselves the exact character of someone with a mental illness. It's a sad statement on society and it's what I work here to change.

Still, people just don't see mental illness in the way that a lot of you here do. We all know that this is a biological issue and it's no different than cancer or diabetes. The difference between us and someone with cancer is that our brains are affected and as such our behavior is different, often scary to those who don't understand. They hear the word "antipsychotic" when you talk about the medication your loved one is on and they hear the worst possible thing. Psychotic. Dear God that person gets psychotic and worse yet, people decide from that exactly how our loved ones behave never mind that we are often acting out in ways that are imperceptible to the average person. Thomas is often psychotic but he still gets told sometimes that he "looks fine" or "looks happy" and right then and there they decide that because he "looks" a certain way then he's fine. Take that same person, though, and tell them he's paranoid and believes the government is following him and suddenly he's a pariah and people turn away. How Thomas "looks" didn't change however people's perception of him does when they discover his mind works differently from theirs.

It's society as a whole that irks me. Unfortunately purple goatee man appeared to embody the very thing that upsets me about society. His reaction is indicative of a vast majority of people and therefore I "judged" him based on that. Who's to say that he does or doesn't also live with a mental illness? I can't say for sure and I won't try. I try my level best to live my life not labeling people's behaviors as that of someone with a mental illness. The way I understand it anyway is that there are a lot of us out there living with a mental illness and many of us you wouldn't know we deal with a private hell. I know there's not a soul around me that would say "oh, she's bipolar" because I have worked an entire lifetime learning to keep that fact to myself and to rein in any behaviors that might get me prejudged and shunned. To the world outside the walls of my home I am just an ordinary woman shopping in the grocery store or picking up takeout unless I choose to tell them my truth. Thomas, too, is the same way in his life. His beauty, though, lies in the fact that he believes he has nothing to hide and that he's a valuable human being just as he is and the fact that he has schizophrenia is just the same as the fact that he's not a fan of parmesan cheese or he that his first love is building Gundam models. He just is who he is, everyone else be damned.

We all live with something. We all feel inside that we are defined by a set of standards we set for ourselves. We all also are judged on many facets of our being. Someone is pretty. Someone is unattractive. Someone is rude. Someone changed my day with just a simple smile. The world is full of judgment and that will never change. My point, though, is that it would be lovely if we exhibited the behaviors of someone with a mental illness and people accepted us the same way they accept the lady with no hair, fresh out of chemotherapy. All I want is equality in this world but for the time being that will be a tall order when it comes to the mentally ill.

The great thing is, there are so many people out there working daily to change society's perception of mental illness. People talk openly about what they deal with and they demand to be heard and demand to be treated the same as everyone else walking this planet. I am one of those people, too, and as such, I expect someday to run into purple goatee man and be delighted to discover that instead of turning away from me he is instead willing to have a conversation about it and learn something new. The time will come, someday, I hope, but until then, I will take issue with those who run the other direction the minute a mental illness is mentioned.

No comments:

Post a Comment

My Most Popular Posts...

Follow my posts by Email:

Follow Me On Twitter