I think that we are all very brave for standing up and sharing our experiences with having a mental illness. I think we are brave to put our lives out there so people can see they are not alone. Having said that? It’s pretty easy to do these things in a warm and supportive community bubble. We all know (give or take) what the rest of the group are going through, and even if we don’t have the magic bullet words of support, knowing that we’re all out there for each other goes a long way towards making sure each of us are able to take the next wobbly step on our journey upwards and onwards.
But it’s not so easy to stand up directly against people outside of the bubble. I know that we all see our fair share of people, of ‘friends’ posting ‘funny’ things slagging off mental illnesses. I had such an incident yesterday. A back-home friend from yesteryear posted something he thought was funny that I felt was insulting, and I told him so and why. I did it even knowing that it would leave my anxiety spiked through the roof, and my heart racing, and my paranoia going into overdrive about the vitriol that I was going to receive (my brain is always convinced that people are going to be hateful and nasty about anything I say. It makes me a bit defensive sometimes). It’s also painful for me because me in the post-self-medication days has no armor; there will always be a part of me that longs to be shit-faced drunk, which often feels like a warm ‘safe’ place to have opinions. I like having opinions. I like sharing them. I just have to pick and choose extra-carefully now because it’s always going to hurt me physically and mentally to do so.
Because I knew I wanted to talk about this after posting last night, I made myself go see what my friend’s response was. Well… let’s just say that it didn’t fly, and was rather abusive. It’s that old saw — if person X thinks it’s funny, then it’s funny and you’re somehow an asshole. In this case, it turned out said friend had his own mental health issues, and felt that I was out of bounds for being offended. So then, if we were black and I was offended because you as a black man posted something racist, would I be out of bounds? What if we were both Christians, and I felt your post was slagging off my faith? Oh, you say those aren’t the same things? I think they are, world at large. It’s the same rule I apply when moderating the kinship I’m an officer in over at The Lord of the Rings Online — if someone is offended, they are not wrong. Apologise, be mindful of offending your compatriots, or scoot off. Respecting other people is, amazingly, a good thing to do!
In the end, I told this friend that I was sorry he was feeling poorly, told him I wasn’t going to stand around for the abuse, unfriended him, and moved on. It breaks my heart how often I see this particular issue from friends and family Stateside — they get really worked up and angry at me for daring to be open about my mental health state and saying stigma doesn’t fly because either:
- They feel they cannot do the same, or
- They resent me ‘forcing’ them to come out into the open about their mental illness.
I do understand that admitting to mental illness is against the whole rugged individuality American culture is hung up on, I do. But who are you harming if you hide your illness away? Why, yourself — 1 in 4 people will have a mental illness in their life, so it’s not like you’re the odd one out if you have depression, or bipolar, or an anxiety disorder, or whatever permutation of mental illness one might call their own. Your illness isn’t going to magically go away if you tell someone else off for daring to stand up against stigma and stereotyping.
Anyways, I do hope he gets to feeling better, but as said — I’m not sticking around to find out. And as much as I go out of my way to love the ones who need it most (which is why I do my best to make the rounds and share my love and support with you guys <3), I know that part of taking care of me is not putting myself out there to be anyones’ whipping boy.