|The chemical structure of venlafaxine (Effexor), an SNRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Apparently, there has been a new entry in the Associated Press Stylebook about how to communicate about and define mental illness. I'm going to go on record as saying this is good. Basically, it says "Hey, maybe don't attribute absolutely everything you don't understand to mental illness, hmmmm?".
|AP Stylebook, 2004 edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I hear it when I talk to insurance people on the phone when I'm getting no insurance. As they ask me what should surely be routine questions by now, there is a condescension in their voice, as if they are talking to a small child or someone who doesn't fully understand their own condition. As if I might flip out at any moment and slit my wrists as we speak. I see it in how the pharmacist won't meet my eyes when I pick up my meds, how they ask me hesitantly if I have any questions about the medication. This isn't my first rodeo, people. I've been taking these for 8 years now. This is just another errand on my long to-do list. Even if this was my first time picking up my meds, if this was all new to me, I don't think your demeanour would be helpful.
|The Madhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|U.S. Library of Congress DIX, DOROTHEA LYNDE. Retouched photograph. date found on item. Location: Biographical File Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-9797 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
We fear what we don't understand, right? So I guess it's easier to just dismiss anything we don't understand as the result of a broken mind. And many people's minds are broken. But not beyond repair. Like I said, I do it too. Maybe in a smaller way, but I do. When it is late at night and my husband is delirious with sleep, talking in a silly voice, I tell him he's crazy. Why? Because I don't understand what he's saying. And then we giggle and go to bed(maybe). But maybe my doing that makes it easier for other people to do that too, in a bigger way. Like my coworkers who didn't understand why someone would self harm, and therefore assumed that anyone who would do so was a lunatic. Despite much information to the contrary, they wouldn't even think about the possibility that it was a (maladaptive) coping mechanism. It was much easier to generalise, slap a label on it, and put it out of their mind, content in their own superiority because THEY weren't crazy.
|English: Jericho House Long stay care for adults with mental illness and /or alcohol dependence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
But you are. When I started to realise that I might have clinical depression, I was incredibly reluctant to admit it. Why? I didn't want to be labelled. I didn't want to be carted off to an institution. I didn't want anyone cramming pills down my throat. I was afraid to even talk to anyone about it. I was afraid to go to therapy. I was afraid to even try antidepressants, because I thought they would make me a zombie. This was all due to misconceptions spread by the media and by ignorant people running their mouths. I was also afraid of stigma. I was afraid that I would become nothing more than a diagnosis to the people I knew and loved, who I hoped loved me. I was afraid I would be defined by my depression. That I would become a thing, to be hidden away and talked about in hushed voices. At one point, I was afraid that I WAS nothing more than the depression, that there was no more of the real me left, that perhaps the real me had never existed at all. The disease eroded my soul. Antidepressants gave me, as my husband so eloquently says "the freedom to by myself" again.
But that may never have happened if I had allowed the stigma to be an insurmountable obstacle. People who are already hurting don't need further obstacles in the way of getting better. The disease itself is enough of an obstacle already. People with mental illness are not acceptable targets for anyone's jokes or disdain. Their struggles should not be trivialised.
Unfortunately, what we say starts with what is in our heart. Luke 6:45 says "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." But I think it's also a cyclical thing. I think that what we hear and what we say can change our hearts and that then saying the right thing will come easier and more naturally. So I want to start by watching what I say. I want to speak words that make others feel accepted, relaxed, and welcome. After all, as Amy Simpson points out in her her.meneutics article (which inspired this post), Proverbs 16:24 tells us "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."