Friday, June 1, 2012

Do you know any of us?

Can you guess which one of these people below has a mental disorder?  I bet you can't.

Any of them look crazy, "touched in the head," nuts, psycho, a few fries short of a happy meal?  The answer is, my friends, every single one of those pictured above deals with some form or fashion of a mental disorder on a daily basis. (Most of those pictured above suffer from bi-polar disorder.)  Some are celebrities, and others are people who could walk by you on the street on any given day of the week.  If we didn't tell you, none of you would know that we are all affected by something we didn't ask for, something we can't control, and something we are extremely scared to divulge to anyone.

Think about it, if someone you knew or loved told you they were schizophrenic, or if they had autism, or they were bi-polar, what would be the first thought running through your head?  Would you accept them for who they are without question or reservation, or would you treat them any differently?  Would that be something *you* could control?  What about how you would feel?  At first blush, would you feel anxious, scared, guilty, ashamed?

Thousands of people, everyday, are diagnosed with a mental illness.  And the numbers continue to grow.  Autism affects 1 in 88 children, of those 1 in 54 are boys.  Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder.  And for the most part, no one really knows who we are.  We're too afraid to tell anyone for fear of being treated unfairly, differently, or ostracized because "we don't belong," "we're different."  Many people fail to seek help because they fear being labeled as crazy, dangerous, unreliable, or even contagious.

Now, there are those of us who are different in the fact that we've decided to face this disease head-on (of course the pun is intended!  Come on, now.  Wouldn't be me if it wasn't.), and we are fighting to end the discrimination and stigma of having a mental illness as well as fighting this affliction on a daily basis.  I really love the billboard picture on the website  "Imagine if you got blamed for having cancer." 

It's not like I asked to have this stuff running through my head.  It's not like my friend's son had the conscious thought at two years old to be unable to communicate with other people like everyone else who's "normal." Another friend of mine sure as hell didn't need or want to be diagnosed with ADD, but guess what?  We got it, and we are doing our damnedest not to let it keep us from living our lives, like "normal" people.

Research has proven that although some mental illnesses are hereditary, they are NOT classified as being "contagious" to others.  "Normal people" make wild accusations about us, they call us names, they try to tell us to get over it, that we're lazy, unreliable, all because they're afraid.

Well, damn it, don't you think we're afraid too?  We're afraid of being treated like social lepers; we're afraid of being discriminated against; we're so very tired of people who think they know better than we (or our doctors) do and try to tell us what to do or how to deal with our disease.

So to combat this, I say, YOU are uneducated.  Excuse my French, but really, you don't know a damned thing.  But unlike you, I will do something YOU won't.  I'm going to help you.  I'm going to help educate you.  First, do us all a favor, don't challenge my diagnosis.  It's taken my doctors years in order to get me just to this point.  And it's only now, within the last 6 months, that I've been getting the right kind of help.

Second, and this may be a shock to some of you naysayers out there, but, treat us the way YOU want to be treated.  Kindness, compassion, empathy, understanding; all of those go a long way with someone who has a mental illness.  You know, it's that whole "golden rule" unto should know the rest by now.

Third, if you don't know or understand, ASK!  OR, go look it up!!  MANY websites on mental illness offer free downloadable brochures on mental illness, the early warning signs, and what you can do to help that person you know what their affliction.  The National Foundation for Autism Research has a brilliant website you can view that will tell you so much about autism, you'll learn more than you ever thought you could.

Look, when it comes down to it, folks, the plain and simple truth is: we're sick.  And for most of us, there is no cure.  We all want to be treated the way you would want to be treated.  Like a human being. 

Thanks for reading. And thank you all for your support.

And a very special thanks to Catherine Skwarkowski Meza for her contributions to this post.

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