Update!

explanations, housekeeping, Uncategorized

Good afternoon, readers!

I have not abandoned you–on the contrary, I’ve been busy doing research for the upcoming series on deinstitutionalization and the history of psychiatric hospitals here in the United States. (I’m also back in school now and taking three classes–counseling techniques, diversity and social justice, and legal and ethical issues of counseling–all of which are very interesting!)

I do post more regularly on the Facebook page for The Dissociated Press, so you can check out (and like, if you’re so inclined) the page for updates and other bite-sized posts.

I hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule soon!

-Jess

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Five stigmatizing/problematic phrases and why you should stop using them.

abuse, explanations, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I’m generally a pretty tolerant and patient person when it comes to talking about mental illness— I want to be polite and educate people and I think it’s counterproductive to get pissed off about every single thing (also, I don’t have the energy for that). That being said, there are a couple of phrases I hear on a regular basis that make my blood boil. They’re often used out of ignorance, not actual malice, which is why I believe it’s so important to call people out and use the mistake as a teachable moment.

1. “I’m so OCD about that!”

What people usually mean: “I have some quirks and like to have some things a certain way.”

Why it’s hurtful: Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness, and by misusing this phrase, you’re essentially invalidating the everyday struggles of those living with the disorder.

One of the main characteristics of the disorder is obsessive, invasive thoughts, ideas, or behaviors that often interrupt other thoughts or activities. In order to alleviate these thoughts, the person typically has to partake in a certain behavior or set of behaviors (sometimes called rituals)—this is the compulsive part of the disorder.

For example, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the fear of being contaminated/hand-washing obsession/compulsion. What people don’t realize is that many people living with OCD find the disorder distracting, disruptive, and embarrassing. By saying things like “I’m so OCD!” you’re minimizing their very real concerns and struggles and turning it into a cutesy one-liner. Don’t do that.

2. “I don’t want to go to that party; I’m so antisocial.”

What people usually mean: “Well, ‘social’ means you like being around people, right? So ‘antisocial’ must mean the opposite!”

ImageWhy it’s hurtful: This one actually does piss me off because the people who say this are completely misusing the word. It doesn’t even mean what you think it means so in addition to trivializing a very real and serious disorder, you’re also making yourself look like an uneducated ass-hat.

In reality, “antisocial” refers to a specific personality disorder, the hallmark of which is a persistent disregard for the rights and feelings of others. There’s a whole list of diagnostic criteria at the linked page, but the most common example/trope used to describe this disorder is the person who hurts people and feels no remorse for what they’ve done.

People with antisocial PD are not bad people. It’s problematic and can cause a lot of emotional damage, but again, the thing to remember with any mental illness is that the person suffering from it did not cause it.

3. “I’m so bipolar!”

What people usually mean: “I had, like, one mood swing today and it took me off-guard so I’m going to misappropriate a mental illness because of my very general and poor understanding of what it actually is.”

Why it’s hurtful: Like most of the examples on this list, “I’m so bipolar!” is problematic because it minimizes another really serious disorder by presenting it as one-dimensional, and that one dimension everyone knows about is the mood swings. If you ask a person on the street what they think bipolar is, nine times out of ten they’ll say “mood swings.”

That’s why this phrase is so damaging—it completely ignores all the other symptoms of this very complicated illness. I’m assuming most of you have been following this blog for a while, so I’m sure you’re familiar with what goes on in the brain of someone who’s bipolar. (I prefer the term “manic depressive” because while it’s technically outdated, it’s more descriptive than “bipolar,” implying a range of emotions rather than two strict “poles.”)

If you’re new or need a refresher, check out NIMH’s website for an awesome and relatively simple description.

4. “He’s so schizo/psycho!”

What people usually mean: “He is behaving erratically or in a way that does not make sense to me.”

Why it’s damaging: This is two-fold.

First of all, schizophrenia is a particularly severe mental illness; there is no cure, and treatment options are kind of dismal at the moment. When you call someone “schizo” when you’re referring to nonsensical or erratic behavior, you are (once again) minimizing the actual severity of the illness and all of its nuances.

This is bad for one simple reason: it perpetuates misinformation and makes it seem like having a mental illness makes someone “bad,” which perpetuates the stigma.

The same goes for the term “psycho.” I’ve actually cut people out of my life for repeatedly using the term after I’ve explained why it’s so harmful and offensive. “Psycho” usually refers to “psychosis,” which is a break from reality. It can happen for a variety of reasons—trauma, substance abuse, or mental illnesses like schizophrenia (the one most people associate with psychosis) or bipolar type I (psychosis/hallucinations/delusions are not at all uncommon during severe manic or depressive episodes).

You say “He/She is psycho/schizo,” and what happens? People laugh. When you misuse those words (and really, you shouldn’t be using them at all because they’re offensive abbreviations that are always used in a derogatory manner), you’re telling people that it’s okay to laugh at people with mental illnesses because they’re “different.” They’re “crazy.” I’d like to think that the people who fall into this category are simply misinformed, but the reality is that there are a lot of terrible people out there who are unwilling to learn or change their behavior.

5. “She’s crazy!”

What people usually mean: This can mean one of two things. It’s sometimes used as a positive descriptor, in which case it means something like “She’s wild and uninhibited, which makes her fun.” I really don’t have a problem with it being used in that context because “crazy” is one of those words that can be used in a variety of ways, and this one happens to be complimentary. If you want to use that term to refer to yourself as a coping mechanism/making light of the situation, that’s totally fine. It’s when other people begin to use it that it becomes an issue (if you haven’t given them permission to do so). But in general, I still believe that people who aren’t mentally ill have no right to use that word to describe someone.

When it becomes problematic: When it’s used to hurt people or make a generalization about someone’s mental health. I’ve had “You’re crazy” thrown at me hundreds of times in the last twenty-some years, and it has almost exclusively been used to mean “You’re unhinged, you’re different, you’re not like us, there’s something wrong with you.”

That’s what stigma is—perpetuating the idea that the mentally ill are somehow “different” or “wrong,” not like the general public and certainly not worthy of being treated like people who are mentally healthy.

I’m sure you’re having the knee-jerk “Jesus H. Christ” reaction when you read it broken down like that—or at least, I hope you are. I hope you realize that it’s definitely not okay to discriminate against another human being for any reason, and I hope you’re doing your part to call people out and be more mindful of your own phrasing.

What to do when you’re called out: This is pretty simple. There are three steps to dealing with being called out for saying something problematic:

  1. Listen to what the person is saying and make every effort to understand why they’re upset.
  2. Apologize sincerely. Say something like, “I’m sorry for saying x. I didn’t realize it was hurtful, but now that I know, I am going to do my best not to say it anymore.”
  3. And then move on. Don’t get butthurt or dwell on it (“Those mean social justice people! They’re too uptight, they made me feel bad, bawwww.”) Just take it as a learning experience and try to use what you’ve learned to educate other people.

That’s really the only way we can fight this thing, the gigantic stigma-beast that makes life unpleasant, if not downright hellish, for most of us. At some point, we’re going to need people on the outside, allies who aren’t mentally ill (and remember, “ally” is a verb, not a noun) to help spread the word and back up what we’re saying.

The sad reality is that a lot of people are dismissive of our experiences with mental illness because we’re mentally ill, and therefore we’re apparently not credible sources about our own oppression. (Lollll.) And common sense tells us that the more people are fighting this battle, the more people we’re going to reach and the more minds we’re going to change.

Lamictal.

medication, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Supposedly, this is the drug that is going to make everything okay.

I met with my psychiatrist yesterday and learned that while it’s usually used as an anti-seizure medication, it works very well for the depressive portion of bipolar disorder. She’s hopeful that this will stabilize my moods and make everything feel less dismal, though I have to build up to the maintenance dosage slower than other patients because it can cause a nasty rash (I had a terrible full-body rash as a reaction to amoxicillin when I was a child, so she wants to be extra-careful).

She warned me that there’s a chance it could trigger a manic episode if I do, in fact, have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I’m young, and it could be lying dormant for now–she said it wouldn’t be at all unusual if I remained in a depressive state for decades before experiencing mania for the first time.

I feel that, as an advocate for mental illness who tries to do something to fight the stigma every single day, it’s not great for me to say this…but I am secretly afraid that I’m bipolar. My mother is bipolar and when I was young, “You’re just like your mother!” was thrown at me whenever I was being difficult or acting out.

I’ve been educating myself on the disease, though, mostly through memoirs written by women with bipolar mothers. I know that it’s just another chemical imbalance and that I have nothing to fear, but at the same time, it seems like the proverbial big black dog, looming just out of sight. And there is a tremendous stigma surrounding bipolar individuals, which is awful. I am taking comfort in the knowledge that if I do indeed have the illness, I can do a lot of good work to help fight that stigma, too.

But is it so wrong for me to be terrified of being “just like my mother”? It’s not just the possibility of being bipolar that scares me–I was conditioned to fear and avoid any behavior that was even remotely reminiscent of the woman, though now I’m beginning to “take it back” by trying to take the positive aspects of her personality into myself–her carefree, fun-loving nature that I remember so well from her “good” days.

My relationship with my mother is a complicated one, so I’ll refrain from discussing it further in this post; I feel it deserves at least one post of its own, if not a series.

Did anyone else grow up with a mentally ill parent? How has it affected you?

Numbers.

medication, ptsd, stigma, therapy

I started seeing a therapist when I was eighteen and saw my first psychiatrist around the same time.

Six years later, we’re on to therapist #7 and psychiatrist #3 and I feel like if this isn’t the combination that finally does the trick…

Image

I’m 24. I feel that I am both too old and too young to be going through this tired old song-and-dance again. I am tired of feeling like I’m tormenting my husband (though he insists that while watching me suffer is upsetting, my illness is not a burden) and tired of trying to keep it all together. But falling apart is completely terrifying, which is why I get up every morning and put on the pretty dress and the high heels and the makeup and the perfume instead of doing what I really want to do, which is stay in bed and cry and drink or take assorted drugs until my mind is a big, blissful zero.

Because it’s a slippery goddamn slope and I’m too old to be such a mess but too young to give up.

Also, this is why having chipped nails or unshaven legs bothers me so much. It might seem silly to care so much about my appearance when there’s so much noise inside my head–some days, it is like having ten radio stations tuned in at the same time–but it makes me feel less sick. If I can be pretty and charming, even in all my infinite, glorious messiness, part of me believes that I’m going to make it through this.

But first I need to buck up and get over the “I don’t want to live like this anymore!” weepiness that’s been heavy on my mind lately. All these pills, man. All this therapy. All these bills that I keep putting off, paying in tiny installments because I know I’ll never be finished.

And maybe that’s okay.