Mental illness is just that – it is an illness. Just as a physical illness makes you ill, mental illness does too. Illness is no stroll in the park for anyone, no matter who they are or what they are dealing with.
The thing about mental illness, though, is it carries a sting in the tail. People seem to think that if someone has a mental illness, it is as a result of some kind of weakness. Physical illness is unfortunate, but mental illness seems to be perceived around the world as of their own making, and therefore they must be weak to have ended up ill in the first place, and weak for being trapped in the illness.
It’s just not true! New discoveries are being made every month that reveal the functions within the brain, that when not working properly, results in a mental illness developing. Strength and weakness have nothing to do with it.
Living with any serious illness takes strength and courage just to get by and function on a basic level each day. Mental illness is no different, except that it comes with an additional sting in the tail – it makes you physically ill too. Nausea, exhaustion, fatigue, IBS, muscular pain, joint pain, headaches. Weight, blood pressure and blood sugar are affected too. Then there is the impact on sleep… everyone experiences different problems, so the list is endless.
When someone is in the throws of an episode, the image of them sat in in their pyjamas unable to get washed and dressed because of the debilitating mental illness, is easy to scorn. It is so easy to think they must be weak just to sit there, staring at the wall in torment. It is easy to think that they just need to be told to pull it together and be strong, and they will be able to get up and function normally again.
The truth is; they just burned up their last bit of strength to push themselves out of bed when their brain and body were screaming at them not to. There is not an ounce of energy left in the system, and no reserves in the tank – that got burned up yesterday. Washing, dressing, eating, functioning, coping and working are all physically and mentally out of the question.
The brain and body are all burned up, and they can do nothing but exist in an empty shell and sit with the torment they are experiencing. They will use inner strength to exist from minute to minute and hour to hour. As soon as they have some energy again, believe me, they will push themselves hard just to manage basic functions. That is the way it is in an episode of mental illness. It is cruel, severe and robs people of the opportunity to engage in the world around them.
It might take days, weeks or months for recovery to start. All they have left is their courage and the memories of what they used to be able to achieve in a typical day.
So, someone with a mental illness who is crying in pain and screaming in distress is not being weak; they are dying inside because they have no strength left.
Telling them to ‘you just need to be strong, and you will get through it’, is hurting them even more.