This is a phrase I’ve heard several times over the past 7 years that I’ve been diagnosed with mental illness (back then it was depression with anxiety, now I’ve been re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety).
People like to believe stereotypes. Namely those that are neurotypical (people without any mental illness), they tend to view depression as sadness, anxiety as nervousness, bipolar disorder as “normal to crazy/bitchy” mood swings, and schizophrenia as multiple personalities (to clear this up now, schizophrenia has nothing to do with multiple personalities. That is a whole different illness on its own). While those may be some symptoms for SOME people, each mental illness has a wide variety of symptoms that vary in type and severity from person to person. Person A may have depression and feel hopeless, like they have no place in the world, that nobody loves them… and person B may have more physical symptoms, such as not being able to get out of bed in the morning, not being able to shower or make themselves food, feeling tired all the time… it’s different for everyone, no matter what illness you have.
I have bipolar disorder. For me, I have mood swings. But, they don’t involve me being completely fine and normal one minute then in a split second, turning into a raging bitch. In fact, most people with BP do not experience that at all. When I’m manic, I get overly confident, have all of these new ideas and plans for my life, I like to brag, and I have a lot more energy and motivation to do things that I normally do. After anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, I’ll crash into depression. In that mood, all of that motivation and ambition vanishes, and I have little to no energy to do things, even basic tasks like cleaning or showering. However, this is not how a lot of people view bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, a lot of what gets remembered about BP, or any mental illness really, are the extreme cases. Some people, when they experience mania, they go into psychosis or go “off the rails”. They can become aggressive, violent, belligerent, and just treat everyone around them like shit. This is where the, “I don’t think you have BP disorder. I know people with BP disorder, and you’re not like them,” comes into play, even though I’ve been clinically diagnosed for over 5 years now, and my diagnosis has not changed once. Because I don’t have “extreme” symptoms, that apparently makes my illness invalid and null to some people.
What I want people to understand is this: no two depressed/anxious/bipolar people are the same. You can’t compare depressed person A to depressed person B and try and determine who “actually has depression.” That’s not how it works. We have to realize that each illness has a wide variety of symptoms with thousands of different combinations that someone may experience. That’s also what makes treatment so hard; every person reacts to meds differently. Person A may feel great on Prozac while person B may feel suicidal. Everyone. Is. Different.
Let’s forget the stereotypes. I understand that it’s easier for some people to understand mental illness through simple groupings, but that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the mentally ill person, because the neurotypical isn’t able to completely understand them and know how to properly help. And it doesn’t help the neurotypical, because it’s misinformation that leads to ignorance and in turn the inability to help their loved ones. Let’s educate ourselves and those around us. Telling someone that they’re not really [insert mental illness here] doesn’t help anybody.