Tag Archives: schizophrenia

You Don’t Look Sick and Other Microaggressions

Having a mental illness means fighting a war on all fronts. I wake up in the morning to fight the same hellacious demons that prevented me from sleeping the night before. And while those dogs follow along snapping at my heels, I navigate a world that is filthy with social landmines: impossible-to-detect people and situations that will inevitably blow up in my face. Some of the worst of these hidden bombshells are the well-meaning, ignorant, or otherwise unaware kind. Harvard psychologist Chester M. Pierce initially coined the term “microaggressions” to connote the insults and dismissals that non-black-Americans hurl at people of color. Later, the term came to apply to all statements of ignorance made by the majority about a minority. For those of us living with a mental illness, these statements belie an underlying dismissal by those who are neurotypical on the bases of invalidation, assumption of inferiority, fear of mental illness, shaming of mental illness, and second-class citizenry.

With the help of illustrator, Ms. Alex, I am pleased to present you with a few of my favorites. (Read: things I’m really fucking tired of hearing.) I would love to see yours in the comments!


“But you don’t look sick.”

imageAnd you don’t look like a doctor. When I hear this from people, I often want to ask them what “sick” looks like. Should I be a homeless bag-lady? Would that my my illness more legitimate? I wonder if this means I need to prove my illness to you. Like, “Here is a list of my symptoms. Is that sufficient evidence to back my story?”

“But you always seem so confident/put-together/capable.”

imageI get that you probably mean this as a compliment, so thanks. I put a lot of time and energy into making it appear as if I have my shit together. And I typically don’t let everyone in on my little secret, so I guess: ha ha, I fooled you!

“Oh, I know what you mean! I’m totally bipolar/OCD/schizo, too!”

imageNo, you’re not. You just think it’s cute to liken your non-clinical experiences of sadness and anxiety to serious mental illnesses that require treatment. But it isn’t cute. Knock it off. Appropriating serious terms for various levels of average experiences within the human condition when you don’t actually have an illness isn’t cute and it promotes a negative stigma about those of us who actually do have chronic conditions.

“I know that you’re anxious/depressed/angry about ____, but really you should just be grateful that ____.”

imageWow. You’re right. I should be grateful for the good things that are going on — but check this out: I am a complex, fully-formed human being, and I can divide my attention enough to feel both gratitude for what’s positive in my life, AND anxiety, depression, or anger about another situation at the same time. Imagine that.

“Well, I’m not a mind reader!”

imageNo, you aren’t, and I don’t expect you to be. I don’t think you should have to anticipate and fulfill my needs the very moment they arise, but it would be lovely if you could have a little more compassion for how gut-wrenchingly difficult and uncomfortable it is for me to ask for help. I would rather floss with barbed-wire.

“You really only needed to ask.”

imagePlease see the above re: BARBED WIRE. I get that to you, and most other people, asking seems like a very simple thing. But I have been trained that asking places me in a high-risk situation where neglect, rejection, or even outright humiliation are all potential outcomes. My very being shies away from any course of action that could potentially cause me harm, and in doing so, I tend to either ignore my needs or run rough-shod over others in order to get what I need without their help. I’m sorry — I know that’s shitty of me. Please try to understand: it’s about my wonky brain, it’s not about you.

“I didn’t invite you because I knew you wouldn’t be interested/would cancel.”

imageYeah, you’re probably right. Can you do me a favor, though, and ask anyway? Because I tend to cope with stress by putting my blinders on, which lands me in a rut. By the time I look up to catch my bearings, I’ve overlooked how isolated I’ve become, and I need you to interrupt me with messages of love and support. I need you to take the time to encourage me to step out of the rut and try something new. And sometimes, I need to be dragged out kicking and screaming.

“I love you, but…”

imageDo you? Do you love me? Is it a love without conditions? And I don’t mean “unconditional love”. I mean “a love without strings attached”. Because I can’t accept love or kindness that comes bound up in expectations. I am clumsy. I will trip over my good intentions and my own words. I will tangle myself up all the strings that bind me to you, and I will hang myself with them. No question. So if this is the only way you are fit to love me, please love me less.

“Wow. This is mighty selfish of you.”

I know. I know, and I feel like crap about it. Try to understand: I am tip-toeing the line between “selfish” and “self-care” while blindfolded, forty feet in the air, and without a safety net. I don’t want to burden you, or land you with the sole responsibility of maintaining our relationship. I promise, this isn’t permanent — it’s just one of my bad turns, and I will get better. When I come out of it, things will be easier for us both. But please don’t leave me behind when things get rough. I have a lot to offer in kinship with someone patient and compassionate enough to love me in spite of my faults.
Everyone is always telling me to “hang on” when my brain tries to kill me — could you hang on, too?

Advertisements

Play nice

It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow, that time of year when we lay the law down upon ourselves (or not) and get real (or don’t): lose weight, make amends, do better. We resolve to improve something about ourselves or our lives because the turning of the clock from one year to the next is supposed to psychologically prepare us for a clean slate. Still, the landscape of broken promises that lies across the frozen tundra of February and March can attest to the futility of the exercise. Every New Year’s resolution is made in full acknowledgment of the years’ past and how they were infamously squandered.

I haven’t really made a New Year’s resolution since I was eleven and I resolved that in 1998, I would resolve to make no more resolutions.

It’s been working out for me, I think, because that was I promise I made to myself that I could actually keep. More over, it was a promise I wanted to keep. Why set myself up for failure and disappointment by publicly declaring a lofty goal that is more societal construct that actual personal passion or desire? To hell with that — I just want to be happy in my own skin. I want to see the people I love and care for be happy as well. But this year, maybe I’ll bring the New Year’s resolution back. You can do it with me.

Maybe, for the year 2015, we should all resolve to be a little bit fucking nicer to each other.

Just-Be-Nice
For realz.

There is no reason I can think of that increased mutual respect, appreciation, and care for one another as individuals wouldn’t be accepted by each and every one of you. And if you want it, you gotta give it, baby. That’s how it do.

But it do, Mr. Gamble. But it do.
But it do, Mr. Gamble. But it do.

I just can’t think of a good reason to be a jerk. Having a mental illness doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole. Not even being a schizophrenic gives you the right to be a dick. I don’t care if you’re an unmedicated bipolar in your ninth month of pregnancy (been there, done that; I wasn’t handed a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card) or an over-worked, underappreciated retail slave. We all have our our horror stories, our various loads of baggage, our scars and battle wounds. I will gladly help you carry the load. I will even share war stories with you. But I am not going to stand still while you displace all of your emotional trauma onto me. No one on this earth should serve as another human being’s emotional punching bag. You can be miserable, if you need to be. You can be a fucking troll, if that’s what gets you going. But I’m not going to stick around for it — I owe you nothing.

Granted, I’m bipolar and sometimes I can be a raging bitch — I’ll own that. My husband refers to my daily allotted patience and stamina for social interactions as “people points.” Time alone or in small groups of close friends will typically replenish my People Points. Frustrating, emotionally exhausting days or large groups of people cost me a lot of People Points. There have been times when I have maxed out my People Points before the day is over, then I was unable to manage a stressful situation when it arose. The shit hit the fan, and — MAN DOWN! — I lashed out at those around me. But even then, even in the throes of my deepest, darkest, most disassociative behavior, I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and I most certainly apologized once the dust had settled.

There are no real acceptable excuses for lavish rudeness — unless you’re an honest-to-goodness psychopath, you know when you’re doing wrong. The kind unmitigated malice that used to exist behind closed doors and cold shoulders is now on message boards and Facebook feeds. We’re hungry for it. We lustily turn to our friends’ posts just as the comments get juicy, either jumping in feet first or sitting back to enjoy the carnage for sport. These are school yard fights for a new age, only no one calls out the bullies any more, because at one point or another, we have all been the bully.

Resolve not to be. Peaceably accept that the Internet is never going to be the platform from which you will be able to have an intelligent debate or discussion on any topic, and let it go. See your college roommate’s Facebook post on the insidiousness of Chemtrails, take a deep breath, and keep scrolling, my friend. Your blood pressure will thank you. Yes, that commentor did use “literally” to mean “figuratively” — let it go…

And remember: Be. Nice.
And remember: Be. Nice.

Finally, happy birthday to my wee little blog! The Real Sarah C is a year old! Woo-hoo! I am so stoked to have brought this project so far, and so grateful to all of the readers, subscribers, and commenters. Mahalo!