How you use words is vital. Are you ready to rewrite yourself?
Who has called you “mentally ill”? Think about it. Think about what it means to be ill and well.
When we were young, we’d get a sore throat. First, just a scratch, then our throats would hurt more and more. We’d begin to feel tired and unusually warm. Finally, maybe we’d tell our mom or dad, “I think I feel sick. I don’t feel up to going to school today.”
Some kids didn’t say a word and they’d try to go to school anyway. Maybe something fun was happening at school that day, or more likely, they felt pressure over homework or sports. Sometimes, a teacher or coach would notice the kid looked sick and would send the kid to the nurse. The kid would end up going home with a note.
That was what “sick” meant in my day. You couldn’t do things you usually could do, and you spent a lot of time in bed and not in school. I liked the “not in school” part and I liked that I got to spend time in my room alone. If you were sniffly and your sore throat didn’t go away and your fever wouldn’t stop, someone eventually dragged you off for a throat culture, which came out positive or negative, and depending, you’d end up on penicillin. What was good about a positive throat culture was that it guaranteed more private room time. Or that’s how I saw it. More private writing time for me. Sleeping felt good. It sure beat school with all the mean kids and teachers.
So what is “mentally ill”? It’s something different, isn’t it? You can’t measure it with any thermometer, especially not those cheap plastic ones they now insist we buy. Not even that old-fashioned accurate glass one you secretly stowed away and you hope never breaks (I won’t tattle on you) will EVER detect mental illness. So if your kid has mental illness, how will you know it? How will you be able to properly measure it and make a decision to your kid home from school?
Answer #1: Not everything is measurable with scientific tools.
Answer #2: Not everything that’s human is within the spectrum of “illness” and “wellness.” Therefore, not all human experience needs a medical “diagnosis.”
Answer #3: When making decisions about the direction of the lives of our children, we should include them in the decision-making, depending on their willingness to take responsibility for themselves. As elders, we can only hope our children’s maturity and wisdom increases with time.
You may be surprised to hear me admit to Answer #4: Not everything can be expressed in words.
I can’t speak for others. I had heard of “mental illness” when I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but I thought it was for young Frankenstein monsters and their new, adopted brains and for runaway kids or for unlucky kids who accidentally took very bad drugs at teenage parties and then afterward, no matter what anyone did, the very bad drugs wouldn’t come out of their bodies. I knew there were kids who were rumored to be “screwed up,” but if I asked around and investigated, I’d eventually find out the kid had been in a tragic car accident or had a very bad sports injury that didn’t heal properly. I spoke with a girl who took many pills. I asked her why she did this and she said her head hurt all the time and no one believed her, so she took pills to make the pain go away. She said the pills made her stomach hurt. I asked her what the pills were. She said it was a new thing called Tylenol. she said she found it in her parents’ bathroom but there was more at the corner drugstore.
These memories I have from my school of these kids represented the typical ones thought of as “screwed up.” These kids, I believe, eventually were sent to “shrinks.” That’s the last I heard and I have no idea how their lives ended up.
There were the drinkers and party-goers. These were popular kids and this drinking activity, even if done to excess and even if occasion breaking of the law was done all in good fun and even if a car was involved, unless a kid died of course, this was all considered “normal” and the kids ended up “successful,” got married and made loads of money. Our class presidents and various popular offices up and down the lines, over the years, drank quite a bit, and this was “acceptable.” Kids like this went to college after public school as pre-meds and such, partied their way through college and then became a rich doctors, accountants, business people, and proper law-abiding citizens that we all admire. Can we measure this, please? Numbers? Diagnosis? How many “friends”……
Oh, the road not taken……
Anyway, no “shrink” sitting in some office today believes I came from such a town. Who knows what they think! The shrinks assume I am hard of hearing, that my vocabulary is severely limited, and surely, I am incapable of remembering my hometown at all, so what does it matter? They take one look at me and assume I’m a dimwit. Great diagnosis.
I must be a mass of confused emotion. Mania. Tourettes for sure. What’s that one where you deliberately pull pieces of hair out? It begins with T. That’s one I don’t want cuz I happen to value my hair. I need a disease that causes me to pull my boobs out and hopefully they stay out and don’t pop back in. That would be handy so I wouldn’t have to put on a bra every day.
Maybe shrinks need to get “obsessively staying on a permanent vacation break” disorder. Every single one of them. How about putting them all on a leper island? We need to put thick walls around the island with secure locks on those gates to keep the shrinks locked in. Let’s protect our society! Homeland Security at its finest!
Maybe I have “Silly Blogger All Alone on Thanksgiving with Nothing Better to Do Disorder.”
It all depends on nomenclature. What you choose to call it. So around age 23, and surely, by 24, I had adopted the term, “Mental Illness.” This was my new identity. I threw it around like Halloween candy.
I didn’t have mental illness, but what I’d found in fact was a new bunch of folks to hang out with and the new bunch of folks seemed cool and accepting enough. I have no clue what was REALLY going on with anyone there. Cuz under all the layers was a history I never, ever heard. It all got buried. Therapized and translated into MEDICAL and PSYCHIATRIC terminology that wasn’t our true life experience. These professionals translated it and gave us a new vocabulary. We then adopted this vocabulary.
It’s essential to retrain ourselves to stop using their language if we want to ever think for ourselves again. No, I don’t agree with some of these “programs” that insist that “medical terminology” and all “clinical language” is TABOO. No way. I do agree that we need to redefine ourselves AS WE ARE, NOT AS WE HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED BY SOMEONE ELSE.
YOU ARE NOT A DIAGNOSIS. Are we clear on this?
Do you believe rumors about a person, or do you believe what you see based on your own five senses when you meet the person face-to-face?
The diagnosis is the rumor. You are who you are face-to-face.
From now on, I don’t suffer from Binge Eating Disorder. Before I entered therapy, I had never heard the word “binge.” Nor had I heard of “eating disorders,” and you bet I had no imaginary “Ed,” either, and no fairy godfather Voice of Ed ever talked to me! I’ve tried and tried to hear this “Ed,” and the therapists insisted that I talk to this imaginary “Ed,” but really, I would rather talk to God and tell God to please take the therapists off my hands.
I do, on the other hand, suffer from an inherited set of traits that lead to periodic polyphagia, that and my varying desperate strategies with this oddity. If anything went wrong that you could call “disorder,” it was the disorderly fashion that the World of Mental Health and its totalitarian personnel and structures dealt with me over the next three and a half decades.
The sad consequence was the split in my immediate family following my dad’s death. No, I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t sin. I didn’t do anything morally bad that caused the split or say anything or omit anything. But I feel that if I hadn’t been immersed in the System, that is, the Mental Health System, this split wouldn’t have occurred. No way do I blame any kind of “illness.” I didn’t have one as I define it. The System decided I have one and what was this but a rumor, their definition, someone else’s opinion. I guess most of my family made up their minds based on rumor alone.
Today, Thanksgiving, this saddens me.
I had a great day, though. Puzzle and I hung out. I wrote this piece. I realized that much time has passed and I am moving further and further away from the System. As this happens, I am regaining my ability to write.
Gradually, I am shedding my old ways, and adopting new ways. It’s amazing that now that I no longer have to cope with pressure from “therapists,” hounding me about my eating, I no longer feel the need to go running to the scale to “check” my weight to make sure I still have a meager amount of “control” left. I’m thrilled that I can make my own food choices without someone grilling me all the time about what I eat, or forcing me to make some grueling confession once or twice a week. Sure, I mess up plenty, and would love some advice, but the freedom sure has been worth it. I am far less panicky over my weight than I ever was.
Slowly, I am making new connections and reconnecting relationships that lay dormant while I was far too immersed in “therapy,” not my fault, but thankfully, a few friends realized this and stuck around patiently. I am grateful for their persistence. I am amazed that while some, true, have turned their backs, many others have stuck around and see what happened for what it is and nothing more. They know that in time, I’ll be okay.
As for those that turned their backs, it’s sad. Many simply didn’t know me “before,” or they think that I was always the “Angry Julie” I’ve turned into over the past two years or so, not realizing that it was only a due to psychiatric abuse (abuse from therapists, etc) and not some weird personality fluke of mine or moral problem or even starvation.
I’m actually getting better. Not only trying to figure out how to rebuild my life, but I’ve already started rebuilding it. This excites me immensely. You have to start somehow. You put down one brick. Then another. Eventually, I’ll have a built myself a enough stepping stones to reach the mainland. They say no man is an island, and if I keep at it, I won’t have to be alone anymore.