Mental Illness: It is an Illness

As I tried to get out of bed yesterday morning, this post wrote itself in my brain. With every re-setting of the alarm and clicking on the snooze button, paragraphs formed in my mind.  I was compelled to write it. I tried to be productive all day – because of my current (crazy and, honestly, about to get crazier) work demands – it took until 4 p.m. yesterday before I had time to actually sit down at my desk and write.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, we need to get educated about mental illness because it does not always look the way we expect it to.  With a little play on the “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” article’s title, I elaborated about how we expect depression (and other mental illnesses) to look one way, but they often look entirely different.

Each person’s experience with mental illness may look different than we expect.

medium_306983822As I thought about the post, though, I realized that – as important as the concept of knowing how depression and other mental illnesses may show themselves differently – accepting the fact that mental illness is an illness…rather than some manifestation of laziness or whatever negative adjective that has been used to describe the mentally ill…is pretty important.

Let’s all say it together (I dare you to say this out loud wherever you are right now): mental illness is an illness, and an illness needs to be treated. (Repeat as necessary)

If you (all) can agree with the truth that mental illness is an illness and – therefore – should be treated in the same way that other illnesses are treated, then another part of the stigma surrounding mental illness can be removed.

Just in case you cannot agree with this, I guess I will just keep writing the thoughts that came to me as I slept…and awoke…and slept…

Who withholds treatment from someone with diabetes?  No one!

I use diabetes as an example because it has several good correlations with mental illness.

  • Both can sometimes be controlled with diet, exercise, and life choices.
  • Both often require medication.
  • Both are controlled best when “patient” makes and keeps appointments with a trained professional.
  • Both require a lifetime outlook but could be mediated or “in remission” so to speak.

I know that I do better with my bipolar self when I eat better, walk or do yoga, and make good choices (like getting enough sleep).  When I do not do what I know I need to do, I am working against myself.  The same is true of a diabetic.  In some people with either illness, medications could be avoided (in some cases) when following the “life prescription” from our doctors.

However!!!! I had a good friend in high school who followed all of her doctor’s directions, and her cholesterol (yes, I switched illnesses…you can follow…) still required medication.  She was just five feet tall but weight under 100 lbs and never went to McDonalds.  She was not  someone you would expect to have a high cholesterol problem!  No matter what she did, though, she could not change her chemical make up without medication.

This is true of many with mental illness, but society often forgets that this is true.  There are many who expect those who suffer with depression to just pull it together or those who suffer from schizophrenia to stop hearing voices or seeing people who are not there.


If we accept that mental illness is an illness, then we need to agree that the illness may need treatment.  And that treatment could involve both life changes such as more exercise or eating right AND medication, therapy, or other things.  Telling the person with a mental illness to try harder is pretty insulting.

When we are someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to accept this, work with our health professionals, and make wise choices so that we can live as “normal” of as possible.  We may need to do a few things to help our condition, and we need to accept that and –  well – do them.  For example, I absolutely should start every morning with a walk.  When was the last time I did that??? Time to start – it helps!

When we are supporting someone who suffers from mental illness, we need to support that person, to hold that person accountable for going to appointments, and to encourage him or her to do all that will help – diet, exercise, medication, life changes…whatever! BUT we need to be careful and wise how we do that.  What we say is not nearly as important as how we say it.

In the past few months, I have taken some time off from this posting a lot on this blog.  While I did that, I took a blogging class that asked to consider why I write.  Originally, it was to help me to mediate the impact of my own bipolar self.

For nearly two years, I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about everything – things I saw, things I did, and things I thought.  I argued against myself from one week to the next on issues.  I ranted. I raved.  My fingers flew across the keyboard.

My mind emptied, quieted, and slowed.

The blogging helped me.

Now, though, I see my purpose in this blog to a voice for those who have lost their voice to whatever biological, psychological, or illogical sickness ails them.  I want to help those who have been marginalized because of society’s misunderstanding of the crazy we feel inside our head – and trust me, I think some crazy thinks sometimes.

The foundation for this purpose first and foremost has to be to help promote the fact that mental illness is an illness.  While those of us who suffer from it – just like someone who suffers from diabetes or high cholesterol – can make choices to help mediate it, we might not be able to “just get over it.”

And we need not only to be treated but to be respected, loved, and even cherished.

I am thankful for my family and friends who have walked this road with me over the past three years since my diagnosis. While I have probably always suffered, I was incorrectly diagnosed throughout my life. Now that we have an accurate diagnosis, we can have an accurate treatment plan.

But it is not easy being me…and is not always easy being around me…but that seems to be another blog. As usual, I have babbled…and have no idea how to end…so I will just stop writing…

Happy Wednesday!

photo credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc


Filed under health, Relationships, Social Justice, Thoughts

10 responses to “Mental Illness: It is an Illness

  1. Stacy I am new to your blog, met you in the class you spoke of. I adore your way of explaining things and he relationship to diabetes helped me further understand the support needed and the balance between medication and lifestyle. I have people close to me struggling to find that balance and reading this may help me be more of a support. Thank you


    • Karen: thank you so much for your comment! I love knowing that this is helpful to someone (besides just me). And thank you for being supportive of those who struggle…support is key to staying balanced – especially if medication is part of that balance…there is a lot of pressure to “get better” and to get off of medication, but that is sometimes not the best move. Thanks again for your comment!


  2. Erika

    It’s not easy being around me either. How I HATE that! I can try to be pleasant, I can take up my sword and slash at the depression with diet and exercise etc. but I can’t make a more permanent change.

    My poor husband 😦 how that man has suffered because of my suffering.

    (Try to end on a good note, say something positive)

    Thanks for your post today Stacy. It helped me out.


    • Those who love us do “put up with” a lot from us. One thing that has helped my family a lot is to this as something that WE ENDURE together. I have given them permission to use words that are not hurtful but do get to the root of what they need to know (Mom, are you taking your medicine?), hold me accountable, and ask things like “are you having a bad or are we changing directions (bipolar…)?”

      This has been quite the road, but we walk it together. That requires that they join me on the road, and that is not always the case for those we love – many don’t want to get anywhere near the road…what if they catch what we have? Or even worse: what if that means that they have to acknowledge that it is an illness rather than a behavior that we can control entirely on our own?

      (Ending on a good note; staying positive)

      You are welcome, friend. Know that you are in my thoughts frequently.


  3. Heidi

    Hi Stacy! I have several random comments that probably will seem scattered. There are several other ways that diabetes and depression are similar. They are both caused by chemical imbalances in the body, and neither is outwardly evident. If you have a broken arm, it is obvious to those around you. Also they can both be genetic.

    As a spouse of someone who has suffered his entire life with anxiety and major depressive disorder, I can attest to the many faces of depression. Most people who meet my husband would never in a million years guess that he suffered in that way. He is outgoing, charming, funny, and the life of the party. He’s a bit like Cinderella. As the end of our social outings draws near, he can feel himself “slipping.” (His word). He starts to get almost panicky, or sometimes downright irritable, and at that point we know we must make a hasty exit. By the time we get home, he’s back to wearing emtional rags and longing for the temporary reprieve to become permanent reality. Cinderella still deserved to be treated like a princess, and we see that clearly. But sometimes it is hard to feel/show respect and love when things change so drastically and quickly. I know it’s not his fault! But rarely do we get his “best” at home.

    Another random thought…for the family of those with depression, there is a fine line between having empathy and allowing the depression to change you. I probably seem cold toward my spouse and his depression sometimes. When we first were married, I felt sad every time he did. After 16 years of marriage plus 3 dating, I have found myself depressed and less joyful, and I have had to learn to feel bad FOR him without feeling sad WITH him. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

    I appreciate your willingness to speak of your struggles. Praying for you!


    • Heidi!!!

      Wonderful additional thoughts; so glad you added them. Some of the thoughts that you shared (about the diabetes/depression similarities) are ones that I had but lost between morning when I “wrote the post in my head” to when it went “down on paper.” So glad that you added them!!!

      I appreciate your perspective as a spouse of one who struggles. We should talk – I’d love a guest post from you about this. I am in a strange position because I see myself clearly from a distance and write as one who tries to understand how my family deals with me. BUT – to have your perspective (in a longer form) would be good. Let’s talk!!!

      Bless you for commenting!! And we can pray that Cinderella gets to stay around longer than the party from time to time. 🙂


  4. Maury Hill

    Wonderful post! I, too, can relate. I suffer from anxiety/depression, and panic attacks. Panic attacks are like heart attacks! I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. Would you not get help for someone having a heart attack?! Please, realize that a panic attack is not something you can just will away or “buck up” through. Continous medication( that often gets changed as my body adapts to one and is then less effective) has been an answer to a prayer for me. But, be aware that those medicinal changes can take up to a year before meds and dosages are at an optimum level to relieve symptoms and allow me to both act and appear “normal”.


    • Maury – thank you for your comment! I am so sorry that you suffer…

      I’ve endured some panic attacks, and they are horrible. My counselor was able to give me some tools that I use to avoid them/mitigate them. I think that my bipolar meds also do something to ward off the attacks.

      I appreciated your “warnings” about meds taking a while for the body to adapt. This seems to be true of many meds for mental illness and is an unfortunate side effect in and of itself.

      Thanks again!


  5. tressiedavis

    A wise and courageous post – the comparison to diabetes is enlightening and I never thought of it that way before. I can relate to a lot of what you have written, and look forward to reading more ❤


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