The I Want Post

(This entire post discusses mental illness, society's attitudes to it and my hopes for managing my own; as such, I will go into some detail with my trademark snark. If I am at all insensitive here please tell me in the comments and I will fix my post. However, I should warn you that there are triggers here for discussions of mental illness, mental health stigma and suicide, so if any of these things trigger or upset you please stop reading.)

I don't mean to sound greedy, but there are a couple of things I want out of life chiefly for my own benefit. Well...that does sound greedy. I hope I can explain myself - and if I fail to do that, I at least hope you can laugh at my attempts to do so.

I'm a not-so-nice, middle-class, white, cis, abled girl. Materially, I have everything I want and most certainly everything I need, but I've got the rather clichéd trait of not having something rather important...and in my case, it's called half-decent mental health.

So I'm sick. Big deal. An oft-quoted WHO statistic from a 2001 press release shows that 1 in 4 people worldwide will have a mental or neurological health condition at some point in their lives; the same press release also states that around 450 million people suffer from such conditions. That number may have increased - which is what some studies show - and it's almost certainly lower than the true figure due to people being unable or unwilling to seek help. I'm not alone; in fact, you could argue that compared to others I'm pretty damn lucky to have gotten off as lightly as I did with access to treatment and a halfway decent response to therapy.

Actually, you could argue that I'm not sick. There are normally two routes to arguing this: either only people who are institutionalised/cannot work/are trying to eat grapes off the wallpaper are "really" sick, or that mental illness itself is just one great big lie made up so Big Pharma can put us all on dopey pills. Both routes aren't just wrong - they're insidious, dangerous attitudes.

I understand them both. This isn't because I'm an evil person, it's because it's what's propagated in the media and among certain sectors of society - and I would be fairly confident in wagering that most if not all of the people pushing those attitudes don't have first-hand experience of a mental illness.

My guess is that, apart from ignorance and stupidity, there are two main reasons why only people who are very, very severely ill are assumed to be "truly" so. Firstly, it looks nice and dramatic for the media if people are babbling to themselves thinking they're Jesus as opposed to rocking and crying on a sofa or lying in bed unable to speak or move. Secondly, Western society has a very, very messed-up attitude towards emotions and vulnerabilities; showing emotion is weak and vulnerable people are, too, inherently weak and bad. Once something bad happens and you're affected by it, that's it. You shouldn't have let it affect you, but now that you have you're tainted; you have to hide your problems because otherwise people will see you for the craven, cowardly, subhuman being you are, and because getting help makes you weak. And you stay like that for life. It never goes away. You'll always be somehow wrong, and any problems are just in your head or attention-seeking behaviours.

I'll say this right now: the media doesn't know shit. It doesn't have to live knowing something's messing up your life and not really knowing what. And "normal" people, with their judgemental attitudes and their ignorance, don't know shit either. (I'm sorry if you don't have any experience with mental illness and you think I've spoken harshly to you, but if you don't have any experience you really shouldn't be weighing in on something you know nothing about - and especially not when you could be talking people out of taking their condition seriously. I get too angry over this, over seeing people told time and time again that it's nothing and that they're wrong, to be able to keep a totally cool head. If you object to this, take the time to educate yourself and then I won't shout at you, okay?) People can be sick and hold down a job or do well at school. That's not because they're not sick, and it's different for everyone (people who don't do well aren't wastrels, for example, contrary to popular opinion) - in quite a lot of cases like that it's to do with access to help. If I weren't in therapy and surrounded by people who for some reason want to stop me from killing myself and in quite a regimented, intensive routine thanks to school, I'd either be dead or pretty close. I've had my fair share of suicide attempts and lying curled up unable even to turn over. Speaking? Getting up? Eating? Going to the bathroom? Forget about it. I'd still be like that if I hadn't sought help, and so would a lot of other people. It doesn't mean that we're not sick, just like seeking help for a physical condition and later improving thanks to said help doesn't mean that we were never sick in the first place.

The people who minimise mental illness - I get angry at them, but I can cope with them. I understand their attitudes all too well, because I've known a lot of people like that. I save my real ire for the people who claim that mental illness isn't real.

Again, I understand them. This isn't because I'm a denier now; it's not because I've ever been a denier. It's because I understand why people deny mental health conditions - because they believe that Big Pharma profits from making up conditions and selling "cures", or that mental illness is an excuse to lock up nonconformists. It does not help that Big Pharma actually does have a tendency to medicalise things and that dissidents have been institutionalised in the past, on the grounds of mental illness, to silence them. The trouble is that they extrapolate too much; if Big Pharma medicalises one vaguely normal human tendency, it must be making all disorders up. If dissidents have been institutionalised on the grounds of mental illness, all mental illness must be an excuse to silence the perfectly sane. As I've already mentioned, it extrapolates too far. I don't deny that Big Pharma freely medicalises and lies about things due to the capitalistic profit motive. Nor do I deny the political abuse of psychiatry. I couldn't deny either, because both are real things with evidence to back them up. But just as Big Pharma's medicalising doesn't mean that vaccines don't work and diseases aren't real - we have plenty of evidence that they do work and as for disease being real, just ask anyone who's lost someone to any physical condition - and instead means that we should smash capitalism and not monetise medicine, neither do medicalisation and abuse mean that mental health conditions, which will affect at least a quarter of the population if not more, were made up by bored capitalist pigs and greedy power maniacs. If anything, they mean that capitalism and politics need to be smashed and kept out of the study and treatment of mental health. Psychiatry, too, has an extremely ugly history, with plenty of abuse. I couldn't deny that, not when there's so much evidence out there. What I can say is this. Somewhere under all the medicalisation, all the abuse, all the pseudofuckery, is illness - in fact, there are many illnesses. They're real. They exist. They kill, or if they do not kill, they harm people significantly and make them suffer - which is why consensual, non-abusive treatment should be available to people who seek it instead of them being told that it's all in their head. There are criteria, and capitalism and politics need to be kicked out, and a good dose of humanism and scientific enquiry kicked in, to refine them. We need to better understand the cultural frameworks around the diagnosis of mental illness, too.

Right, extremely long introduction over...I'm sick, as are many other people. I'm getting help and I can mostly look after myself and stop myself from ending my life, so I'm doing fairly well and probably too well to complain or want things. Why, then am I devoting an entire blog post to wanting better health?

Firstly, I don't think I get priority over people with worse health than me. Neither do I think I'm some magical sparkly special princess who's uniquely entitled to being well. It's just...I'm sick of being sick. I'm so sick of having to worry about mood swings or episodes. I hate the slightest little thing making me break down in tears. And I feel so, so shitty every time I have a relapse.

I want not to have violent mood swings any more. I want my mood to be stable, healthy, not sunk in the pits of despair or blowing up in a matter of minutes. I want not to have to worry about scaring people away with unpredictable changes; I want not to have to feel terrible for feeling sad instead of okay, because I think I've failed in trying to get better. I want not to have to be on my guard; if I'm honest I want to be healthy enough to be completely unaware of all this. I want people not to patronise me and tell me condescendingly that I need to work on my moods more, since obviously I'm too stupid to recognise that I have a problem and too lazy to fix it. Honestly, if I could just snap my fingers to make my moods stable - if I could just snap my fingers to wash away an illness that's nearly killed me - I would have done so already. The problem lies in the fact that I can't just snap my fingers, I need to understand what's going on in my mind and manage it.

I want not to inhabit a parallel universe where I'm shit and everyone hates me, either. That would really help. Again, I just end up on my guard, freaked out, paranoid, thinking I'm unworthy of human contact and should just run away from everyone and that everything I touch turns to shit. Then I get paranoid that my paranoia about turning everything to shit will turn everything to shit. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam. I'm fucking sick of it, fucking sick of knowing that without doing a lot of hard work and keeping my mood okay I'm walking on egg shells.

Most of all I want to be able to think clearly and logically. I don't want to be screaming, punching myself and sobbing uncontrollably. I don't want to be swinging from content to suicidal at a moment's notice, if that. I don't want to constantly be unsure of where I stand. I just want to be able to see things as they are, without my bullshit getting in the way.

I don't think that's too much to ask of myself.