You may not realize it, but even the littlest thing you do (or don't do) matters. It can make a difference. The way you behave on a daily basis, the way you treat people, the way you look at them, people notice, and it can have an effect. I'm not saying that I'm not guilty of a lot of this. What I am saying is that we need to be more mindful of our actions and language.
Recently I went to CVS in Sherman Oaks to pick up a refill on my prescriptions. Let me just tell you, I really don't like the pharmacy at this CVS. The line is always long - for drop off and pick up. The place is always busy. The people behind the counter at the pharmacy are slow and not always particularly nice (maybe they're just busy or overwhelmed by the number of people there). But, its close to my house. There are three prescriptions I get refilled every month for my bipolar disorder: welbutrin, lexapro and lithium. Welbutrin and lexapro are anti-depressants. Lithium is, well, lithium. It's a mood stabilizer. It's the one that gets me the looks. What looks you might ask?
Well, last time I was at CVS something happened. It's happened before, many many times, at other pharmacies (not just this one, although quite often at this one as I go here the most). It ALWAYS irritates me. I never say anything, because what am I going to say? "Stop being an asshole?" No, of course not, I'm too nice for that (I mean, I can be a bitch, but I'm not going to make a scene over the way someone looks at me, its not worth the effort). When I go to pick up my medications, if the person behind the counter has any idea of what they are, they will sometimes give me "the look" (there are two people at that CVS who always give me the look). The one that says, get her out of here fast, she's not stable, she's crazy, I don't want her near me, she might snap. Maybe you think I'm reading too much into a small interaction. I don't. Because when I pick up something else, like a prescription for a antibiotics or birth control pills, I don't get the same look. Its a very specific look and its not cool.
Yes, I take three medications every day to help with my moods. No, I'm not crazy. No, I'm not going to hurt you. No, I'm not going to flip out right here in the middle of the store (I don't make a scene because it will just reinforce this thought). Just let me buy my medication and go along my merry way without the look, or potential judgement behind it. The looks were worse when I had to take an anti-psychotic, which I did for a while. It's been years since I had to take that, but when I did, man, those looks were way worse. I took an anti-psychotic (terrible name) for the better part of a year because I went through a period where I was hallucinating (scary, by the way), which was later determined to be caused by my birth control pills. Stop birth control, hallucinations gone, stop anti-psychotic, no problems.
I definitely got a lot of looks then. And I still get looks. The problem, I think, is everything we ever see about bipolar disorder (and so many other mental illnesses) is negative. Its all over tv, scripted, reality, news, and its always negative. We never look at the positive side of mental illness. And, there is a positive side. Take me, for example, I am a productive, happy, law abiding member of society. I have a job, pay my bills, take care of myself and my dog. I run half marathons and marathons. I am training for an ironman. I fundraise for charity (fyi - I've raised more than $10,000 cumulatively to this point for LLS). I am a good sister, daughter, friend. I am loyal and strong and brave. I work hard for the things I have and want.
I am not going to hurt you. I am not a bad person. I am not out of control. I did not choose to have bipolar disorder. I did not do this to myself. Unfortunately I can not just snap out of it, because trust me, if I could I would. There is no cure, it is what it is and I live with it. I am not always either manic or depressed - usually I live somewhere right in the middle, just like you. I am not crazy. Living with mental illness doesn't mean that there is something wrong with a person. It just means their brain works a little differently.
And when someone looks at you funny or says something that is inconsiderate, it reinforces the negative beliefs about bipolar disorder. And, when we reinforce negative thoughts and stigma we make it harder for people to get help and ask for help.
There are so many misconceptions about bipolar disorder, and all mental health issues, and the people who live with them. I'll tell you a little secret. We're just like you. Even on my medication I have mood swings (though usually not as extreme). So, be mindful of what you are saying and how you react to people, even a look can have a big impact. You don't have to walk around on eggshells, we aren't going to break. But, sometimes just a look or a couple of words can have a bigger impact than you realize.
I think if more people felt accepted, regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness, then more people would be willing to pursue the help they need.
You might wonder what pushed me to write this post, when the CVS thing happens sort of often. Well, I was watching a DVR'd episode of Hawaii 5-0 (don't judge me), and I was bothered by something I heard. Toward the end of the show, one of the main characters is being held captive by a man who is clearly troubled. The captor said something like "I'm normal." And the character said, "You're not normal. You're mentally ill." (Original air date - 4/9/12) What the f*$k Hawaii 5-0? So people with mental illness aren't normal? Its representations like this that help continue the stigma around mental illness. (Trust me, there are plenty of negative presentations of mental illness on television, I won't go on and on, but I could.)
It's time to stand up and demand a change. We need to end the stigma around mental illness. We need to accept people for who they are. Will you take a stand with me? Will you help me end stigma? Tell me, in the comments below, I want to know who is with me, and then sign the Bring Change 2 Mind pledge (link below) - it only takes 1 minute. And, then keep that pledge and help END STIGMA around mental illness. Its time for a change. Now.