I get a lot of comments from people who don’t know that I’m diagnosed with bipolar and PTSD, and also from those that know and simply don’t understand. One family friend simply doesn’t understand. If we are out together in a group and my husband walks away for a moment, I tend to get anxious. I start to look around; making sure that nothing frightening is going to happen while my husband stepped away momentarily. His friend starts to tell me, “Don’t be anxious. Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen. Just relax.” I try to explain to him a little about anxiety and mental health, but he doesn’t get it. I feel invalidated and ridiculous by his comments; I end up feeling as if my emotional reactions are foolish and irrational. I’m not sure if I should bother explaining it to him again. He hasn’t understood it the first 5 times, why would he get it the next time? Even though I often feel uncomfortable in these situations, I accept this guy as a part of my life. I have hope that it will get better over time.
Not everyone is like that individual. I was at a family gathering yesterday for someone’s birthday. It was very obvious that I wasn’t feeling well. I explained that it was due to a new medication. Everyone that I talked to was understanding; some people asked a few extremely personal questions, but not one person was rude or dismissive. There is another person in this family that also struggles with bipolar disorder; they are accepting of her, but they don’t seem to understand much about the illness. Various people asked me questions such as, “Why aren’t you feeling well? How long have you been on this medication? What is this med supposed to treat? Why would you be willing to take something so risky or difficult? Don’t you think you can just get better with time?” Some of these questions were legitimate, some were a bit odd. I answered everything I could, and then I decided to provide some educational information.
I talked about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and how it can help those diagnosed with mental illness and their families and loved ones. I talked about the NAMI Family to Family classes that are provided all over the country. I explained that my mother and sister took these classes shortly after I was diagnosed and how helpful it was for them. I described how it helped my mom and sister understand how my brain worked, what they should and should not do depending on the episode, and even how to take care of themselves. The couple people I talked to about this seemed quite responsive and even intrigued. It was really nice to have people seriously interested in what I had to say instead of ignoring me, even when I’m just answering their questions.
In my experience, family has always been supportive and caring; both my family and my husband’s family really seem to care about me and my wellbeing. No one always expresses themselves properly, but I do know that what they do always comes from love. Of course there will be times when they say the wrong thing, but that happens to everybody. In those situations, I need to remember that they didn’t mean anything by it, and that it is okay for me to stand up for myself by saying that my feelings are hurt.
2 thoughts on “Explaining Mental Illness to Others”
It’s not easy to deal with people who don’t understand. Perhaps the guy’s response and off-hand comments are a symptom of his own form of metal or emotional illness. Social ineptitude and a lack of empathy must be challenging for him to live with. You are blessed to be able to reach out to others, even through the darkness.
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I agree. His inability to understand is an issue of his, not mine. Thank you