By: Anna Shapiro ~Guest Writer~
I spent years believing that there was something tragically beautiful about my various mental illnesses. I believed this because our generation has taken serious disorders and turned them into trendy accessories and artsy Tumblr posts.
Reflect for a moment: How many times have you said that you were “so OCD” about keeping your class notes organized? How many times have you claimed that your mom was “so bipolar” for sending you an angry text message? Have you ever confused your spring break diet with an eating disorder? Have you ever laughed about the fact that you are “such a hypochondriac?” Or found something oddly romantic in the notion of major depression?
We are all guilty of buying into these misconceptions. Mental illness has become cool and trendy like an Alex and Ani bracelet. Now this is not to say that there is anything wrong with having a mental illness (I have several), this is about noticing how the seemingly innocuous comments that we make as a society with regard to mental illness can be really harmful. What immediately comes to mind is that while most mental illnesses have romanticized aspects, one can’t pick and choose which symptoms they are going to have.
The brooding mystery of depression comes along with days of feeling so emotionally drained that you can’t get out of bed. The tidiness associated with OCD comes with levels of obsessive thinking that no one, myself included, who has not dealt with it can understand. The creativity often afforded by bipolar disorder comes with crippling highs and lows and a medication regiment that those of us who suffer from it will probably be on for the rest of our lives. Eating disorders are not fad diets that you pick up to lose weight for spring break. They weigh heavy with feelings of worthlessness and obsessive thoughts and behavioral urges that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And with regard to hypochondriasis, there is nothing remotely romantic about driving to the ER every time you have a panic attack because you are convinced your heart is failing.
Perhaps the most frustrating part about mental illness is that you often are aware that you are acting completely “out of your mind,” and yet there seems to be nothing that you can do to stop it. So fine, mental illnesses aren’t as cute as you might have thought. But making jokes about them helps to normalize them, right? Our generation’s openness is smashing the stigma? Yes and no.
The more we are willing to talk about these illnesses in everyday life, the more normalized they become. The problem lies in that we are discussing them in the wrong ways. We are teaching those who think they might be suffering that their illnesses are casual and cool, that they don’t need to seek out treatment because what they are feeling is so normal that everyone seems to have it.
On the flip side, we are alienating those who do know themselves to suffer from mental illnesses. A friend who has suffered from severe OCD explained that she feels disconnected from people who make jokes about being “so OCD.” She said it felt like she could never really make them understand what she was going through. I share similar sentiments. When someone mentions to me that their mom is “so bipolar,” I know what they mean by this is that their mom is moody, but that is not what it means to have bipolar disorder. I feel tempted to ask them every time in a sarcastic tone, “Oh really, your mom is bipolar? How was her last manic episode? Did she end up in the hospital?” I bite my tongue because I know these words won’t get me anywhere, but it is still frustrating to hear blatant myths perpetuated about illnesses that I and others I care about deal with on a daily basis.
Ultimately, mental illness is not cute because it is hard. And those going through it are not glamorous, they are strong. By perpetuating the idea that these struggles are cute and something to strive for, we completely invalidate the struggle that those with mental illness work through on a day-to-day basis.