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"But you don't look mentally ill..."


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No. No I don't look mentally ill. I dress nicely, don't live on the street, don't mumble (too often) to myself while walking. I now bathe regularly. I ca be a sparkling conversationalist. I hold a job (it sucks, but it's mine). I'm able to live alone.

 

But you know what? Fuck all of the assholes who think mentally ill people look a certain way. Because I am mentally ill. I'm on meds up to the eyeballs. It took me months to stabilize on them during which I did things like poop on chairs  at work because I was terrified I'd get fired for getting up too often, went through a period where I was having a hard time bathing and was manic, and was frightened that everyone would no I was crazy and I'd end up being homeless. I was this close to losing my apartment and worked crazy hours to keep it, which stressed me out so much that I couldn't bathe or eat. I actually lost a gig because of it. I was humiliated. And because I don't present as homeless-baglady crazy, nobody cuts slack for me. 

 

Actually, I never forget that I'm one step away from being locked up in a loony bin. I can never forget the periods when I couldn't bear going into my bathroom at home and I peed in a bucket instead; why, I can't remember. I can't forget having a so-called friend call me a hoarder, whereas in fact my apartment is full because I moved from a much larger place to a smaller one, and am holding on to the items I'll need when I eventually move. I hate living in a warehouse, but it gives me hope. I'm fully aware that I'm ill. Every single fucking day. I see homeless women and I think, 'that could be me.' And it scares me. A lot. 

 

Yeah, I have advanced degrees. Yeah, I have an apartment and can get to work on time. And I'm still really poor right now, and live from day to day, to the point where buying a game on iTunes is a mammoth treat. And no, I can't hold down a better job right now because I'm still very ill, and I'm trying to get better, and this isn't my fault. I didn't ask for this. It seems the more meds I take the less capable I am of work, because the meds exhaust me. But I'm a nice person and a good person, and this is what mental illness looks like. It doesn't always look like some mass murderer who shoots up a school, or some animal who holds women against their will for years. Sometimes it looks like a 50 year old middle class black woman who is really smart but now has to live in the hood because she's grateful to keep a roof over her head. So fuck you, and fuck your assumptions about mental illness, about race, about sex, about everything. My battle might not mean much and it might not even be worth it but it's the only one i can make right now, and one day I know I'll be better. 

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I'm at my wits end with this too!

 

I don't know what the hell I have to do to "look MI."

 

I've not bathed for weeks in the past, lost my apartment, tried to kill myself several times, I've had periods of drinking too much, I hear voices and other things, I get manic or depressed (though I'm sure I'm not believed no matter what I say), lost friendships/relationships, can't work or drive, barely leave the apartment, spend most of my time in bed, have no friends, have negative symptoms, lost interest in all my favorite hobbies, failed college, on SSDI, can't even concentrate enough to watch a movie and yet...I "look so good and happy" that I must not be MI!!!!!!!!!!

 

Well thanks for that judgement. It doesn't matter what I say either. I've learned to be very guarded about what I report and when. It's hard for me to even open up about symptoms. Because when I do, it seems like I'm told I don't look MI or I look too good to be MI. What? Because my husband has to push me to shower almost daily or every other day at least?

 

And I'm not trying to bitch that I've got it so bad because I know many have it worse and are homeless MI. Some are even psychotic 100% of the time. But damn, I think I have earned a MI badge over the years. Not that I'm proud of that. Ugh.

 

I don't know why people treat me this way. Is it because I usually care about my appearance? I have decent clothing (as in no tears or rips)? I can't figure it out. If someone could would you please let me know!

 

I'm so sorry OP that you have been treated like I have been treated. It's definitely an outrage. I can understand completely why you are upset and angry about this. Would anyone treat a diabetic like he didn't have anything wrong with him and didn't need insulin shots just because he showered daily and was a good person?

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Washington Park - you are courageous.  You have survived.  You have overcome tremendous handicaps. 

You are a miracle and never forget it.  You too Cheese.

 

To learn to manage serious mental illness, to take your meds, treatment, and then function and work and survive -

well I have slowly come to realize that it is a grand achievement.

 

And almost no one understands this. 

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They don't know the full extent of what crazy looks like, let alone just how many people around them might actually have a mental illness.  I know not everyone can be, but this is a huge part of the reason why I am so Out about being mentally interesting.  So people can know me, look at me, and realize that before them is a person with one of the "big scary" mental illnesses (bipolar) who they likely would not have realized has MI unless they were told.  Other aspects of my being mentally interesting are... more visible, like some of my stimming/soothing things, and some ADHD traits, but not a whit of those are recognized for what they are.

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I actually had my tdoc tell me yesterday that I don't "look" how people would assume I would with my diagnosis. She's like "you're put together, you shower, you have conversations." I said that I internalize most of it. You have to know me really well to know what goes on. No one knows up front that I have tried to kill myself twice, one was a real good effort, not even sure how I'm still here, but yea. No one sees the days/weeks I can't leave the house, or get out of bed, or know about the shit I see that isn't there, or lately, hearing stuff.

I hate all the stigma. No one has to "look" a certain way to validate their illness.

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I can be agitated, flapping, talking super fast about a specific Special Interest w/o noticing how bored others are around me, wearing short sleeves so you can see all my SH scars, with my face picked all to hell, and still get people telling me "oh but you don't LOOK like you have anxiety/ADHD/aspergers/bipolar/dermatillomania/whatever."  So.  People are strange.

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Washington Park Commons, the OP said at the end of her post,"So fuck you, and fuck your assumptions about mental illness, about race, about sex, about everything. My battle might not mean much and it might not even be worth it but it's the only one i can make right now, and one day I know I'll be better."

 

I so hear and feel what you are saying.    Your battle DOES mean very much - and it IS worth it!  You are doing the absolute best that you can, and that is all you can expect yourself to do.  You should be proud.   

 

.... it's one thing for "lay-persons" to say to people like us "Oh, you don't look mentally ill"... they have this stereotype or picture in their heads from what? -- watching  "insane asylum" movies from the 1940's or something???   Probably.    

 

But it's a WHOLE 'NOTHER thing when our treatment providers tell us "Oh, you look good, you can't be feeling that poorly".    ARGGGH.  

 

I've been trying to tell my pdoc things for months related to the challenges I'm having with a benzo taper.  Not that I disagree with the taper in principle; I just think it is way too fast and I wasn't involved in setting the plan for it.  And the truth of it is that he's doing it as sort of a "cover his ass" thing within the clinic.  I'm so glad he has to do that for me. 

 

I wasn't sleeping, and I told him this.  He said "You don't LOOK tired!  You must be sleeping"   I had put makeup on, and and under-eye concealer; NEVER AGAIN!     Further, that same day he told me I "looked good, looked younger!"  and then followed it up with a letter in the mail (normal for him after each visit) that repeated how glad he was that the taper was going so well for me.

 

DOC- YOU WISH IT WERE GOING WELL!   so you don't have to deal with any fallout, or come up with a new plan.     But saying it doesn't make it TRUE.  

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They don't know the full extent of what crazy looks like, let alone just how many people around them might actually have a mental illness.  I know not everyone can be, but this is a huge part of the reason why I am so Out about being mentally interesting.  So people can know me, look at me, and realize that before them is a person with one of the "big scary" mental illnesses (bipolar) who they likely would not have realized has MI unless they were told.  Other aspects of my being mentally interesting are... more visible, like some of my stimming/soothing things, and some ADHD traits, but not a whit of those are recognized for what they are.

thank you for being brave enough to be "out".  we need more people to do what you are doing.  i hope one day i am strong enough to be out of the crazy closet myself.  it smells like mothballs in here.

 

i have had the same troubles forever about "you don't look sick/crazy/whatever".  with doctors and everyone else.  then i got lucky and found a pdoc and tdoc who got to know me well enough that it doesn't matter what i look like, they can *see* that something is wrong, no matter how i am dressed or how verbal i am that day.  they know how to look past the exterior we intentionally create and ask "so what are you feeling/thinking" despite appearances.  i wish everyone could have pdocs/tdocs/whoever who could do that.  it probably takes a lot of skill and practice.

 

the general population still never guesses it, though.  even if i do disclose on a rare ocassion, i never fail to hear "you can't be MI!  you sound perfectly normal and you don't even look weird!".  it makes me feel like i should just never bother sharing, unless i want to continue the conversation and explain the myths around MI.  which i mostly don't.  i just drop the subject and move on unless they press for information.  all i want them to know is that they will never know when someone is MI and when they aren't, by simply judging how they look/sound that day.  i don't know if it ever sinks in though.

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Most people don't realize that mental illness -- and poverty -- is not a fixed state but instead a frontier that many of us cross over many times in our lives.

 

It does induce a certain amount of dual consciousness when you hear your workmates etc. talk about "those" people, not knowing that you were at one time one of those people. (Alas I am one of those people again.)

Edited by Retromancer
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And people say "oh you don't look mentally ill" like looking mentally ill will actually convince them treat you any better :rolleyes:

 

Either which way you act or look, the stigma is still there. So why not be open? Atleast you can be yourself & feel less self conscience about it.

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What a lot of people also don't seem to realize is that some of us get pretty damn good at hiding just how bad we are inside!  For about the first 20 yrs of my life I wasn't diagnosed at all.  I remember being so sick sometimes, the throwing up, the crazy thoughts...I didn't know these were panic attacks then.  I was so tense, so down and I couldn't understand what was wrong much less explain to anyone else.  Oh I remember ALL TOO WELL the rolling eyes, whispers behind my back, exasperation in their voices!  Parents, teachers, doctors, EVERYONE thought I was just being a pain in the butt, attention seeking, faking it, and more. 

 

My own family was the toughest to take.  Even as an adult they treated me this way.  When my Maw Maw died I was huge pregnant with my first child but wanted to go to the funeral in another state so flew with my mom and sister.  My aunt was so hateful!  First before we could even hug our Paw Paw she dragged us into the bedroom wanting to split up the diamonds before anyone else got there.  She took the lion's share, let my mom have a few, and left the costume pieces for my sister and I.  Not that I cared about the monetary value but my Maw Maw loved her beautiful jewelry and made a big show of showing us which piece she wanted to go to each of us to remember her by.  None of us got the pieces that my dear, sweet Maw Maw meant for us.  Then it was off to drink themselves stupid with relatives they hadn't seen in forever leaving me to try to pack all Maw Maw's things for the woman's shelter so my poor Paw Paw wouldn't have to deal with all of it.  I hurt and my feet and ankles were swelling to painful proportions.  I asked if they would mind getting me a little fruit, I was craving something HEALTHY as we'd had little to eat and all of it greasy fast food.  They all got angry at me as if I was being a brat asking for some special treatment!  Finally I just wanted to get out on my own for a bit and asked if I could borrow a car to go window shopping or something.  No one would trust me with their car.  A big group of them said they would go and when I said I didn't want to come got angry because going out had been my idea in the first place.  Once again, I was just being a brat to them.  Finally when most everyone left they asked if I would mind staying an extra week to help pack her things that I'd been working on all by myself the whole time!!  I said no, I really needed to get home, I needed to get back to my doctors and all.  They ranted and raved, they verbally abused me, they called me names, and later I overheard my grandpa in the other room tell my mom "well 2 out of 3 isn't bad" (meaning my 2 younger siblings turned out ok even if I didn't)  I never got to talk to my Paw Paw again.  It still TEARS MY HEART out to think that he thought I was worthless in the end because I loved him so damn much! 

 

The other day at work my supervisor said I looked awful and asked what was wrong.  I told her my anxieties were just right through the roof.  Before I even had half the word "anxieties" out of my mouth she rolled her eyes and turned away from me to pay attention to someone else.  Hell, even in the chat room here I was told that I'd practically have to have a traumatic breakdown right at work before they'd listen to me!!  I take care of elderly alzheimer and dementia patients!  A fucking breakdown at work could seriously spell injury for one of the patients that I really care about!!  I'd NEVER, EVER put them in danger like that!!  So I guess I'm screwed, hm? 

 

I don't want to fuckin fake being OK anymore!  No one should ever have to!!

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"So fuck you, and fuck your assumptions about mental illness, "
 
Oh yes. And it's not just the public.  I remember, with relish, the the best psychiatrist I have had (he got promoted, dammit,) turned me loose on a couple of his students.  They were under the impression that it was the other way around. 

"...regardless of their doom
The little victims play..."

 

These two were asked to do a "work-up" on me as if taking over my case.

Almost the first question, they having looked at my notes, was 

"So, you feel as though life has no meaning...."

And the patronising sympathy came so thick I could almost feel the pat on the head.

 

"Oh," I responded, seeming surprised. "That's never occurred to you as a possibility?  

Why on earth do you think it has meaning? How do you tackle...?"

I enjoyed the subsequent piece of demolition work on these two who, as their tutor had noted, had rather come to equate mental illness with mental incompetence.  It ain't necessarily so.

 

And I'd been given a licence, even been told, to demonstrate such.

That was a bit of an antidepressant in itself.

 

Chris.

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Our big mental health centre here has this "faces of MI" campaign that happens, on and of. It's just pictures of people who are famous in this country who have MI. There are artists, writers, musicians, politicians, that sort of thing.

 

I've always wondered what mentally ill "looks" like, since the whole point is that it is in your head. When I was being very eating disordered, I still wasn't small enough to have a visible problem, even though purging gave me the chipmunk cheeks and my hair was coming out in clumps. Is that what a mental illness looks like?

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When you see someone without legs you immediately class them as "disabled". In contrast all MIs are a form of invisible illness. This can actually have it's up sides if you want to be treated like a "normal" person. However I can absolutely emphasise with what you're going through. It can be hard to get the support you need when all people see is a facade of normalcy. Nobody sees the effort that it takes just to get you to look normal.

I don't think it's about comparing yourself to others who are worse off than you - your illness is valid and you have a right to own your own history and past experiences of MI. Some people are blind to the intricacies of MI either because they haven't experienced it themselves or because it hits a little too close to home. It's not in your capacity to remove those blinders but perhaps with a little understanding that not all people are willing, capable or receptive to learning about MI you can start to accept short-sighted attitudes in a way which will make things a little less painful for yourself.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I relate...I hate that because people see me looking *relatively* ok, they act like I'm fine and life should be puppies flying on unicorns over a frikkin rainbow :(

I struggle to make it through each and every day without either running screaming down the street or doing something to end my misery. Each day I "survive" is a miracle to me and I'm thankful that I've been able to hold myself together... People w/o MI just don't get it...

I like what Nightbutterfly said about people not getting it because it hits too close to home or it's something beyond them. I'm open with people and let them know I have anxiety among other 'issues' that I have to contend with that make doing 'normal' stuff very difficult for me. Sadly as much as I try to be open about my struggles, many of them just chalk it up to "a bad marriage".... So I guess a "good marriage" would make me sane again???....

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many of them just chalk it up to "a bad marriage".... So I guess a "good marriage" would make me sane again???....

I won't say that having a good marriage will help, but getting out of a bad one will help somewhat.  Just anecdotal info. 

 

People can be assholish regardless of mental or any innvisble problem.  I'm nuttier than a fruitcake but people think I look good for a "schizophrenic."  Too bad I look a hot mess for having joint and immune problems.  :)

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So, I went to the clinic today and met my new shrink, and sat with a clinician. I wrote about it under the Bipolar thread. However, you know how you have this feeling in the back of your head that things aren't quite right? That tingling Spidey-sense?  I got it once I came home and it continued at work tonight.

 

My clinician and my 'new' p-doc (I have a funny feeling that ol' crazy Wash won't be keeping this woman as her p-doc for long, nu?) seemed to be more obsessed with my sexuality than I am, and seemed to find it odd that I don't see myself as odd. Like the fact that I'm in love with letting my fingers do the walking on a near-daily basis (the Moslem female shrink apparently didn't like that, or my lack of immediate marriage plans). The male clinician insisted that I have a 'fetish' or a 'sexual preference' because I like getting my ass beaten. Actually, BDSM pretty much saved my life. It gave me structure, externalized a lot of pain and rage, and helped me deal with trauma. One of the reasons I'm sick now, I believe, is that my husband died, leaving me without a partner I could trust. And while my boyfriend is okey-dokey in that area, we don't get to see each other often enough, and he's usually pretty tired. 

 

But of course, one of my sexual orientations must be a problem for me. Because ritual, beauty, structure, acceptance and community are bad, I guess. Getting to play Halloween every week? That's bad. Being the star in your own horror movie where you write the script and the happy ending? That's bad too.

 

Oh, wait. That's right, neither of them asked why this stuff was important to me.  Because I'm only a patient, and I don't know anything. Because most of the people who come for clinic are uneducated and unsophisticated, so it's ok to talk down to people like us.  Except that I'm writing their supervisor and giving them a piece of my fucking mind, and it won't be the crazy hypermanic part or the insane depressed part, either. No, it will be the very polite and seditty part, the one who knows how to be pointedly nasty without using any naughty language. Why? Because Tuesday was the day before the end of July, and I ran out of lollipops last week, and I still have a little left in my economy-size can of Acme Brand Whoopass. The nice thing about being crazy is that when I find the energy to get angry, I really don't give a shit, because way too many people have been saying stupid stuff to me lately, and I've been controlling my emotions rather than snapping because lately I've been sane enough to have self control without turning it inward and punishing myself. 

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When you see someone without legs you immediately class them as "disabled". In contrast all MIs are a form of invisible illness. This can actually have it's up sides if you want to be treated like a "normal" person. However I can absolutely emphasise with what you're going through. It can be hard to get the support you need when all people see is a facade of normalcy. Nobody sees the effort that it takes just to get you to look normal.

I don't think it's about comparing yourself to others who are worse off than you - your illness is valid and you have a right to own your own history and past experiences of MI. Some people are blind to the intricacies of MI either because they haven't experienced it themselves or because it hits a little too close to home. It's not in your capacity to remove those blinders but perhaps with a little understanding that not all people are willing, capable or receptive to learning about MI you can start to accept short-sighted attitudes in a way which will make things a little less painful for yourself.

 

Having that plausible deniability is a very good things at times. I agree. I also agree that acting normal is exhausting, which might be why depressives sleep so much. Every single day is like running the New York Marathon in high heels while being chased by wolves and having leg weights added on occasionally, just to make it interesting.

 

I realize my illness is valid, but I guess it's been because I've been dumped on lately by people who should probably know better. And my feeling that way is probably unfair; if they knew better (or cared to know better) they wouldn't say or do certain things. Usually I feel compassion, but right now, not so much. Even Buddhist monks had their warriors, and Jesus was sometimes short-tempered. But, I will take your advice to heart. I am trying to calm my soul, but there are days when it just doesn't happen. 

Edited by Washington Park Commons
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