I remember the first time I went to see a psychiatrist. I was afraid, intimidated, but determined to find out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t function in society, and goddammit I wanted to function.
I wanted desperately to be like other people – all the other people on the street and in the grocery store that looked like they had their lives together.
That first visit was a long series of questions. He asked. I answered. There was silence while he waited for me to keep talking.
My journey to his office had begun a couple of years before, in the office of a general practitioner. I didn’t tell her everything. She would have certainly had me committed. But I admitted to her my hopelessness, my emotional state, my stress…
She give me a prescription for temporary relief and told me to get my butt to a clinic that could offer me psychiatric and therapeutic services.
The Prozac helped a little bit, but not as much as talking to someone had helped. So I looked for a clinic that offered therapists in conjunction with psychiatric care. I found one, and I stayed there for years.
I’ve learned a lot about mental illness, especially my own, since my initial diagnosis. Initially, I was diagnosed manic depressive. That diagnosis changed to bipolar 1 as I opened up to my doctors and told them more about my history and stopped lying to them about what was going on in my life. It took me a long time, and a lot of desperation, before I finally decided to start trusting them.
And it took my doctors that long before they could get a true diagnosis. After all, they only had what I gave them to work with. In the beginning, it felt like I was spilling my guts, but I was only giving them part of the story.
I’m telling you my story because I want you to understand how difficult it is to diagnose someone with a mental illness.
My journey is just one (anecdotal) example of how long it takes to reach a correct diagnosis. And this is my long way of getting to the point…
When we look at something that’s happened in the news and make assumptions about that person’s mental health, we’re perpetuating stigma. We dismiss poor behavior because “that person must be crazy” or “he must be off his meds.”
Take the woman who went ape-shit on an elderly man wearing a MAGA hat in a Starbucks this week. Given the great lengths the woman went to to try to punish the offending hat-wearer, it’d be really easy to say that she’s mentally unstable.
But that dismisses her behavior and perpetuates stigma against those who struggle to live balanced, healthy lives while dealing with a mental illness every day.
Mental illness is nuanced. We shouldn’t assume that someone is off their meds every time something like this happens. Humans are emotional – and sometimes emotions get the better of us. That doesn’t mean everyone is mentally ill.
If every time someone does something “crazy” we assume that person is mentally ill, we further the stigma surrounding those who do struggle with mental illness.
I’m not in a position to armchair psych anyone – not even with my extensive experience sitting on the couches and overstuffed chairs of psychiatrists and therapists and counselors.
I can speak from my own experience, and that’s it.
We’re seeing one moment in this woman’s life – one, admittedly very bad looking moment. We shouldn’t judge her to be mentally ill based on that one moment. After all, we all live in glass houses. Who are we to throw stones?