Last Friday, mom’s home health nurse came by. She tends to do her visits on Fridays; unless she forgets, then she comes on a Sunday. Anyway, my mom was telling her how she was now on Geodon. She told the nurse that she had gotten more manic recently and the nurse at Mental Health had gotten her a prescription for Geodon to help with that. (For the record, it isn’t helping…at all.)
Well, the nurse, who I actually sort of like as a person, decided to go into a discussion of how mental illness isn’t real and doesn’t require medication. She’s said this sort of thing in the past. This is the same nurse who felt the need to do a sort of exorcism of our house the first time she came into it. She thinks that our mental health will get better if we just watch Christian programming and listen to just Christian music. And this was basically what she said last Friday. My mom’s mental illness would just disappear if she would give it all over to our Lord and praise Him every moment of the day. Can I get a Hallelujah?
I hate whenever any person dismisses any sort of health problem because they don’t “believe” in it. I especially hate when someone does this with mental illness because there is such a stigma surrounding mental illness in the first place. I don’t get why it’s so hard for them to understand. I know that part of it has to do with the fact that you can’t see a mental illness just by looking at someone, but you can’t see a lot of accepted health problems just by looking at another person. You can’t see that someone has a brain tumor by looking at them, but if they told you that they did, you would believe it–unless you knew the person had a history of compulsive lying. You can’t see when someone is diabetic, unless their sugar goes too high or too low, and then you only know what you’re seeing if you’re familiar with what happens when a person’s sugar gets out of whack. The only way you can tell a person is anemic is if they’re pale, and that doesn’t always help, especially if you don’t see them on a regular basis.
Telling a mentally ill person that there is nothing wrong with them is extremely dangerous. Not only does it perpetuate this myth that mental illness isn’t real, it feeds into the doubt that a lot of mentally ill people have about their own illness. Many of us don’t want to believe that we’re sick. We want to think it is just something that will pass. Or we want to believe that once our moods have stabilized on a certain medicine that we don’t need that medicine anymore. And when we think this, sometimes we actually do go off our medicine, and then bad shit goes down.
I remember the first time I tried to pretend like I didn’t need my medicine. It was when I was about 18 or 19. It was Easter. I didn’t take my pills that weekend. I was on Effexor, which always gives me that fun withdrawal syndrome thing, so I got dizzy. I had another reaction, too. I began to hurt all over. By that Saturday night, I collapsed on my bed while I was changing the sheets. I couldn’t move. I was sore and I just couldn’t will my limbs or the rest of me to move. The next day, I continued to skip my medicine, until I was sitting on the floor in the hall. This was when I started to feel not only the physical exhaustion, but the mental exhaustion. After that one time, I became a lot more careful about just skipping the medicine because I realized I needed it.
My mom, when she’s gone of her meds in the past, has gotten suicidal quickly. If my mom stops taking her medicine without any sort of supervision, then she either starts to get suicidal and goes to the doctor or hospital before hurting herself or she just goes ahead and tries to kill herself. My mom needs her medicine. The only time she can be without it is when she is being monitored and kept from harming herself. This is the only time. Any doctor who reviewed her psychiatric history would be able to understand that. And I would hope that any nurse responsible for keeping her out of the hospital would understand that as well.
This one didn’t, though.
She told us about how she lived in New York when 9/11, so she understood what it was like to be sad, but eventually you just had to make yourself get over it. This was a big honkin’ clue. If you live through something like that and you’re able to just snap your fingers and get over it, then you weren’t actually dealing with a mental illness–unless pathological ambivalence counts. I know people do this kind of thinking with mental illness.
“I’ve been sad, so I know what depression is.”
“I’ve been nervous, so I totally get what anxiety is like.”
“I’ve been happy, so I understand mania.”
“I had a really high fever once and had some hallucinations, so I really know what schizophrenia is like.”
“I get up at the same time every day to go to work, so I must be obsessive-compulsive, too.”
You think you know what it’s like because you think that all a mental illness is is one symptom or one stereotype of one symptom. You don’t actually know what a mental illness is like until, drumroll please, you have one yourself. Then, you understand what it is like to have an actual mental illness.
People who throw the “Well, I’ve”‘s out there are so annoying. Sometimes I don’t understand how people are expected not to punch them in the face for their ignorance. I know they meant well with it, but seriously, what they are doing is not helpful and it isn’t something that they should be thanked for. And people who do the “Well, I’ve”‘s and follow it up with some condemnation of mental health medicine really make me question how they don’t get smacked for their ignorance. Maybe I have too many violent tendencies deep down, but this “big pharma is lying about mental illness” shit is, for lack of a better term, crazy. And this “give it to God” is just as bad. If God was there and willing to take the suffering from the mentally ill, then there wouldn’t be anyone in psychiatric treatment at all. If it was just something that required determination or faith-healing or something, don’t they realize that the sick would have already sought out that kind of treatment or lifestyle. It isn’t a character flaw, guys, it’s a really bad, really real type of illness that deserves the same type of respect that we give to the less stigmatized diseases.
When the nurse left, my mom, dad, and I had a talk. We agreed that what she did was dangerous. We agreed that what she had said regarding the medicine and the nature of mental illness was wrong. We agreed that my mom would not just quit taking medicines because the nurse told her. And now, we just have to hope that we don’t allow ourselves to let that “mental illness is fake” argument get any playtime in our brains. Because if it does, then we might give in to that idea, and that would not be good. At all.