So here goes.
Last night I experienced a moment of pure happiness and joy as my 29-year-old husband applied to go to school in the fall, to become an educational assistant. It was a moment years in the making. And I have to say something about everything that has lead up to this point.
As many of you might be aware, my husband has a mental illness. This is not a secret and neither he nor I have ever been quiet or uptight about it. These things belong in the open. When we keep them a secret we show we are ashamed and that we have been made to feel guilty about them. We do not shy away from admitting that we have diabetes, or epilepsy, or other LIFELONG illnesses, so why should we shy away from discussing mental illness?
But why do so many people shy away from discussing it? Because of the JUDGEMENT. Because if we fall sick with cancer, people gather around us and lift us up. They bring us food and help us with chores and take care of the kids, and do everything they can to help us while we are ill. But admit that you have a mental illness... admit that you have schizophrenia, that you have a borderline personality disorder, that you have an issue with anxiety... and people do not gather around to help. THEY RUN. AND THEY JUDGE.
This is because people seem to think (for some god unknown reason) that mental illness is something you can control. That it is a simple manner of choosing to overcome it. And because you can't control it, you are therefore not really trying very hard to get better, and not worthy of being helped. All compassion, understanding, and care for people with mental illness goes out the window because of this ignorance to one of the most common illnesses.
Here are the things I am sick of hearing people say to me about my husband:
- Why can't he just be happy?
- Why doesn't he just get a full-time job?
- Why doesn't he just try harder?
- Why can't he do ___?
I am witness to the worst of it. And I am lucky enough to see him at his very best. I am also the one who gets the privilege of seeing that he is improving everyday. When you say "why can't you just _____", what you are really saying is "I have no patience for your illness, you need to get better right now or I can't accept you as a person".
But I am proud to say how well he is doing, and that there is so much that he can do, in the midst of what everyone says he can't do. He is able to get out of bed nearly every single day. He takes his medications diligently and without being told. He attends therapy twice a week. He is focusing on healthy eating in an attempt to lose weight and be healthier. He keeps looking for a job, despite repeated rejections. He makes friends and socializes with them. And most importantly, he makes plans for his future. He has come light-years in terms of progress with his condition over the last four years, I would like it very much if everyone could choose to see that in place of seeing only the negative. He will never be perfect, and he will quite likely never even be what we call "normal", and his condition will likely last for the rest of his life. But he is thriving despite of it.
And if he can do that, with all that's working against him, I think you are capable of some understanding.