For many years I yearned to be ‘normal’ – to not have a mental illness, to be able to be just like everyone else. I spent decades wishing for this, often going off what, for me, was necessary medication in order to prove to myself that my problem was transitory, that I didn’t have a mental illness.
In more recent years I have accepted and even embraced my illness as part of who I am. It began when I started to share my experiences in order to raise awareness and reduce stigma. I have been very blessed with the support and encouragement I have received in the years since, yet, as I read and hear about others’ lived experiences, I am still struck by the response we often receive: how courageous we must be to speak out so openly. Please don’t misunderstand, I truly appreciate the caring and support behind these words and I agree that it does take a certain degree of bravery to talk about mental health and addiction issues. There continues to be significant stigma and even discrimination associated with social, housing and employment situations and being honest about living with mental illness comes with vulnerability and risks.
With this in mind, I have recently returned to my contemplations and longing for the day when I am normal. This time, however, it is not about wishing away my mental illness and addiction; it is, instead, to be seen as just the same as everyone else despite this. I look forward to the day when it isn’t courageous to tell our stories of mental illness, when it is no different than living with diabetes or any other real, physical disorder.
In this future, people wouldn’t reconsider having a relationship with someone when they discover she or he lives with mental illness. Media analysts wouldn’t suggest that mental illness is just another excuse for people behaving badly. Diseases of the brain will be both acknowledged as real and understood to be recoverable. Episodes of mental illness would be treated no differently than any other physical disorder: businesses would employ uniform health management practices; friends would visit, send cards and flowers to someone who is struggling at home or in hospital. Regular conversation wouldn’t be peppered with derogatory terms like ‘crazy,’ ‘insane,’ ‘wacked’ and ‘nuts.’ Fear and shame would no longer prevent people from seeking treatment and mental health services and research would be well funded. Walking, riding, running, and biking for the cure will include mental as well as physical illnesses. A million people worldwide would not die by suicide every year.
I don’t think this is an impossible dream. The steady progress towards my ideal includes celebrity role models like Clara Hughes and Demi Lovato who have used their own public profiles and lived experience to open the dialogue and normalize mental illness. Awareness is raised a little more with each conversation between friends, understanding article in the media and fundraising campaign.
I truly believe that in my lifetime I will know a time when I and others like me will be considered normal. I look forward to that day. Help me get there.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.” –Glenn Close
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.