Doctors’ appointments. Multiple medication prescriptions. Sick leave from work sometimes in order to recuperate.
All of those require hard work. It’s so much easier to decide that mental illness can be cured via home remedies. Three years ago I was diagnosed as having bipolar II disorder, along with PTSD, ADHD, and EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Once I received these diagnoses, I was overwhelmed by the actual severity of my poor health, and was/am determined to fight back and get better. But at no point did I even consider ditching medical advice in lieu of home remedies.
I have a tremendous amount of faith in my health care team. Sure, I wish they had saddled up a little faster when it came to diagnosing me, but now that we’ve gotten into a rhythm and are traveling around the track at a nice steady pace, I am not about to sabotage their and my hard work. And I’ll admit, my little pony and I are still a little wobbly on our hooves, and so as we trot on by some of the “purebreds”, we do occasionally peek around our blinders to see what they’re up to. How come they are running so much faster than we are? What’s their secret? Of course, their secret could simply be that they weren’t as sick as I was. Or maybe they found the right drug-to-psychotherapy combo early on in their treatment. But whatever it is, I would never, ever criticize their methods.
I do, however, take great offense when these grand “purebreds” stand before my little pony and me, and start spouting rhetoric about how we’re going about our recovery the wrong way. I’d allegedly get better faster if I followed a proper diet, exercised regularly, kept a positive attitude, and was more determined to kick these illnesses to the curb. Let’s address each of these points, shall we?
- Diet: Well, I eat what I can. Since I am struggling with an EDNOS, I tend to stick to maybe two very small meals a day, which consist of leafy greens and lower fat foods. But if I’m expected to pack on the pounds in order to stay sane, or to start cutting gluten from my diet, or adding tofu, or drinking green sludgy beverages, well, that’s just not going to happen. At the moment, the eating disorder is a coping mechanism, and yes, it’s unhealthy, but it’s healthier than jumping off a bridge.
- Exercise: That’s a fine idea. Why don’t I just go for a daily jog? The endorphins would do me wonders. I would be happier and feel better about myself. I’d be exercising, so I wouldn’t feel guilty when I do eat, so I could just get rid of that eating disorder all together. Right? Problems is, because of my EDNOS, I don’t simply go for a little jaunt around the block. My mind goes to a totally different place in which I begin training for full marathons. Over-exercising is another way for me to contribute to my eating disorder, and so without the help of medical professionals, at this point in my recovery, I am not yet at the “Just go for a leisurely run!” stage. Not to mention that bipolar II disorder manifests as either depression or hypomania. If I’m depressed, I can’t even lift my head from the pillow on some days. Telling me how you were able to overcome your depression by becoming more active, going to the gym, and doing a handstand in no way motivates me to mimic you. You got lucky. That is all. Often, people who live with clinic depression are much better at constructing blanket forts than squatting with a barbell on their backs.
- Positive Thinking: This is my favourite one. I have to laugh when someone tells me that all I have to do to get over my depression, or shake off that PTSD, is just think of rainbows and unicorns. I’ve been sexually abused. Do you seriously think that telling me that I can get over these very real ailments by imagining myself on a hot sunny beach in Mexico is the ticket to my happiness and better mental health? Because if you do think that, you’re flat out wrong, and yes, I will find the energy to debate you on this. My head is filled with darkness. I can barely see you, let alone hear the stupidity coming out of your mouth, so enough about how positive thinking will cure the world. I do hope one day to be in a mental place where a quick shake of the head will clear those nasty flashbacks and detangle the cobwebs. But don’t tell me when that is and don’t presume to know how and why I got sick in the first place.
- Determination: Very similar to positive thinking, and although I’d love to tear another strip off of anyone who assumes that they understand what I’ve been through in my life, I do believe in determination. I do think that one day I will be fully functioning, the flashbacks will lessen, the eating disorder will have some sort of order to it, and I’ll feel just like what a human being should feel like. However, in order to reach that state, I will continue to require my GP’s assistance; I will need to work more intensely with my clinical psychologist; and I will absolutely need constant monitoring as far as my medication regimen is concerned.
So if you were lucky enough to have overcome your illnesses without any of the help I require, then congrats. You are awesome. But maybe use some of that awesomeness to support those of us who need less of the stigma you’re inflicting and more of the positive vibes you so desperately believe can cure our diseases.
About Sandra Charron
I'm the mother of four children working as a registered nurse on a postpartum unit. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder two years ago, and in my constant search for information as to how to handle life with this illness, I write whenever and wherever I can in an effort to advocate to end the stigma associated with mental illness. I speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.