When I hear the term “mentally ill” I’m partially ashamed – and only partially because I’m trying to be a better person; it’s slow going – to say that what immediately comes to mind is probably the same thing that immediately comes to mind to a lot of people – that is, schizophrenia, homeless people to be avoided on the street, disgusting and overcrowded inpatient facilities, and the list goes on. Offended yet? Clearly, I’m part of the problem, I know! But I’m also part of the solution. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right either. I’m part of the conversation. Yes, that’s better. I’m mentally ill.
I don’t think I’ve ever said that out loud. In fact, I’m fighting a raging desire to go back and furiously delete. I’ve never said it because, well, how could I be mentally ill? I practice yoga! (Actually, I just wear the pants. Everywhere.) I read Vanity Fair, I drink macchiatos for God’s sake! I don’t drool (well, except for when I fall asleep with a Ricola in my mouth), I’ve never been homeless and I pay taxes and my Old Navy credit card bill! I don’t display any of the stigmatized and perceived traits of the mentally ill.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Mental Illness Definition – Mayo Clinic
It would appear that I’m mentally ill. I go through sometimes debilitating episodes of depression and anxiety, as well demonstrate addictive behaviors. But I also pay a mortgage, work a full time job and raise a teenager, alone, to boot! Could you blame me for the occasional crying bout or obsessive googling of symptoms (Oh hey again, Mayo Clinic!) or a palpitation here or there? Still, it feels incongruous to me to say that I am mentally ill. I get it. I’m not helping the cause. I’m actively stigmatizing as we speak! But I am being as honest as I can, if a little tongue in cheek.
I suppose my problem is with the label, and herein lies the issue, right? The thought of someone labeling me as mentally ill makes me feel, well, ill. That’s awful, right? I don’t know that I’ll ever call myself mentally ill as a matter of routine. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll never get used to it and the reasons for that are fodder for another blog post. Maybe.
Listen, my intent is not to demean those who accept that they are mentally ill, even those who don’t accept that they are mentally ill; this is more about my own comfort level. Make no mistake – deep down, where my demons lie in wait for that perfect storm of chemical imbalance and random trigger that occurs with the frequency and predictability of a harvest Super Moon, I know what I am. I am mentally ill.