Last night I watched Joker. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do. It tells a powerful story about mental illness; particularly the way in which those who struggle with their mental health are stigmatized and invalidated. And although it’s obviously a work of fiction, it also addresses the difficulty people often face in accessing mental health services.
But the thing that impressed me most was a quote Joker writes in his journal:
“The worst part about having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.”
This hit home. I’m so blessed to have an incredible support system of family and friends I can rely on to help me through the difficult stretches. But given that mental illness is chronic, I can’t help but feel like each crisis is a burden to the people I love. I become increasingly hesitant to share that I’m struggling because I feel like they’re tired of it. Of me.
Don’t get me wrong. No one in my inner circle has ever made me feel like they’re sick of me and my crises. But in my head, especially when I’m in a low, I often feel like I have to behave as if I’m fine. Because who wants to hear the same story again and again?
I know Joker was speaking of society as a whole. We may have made progress in terms of accepting mental illness as a disease and breaking the stigma, but we are still far from treating it as legitimate as any other physical illness. To illustrate, a little while ago, a well-know health blogger I follow said that people with mental illness have a choice to feel better whereas those who live with cancer don’t. And another Instagram influencer refers to her hyper organization as “OCD” over and over again – even when I politely emailed and explained that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an actual illness that can be acute and debilitating – not a tendency to be super tidy.
A little while ago I was in a rough patch. I was having trouble getting out of bed and my self-worth was in the toilet. Self-stigma was rearing its ugly head and I was berating myself for being in that place again. That’s when my eldest daughter walked into my bedroom and handed me the following letter:
Some days just suck. That’s it. It could be for no reason at all, or because of every little thing. The one thing that’s always the same is that shitty days suck. But, you’ve taught me a couple things that make these days a little easier.
- Remember that it’s okay to be sad. But not forever.
- Sometimes you just need to spend the day in bed. In your comfiest pyjamas.
- Watch a funny movie. Or a sad one. Because sometimes it just feels good to cry.
- Go to the gym. It may suck to get yourself there, but you know you’re gonna feel so good afterwards.
- Eat whatever you want. Because life is too short to be conscious of what you’re eating all the time.
- Ask dad to get ice cream. Because you know he’ll come back with a container of hot fudge and it’s always funny.
- Take a bath. With bubbles. The bubbles are important.
- Take a shower too. It feels good to be clean.
- Spend the day sending memes back and forth with your favourite oldest daughter. She’s hilarious.
- Cuddle with Lucy (our dog). She could be annoying, but she knows when you’re sad and she won’t leave your side.
- Call the boys (my nephews). They’re always smiling and their laughs are contagious.
- Shop online. You don’t have to get out of bed and retail therapy is a real thing.
- Get organized. It feels good to know what’s coming and that you’re prepared.
I know it’s hard sometimes and that life can get overwhelming. But you know it doesn’t last forever and you have a whole team of people there to catch you when you fall. And it’s okay to fall. The people around you will make sure you get back up.
I’m so lucky to have a mom and a role model like you. I’m not asking you to be perfect. That’s too boring and easy. The strength and courage you show us is what’s most inspiring.
Do you know what this amazing gesture taught me? That the only way things will change is to keep talking and sharing.
To not “behave as though we don’t” have mental illness.
To validate and embrace those we love and ourselves, even when we’re in another low or having another anxiety attack. To keep teaching our children so that their children and the generations after that write incredible letters of support and encouragement to their parents when they’re feeling badly. So today, on Bell Let’s Talk day, reach out to someone you love and tell them that you understand, that you’re thinking of them, and maybe even offer to get them some ice cream. Hot fudge doesn’t fix anything, but it sure is delicious.