By Gabe Howard
People living with mental illness share many common traits.
In the advocacy world, we share many of them openly. We discuss the symptoms of the illness, the uncertainty, the fear and we share ways that people with mental illness can receive better treatment, better services, more understanding and have better outcomes.
We have another common trait that is seldom shared.
We all experience it, on some level, and most of us share it only with our trusted friends and family. When we sit alone with other mentally ill people, we swap stories. That is when the true, unaltered, unpolished feelings come out.
And what comes out is anger.
I am pissed off about having mental illness. Are you?
I am pissed off.
It should not come as a surprise that I am pissed off. The surprising thing would be if I wasn’t. Pissed off should be expected. I have been discriminated against, marginalized, ignored, insulted, talked down to and cast out by the greater society. I am viewed as defective.
My accomplishments are meaningless when compared to a medical diagnosis that I just happened to be unlucky enough to have. And frankly, I can’t imagine not being pissed off if the only thing I had to deal with was the illness.
For those who are unaware, having bipolar disorder is quite a huge pain in the ass even before you factor in the bias, stigma and other such unhappiness. Who wouldn’t be pissed off at there being a stereotype to explain every single thought, feeling, opinion, or idea I have?
Do I disagree with you and refuse to compromise? Oh! I am obsessed!
Do I refuse to see things from your point of view? Oh! I am delusional!
Do I have lofty goals and difficult tasks I want to accomplish? Oh! I am grandiose!
Do I tell you that I am not suffering symptoms of bipolar disorder at the moment? Oh! Denying the symptoms is one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder!
Frankly, it’s a minor miracle that I am not walking around screaming at every single person who believes they know who I am just because they know my diagnosis. It is a testament to who I actually am as a person.
Kindness, compassion, understanding, and caring are not symptoms of bipolar disorder. They are human traits and some of the millions of traits that I have that cannot be summed up with a medical diagnosis.
Stereotypes are the shorthand of the lazy. Getting to know a person on an individual level is time consuming, difficult and potentially painful. And it involves constant work.
Mental illness stereotypes are no different.
There are people out there who believe in astrology; who believe that the time and place of your birth determines your personality. Who believe that, because someone is a Pisces, they’ll behave a certain way. Fortunately, most people regard this as silly—just as silly as being able to determine someone’s personality because of a medical diagnosis. Society being gullible enough to believe that we can know a person based on any pre-determined anything is why we lack compassion, understanding and caring.
Because unless your stereotype is overwhelmingly positive, you are behind the eight-ball walking through the door.
Gabe Howard is a motivational speaker, mental illness blogger and writer, as well a person living with severe mental illness. Over ten years ago, Gabe was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Later, he would be terminated from his job with a Fortune 100 company, giving him firsthand experience of discrimination against the mentally ill. Realizing that ignorance of mental illness was a direct cause of the fear, discrimination, and stigmatization people with mental illness face, he has made it his mission to raise the level of people’s understanding about these disorders. See more of Gabe’s writing on his blog and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Editor: Dana Gornall
*Blog originally appeared here.