Mental Health

5 Things Not to Say to Me about My Mental Illness

I’ve resisted writing a list like this for a long time, but I’m in a ranting mood right now.  So, here are some of the things I’ve hated hearing over the years about my bipolar disorder:

1.  “Have you taken your meds today?”  This one is tricky.  Close family and very, very close friends have my permission to help monitor for signs that my illness is going awry and not taking my medicine can be a sign that my particular illness is affecting me negatively.  But it’s a wholly inappropriate question from a random person who comes across my writing.  We’ve had a discussion about it if you have my permission to speak like that to me.

2.  “You’re just whining about your life.  Get over it.”  I had this one as a comment once on this blog.  It shocked me, the ignorance that the brief note showed.  Bipolar disorder is not a contrived illness and most of us who are unfortunate e nough to be diagnosed with it would gladly lose the label and “whine” away.  It’s not just about having a bad day.

3.  “Everybody has ups and downs.  Are you sure you’re not normal?”  This came from a well-meaning teacher once, when I was in high school.  Back then, it was much, much easier for me to mask my symptoms despite the fact that I’d already had one psychotic episode.  And, on a related note —

4.  “Why can’t you just be normal?”  This one came from a not-so-well-meaning ex-boyfriend of mine.  Luckily for me, I’ve learned in the years since then that “normal” is relative and is not a particularly nice word to use for anyone.  I also learned that the guy was not particularly nice and ditched him.

And then, there’s my all-time favorite:

5.  “[Of bipolar disorder:] is that really real?” and worse, from the same person, later: “Do you really have it?”  Now, I chose to take that statement as a moment to educate the person who said it to me.  But I was completely shocked and insulted, particularly since this came from an acquaintance I’d known for a very long time.  I wanted to pull my hair out, crawl under my pillow, and sob for the rest of the day.  It was like saying to someone who has [insert well-known physical illness here], is your illness real?  Mental illness is hard enough to accept without acquaintances minimizing its effects.  It is, indeed, a very real illness.  As for whether or not I personally actually have bipolar disorder, I wish I’d been witty enough to spout out something other than a feeble “yes.”  I wish I’d said something snotty, like, “Well, the 10 mental health professionals I’ve seen at length over the course of my lifetime seem to be sure.  Maybe you’d like to meet one of them to see what they think of you?”

Luckily, the people I surround myself with on a daily basis these days are sensitive, educated, very kind folks who never say any of the above to me (with the exception of the question of the meds, which they have permission to ask about).  Without knowing it, they help give me the courage to deal with the absurdity that comes along from other not-so-nice and ignorant ilk out there in the world that I inevitably will stumble upon again.


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  • Reply Michelle K March 2, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I feel your pain, though my experiences don’t hold a candle to what you have been through. I have ADHD, dyslexia, and OCD. All things when mashed together do very strange things. I had a disagreement and misunderstanding with a co-worker, it was an honest mistake and not a very big deal, but they took it to a whole different level and not only called me unpleasant things and tried to turn everyone against me, but they called me a liar to my face and that I was making it up and non of those “illnesses” were real. It took 2 YEARS and a supervisor intervention before they finally listened and somewhat apologized. That nearly made me walk away from my career it was so stressful. They waged a full blown war over an honestly trivial mistake. Fight on hun.

    • Reply Caroline March 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Michelle. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with such a traumatic workplace environment; I can’t imagine holding onto a job for that long in a hostile environment. I hope things are better for you now! Thanks a ton for your encouragement.

      • Reply Michelle K March 5, 2012 at 4:45 pm

        It got a LOT better thankfully. I just had to stay mature and fight down my impulse control. Keeping my mouth shut at times was beyond challenging. Lol. Anyhow, haven’t seen you guys in a while, I hope that all is well for you. 🙂

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