June 8, 2012

Silhouette of person climbing a mountainI broke my arm last year and was bowled over by people’s reactions. Nearly everyone I came across asked me if I was ok, what had happened and if there was anything they could do to help.

I could hardly believe I was receiving such attention when I actually felt better than I had done in years! In stark contrast, when I was very ill with bipolar disorder and infinitely more disabled, people didn’t know and I didn’t think I should say.

Most comments I received when I broke my arm were superficial, but I didn’t need anything more. Likewise with my mood, I didn’t need support; I had that in abundance from professionals and people close to me. What I needed was acknowledgement that I was disabled and for people to adjust their expectations accordingly.

no one knew it was due to severe mental disturbances

No one expected my handwriting to be good when I couldn’t use my dominant hand. But when my attendance and performance at medical school were poor, I behaved oddly and gained half my body weight; no one knew it was due to severe mental disturbances and antipsychotic medications.

Maybe people did not notice or care but it still hurt thinking it must look like I was lazy and didn’t want to make myself a good doctor. Especially when the reality was that I was fighting with every fibre of my being to stay alive and on the course. I wished I could have put a bandage around my head and that everyone could have seen, not guessed, but known what was wrong, and have understood that under the circumstances my failures were actually successes.

I had the overwhelming sense that no one wanted to listen

I came very close to overdosing several times. Not to kill myself, just to make myself pass out in class so people would see something was wrong. I had it all planned, I even had the pills punched out loose in my bag. I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to waste people’s time and most likely they would have looked down on me even more if I had done it. And I might have accidentally killed myself. But I was desperate enough to come very close. How ridiculous! I have a voice, I can use words to say these things. But I had the overwhelming sense that no one wanted to listen.

the vast majority of people are compassionate

My experience with my broken arm showed me the vast majority of people are compassionate. Mental illnesses and many physical ones are harder to talk about and understand; but that need not stop us from being compassionate!

Next time you ask someone the question “how are you?” what are you willing to hear? Perhaps sometimes you could ask a second question based on what has been said that would invite them to say more? And when you are asked the question, is there something you wish you could say? If so I encourage you to say it: for your sake and for others who would benefit from us slowly breaking these barriers. It doesn’t require a conversation, for me one sentence would have made all the difference.

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I can completely identify

<p>I can completely identify with Fay's story. In the last year I have developed extreme anxiety and depression. I have found this an incredibly difficult thing to come to terms with, and like Fay, while I have had help from various professionals, the people around me have either been unaware of my difficulties or seemed unable to talk about the when they did know. This is not to say that I want to talk about it all the time, but feeling unable to has made me want a physical sign of my illness that would make people understand.</p> <p>This year I have also had surgery to save my hearing in one ear. People were very understanding during my hospital stay and recovery. I understand that this kind of physical illness is easier to comprehend for anyone who hasn't experienced mental distress, but a lack of understanding has made me feel unable to explain to people when I am having a bad day just how I am feeling. This only adds to my feeling of isolation and inability to cope.<br> <br> When I have been struggling with things at work, my manager has told not me not to just accept my depression passively but appreciate I have the choice to get better. While I know this is meant to be empowering it just makes me feel that people think I have a say in being ill. I can't imagine he would tell someone with a broken leg they had any say in how quickly they got back on their feet! </p>

Me too

<p>I relate a lot to the article and the response - with my anxiety disorder - noone seems to want to hear what my life is really like including good longstanding friends who are very supportive on all other issues - I can feel their discomfort and they just want to hear am getting better and change the subject. I do think if I had a physical illness I would feel more supported and at least I could talk about it.</p>

Broken mind vs Broken Arm...

<p>It is quite strange and yet understandable that people can't handle when our moods whizz up and down and all around. After all if we can't make sense of our own thoughts and feelings...how the hell can we communicate effectively?</p><p>I can so relate to this...and actually have repeatedly experienced the adverse reactions when I show 'normal' levels of emotions, anger, disappointment, sadness etc. I say normal in so far as the same as those who aren't afflicted with Bipolar Disorder. It is as if we are expected to be bland/unemotional/robotic beyond the levels expected of the rest of the population...how ironic...considering our illness.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Broken arm vs. broken mind.

<p>I can so relate. I'm a clinical psychologist who works with other therapists. Since being on leave (due to Bipolar II Disorder), only a few of my colleagues have reached out to me. These are THERAPISTS we are talking about, people! But instead of contact, I get crickets. Sigh.</p>

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