Were you... um, aware that it's Mental Health Awareness Week? Well, 'tis. About 20% of Americans experience mental health problems in a year, and strangely enough, there's still a widespread stigma around the issue of mental illness. I'd say the most common misconceptions about the mentally ill are:
1) They can "get over it",
2) They're inherently dangerous,
3) They're not really ill
4) They are distinctly "other".
I am a bit (pedantically) annoyed that the US Dept. of Health and Human Services can't correct the grammatical mistakes on their own webpage. Nevertheless, the page is a good place to start.
Did I ever mention that my wife is bipolar? Well, she is, and it's a part of our life, I suppose. I know she would change her brain in a minute, but I wouldn't. I feel it's as much a part of her as her constellation of freckles. I think the difference it makes is that our life has to be slower... a bit more mindful than other people's. Big changes are bad- they don't work well. Stress can immobilize her. At its worst, she has terrifying hallucinations. So, even a little bad is alarming. When things get bad, we rent DVDs and eat ice cream until we can get her to her doctor.
She takes more pills than I can keep up with. She fills out mood charts and meets with several doctors and keeps up on it all the time. She just keeps plugging along, long after I would have. I think the worst part to watch is that, when she gets upset about something, she has to wonder if she is correct or off-kilter. Every day has its maintenance. For the record, I have never seen her be upset about "nothing," although sometimes her responses are extreme.
She is ill, and it will never go away. Schizophrenia and bipolar are both lifelong afflictions. It's bizarre to me that people still expect the mentally ill to "get over it". I can't think of any other illness that is responded to in that way. "Dave, can you just knock off this cancer nonsense?"
But, she is also a lot stronger than most people. She's brash and gutsy in ways that I am not. She's also extremely intelligent, probably more so than she realizes, and I think that helps her keep on top of it. She's one of the people who I most admire in the world. Like most spouses, I often wonder if I'm worthy of her.