Being Sick Is Making Me Crazy (But Don’t Tell Anyone)
I have a theory: All truly sick people have mental illness.
I’m not saying that people who have physical diseases are crazy. (Although some of us may or may not be convinced that Jack Black is the sexiest man alive, but I’m not naming names.) Yet, I do believe there is no way to escape the mentally exhausting ramifications of dealing with a chronic illness.
So, yeah, I think sickness is making us all a little crazy.
Mental warfare is an uncharted and often ignored symptom of living with an inescapable illness. That’s just a fact. This is not something I would have said even a month ago. As terrible as it is, most “sick people” constantly have to defend the fact that they’re “sick people.”
Defending yourself against doubts is a symptom of having an incurable illness that cannot be seen on the outside. They don’t tell us that when we’re diagnosed.
I am not a doctor, nor have I done extensive research on the subject. But I would almost bet on the fact that even the sickest of the sick — those of the “Sweet November” and “Autumn in New York” storylines — have had to deal with this, too. Even publicly lauded patients get chastised online for how and when they do treatments, what they eat, and onward.
We believe what we see, and we rarely have the capacity as humans to trust in what we can’t. Of course, most of us know that how we look rarely ever denotes what our actual insides, results, and reports represent. Still, society is a fickle mistress and one with very little sympathy (autumnal-themed movies excluded, of course).
No one with a long-term illness wants to be labeled as dramatic or delusional, so most of us avoid the sentences I’ve used so far in this column.
Think about it: The statement that “all truly physically sick people have mental illness” makes perfect sense. There is no way that any one of us can go through this process — the traumas, the tribulations, and the treatments — without coming out scarred in more ways than one. For culture, care teams, or even our communities to believe otherwise is literally crazy (#onbrand).
But here is the most important part: By distinguishing between physical illness and mental illness for more than half of this column, I am committing the worst offense of all. I am implying that mental disease is somehow less important than somatic disease, and that is simply wrong.
Being sick for the long term comes with a variety of symptoms and challenges we may never have imagined. Defending yourself is one of them. Replying to “But you look so good” with “Thanks, it’s called makeup” is another. (Men, you’d better become allies fast and start using this reply, too.) And gradually developing psychological lacerations is the biggest challenge of all.
I confess that although I am about as mentally healthy as any human can be (Jack Black dalliances notwithstanding), and have never been treated for a mental malady to date, I am human. And by being human, I feel things. And by feeling things, I will never be entirely emotionally perfect because, well, there is no such thing.
I’m sick of proving how mentally awesome I am in order to get better patient points, or of showing that “I am the healthiest sick person ever! Look at me! I can handle being sick with grace and a smile!”
Yes, I am a pretty chill person. Yes, I will always treat my care team with care. Yes, I want nothing to do with my illness, nor do I consider it a large part of my identity. In the world of sick, I have a lot of world outside my sick world, and for me, that keeps me pretty healthy.
But none of us can be happy all the time. None of us can be unwell “well.” So, we need to stop judging patients on their normalcy in dealing with abnormal things — because it never will be “normal.”
If we could drop the stigma about mental illness, perhaps then patients of all types could stop defending themselves and start healing instead.
I was depressed this week. That was a symptom of sickness.
I was anxious this week. That was a symptom of sickness.
I was whole and happy this week. That was a symptom of me.
My first talk therapy appointment is next week, and I’m ready for it.
What about you?
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