Today I’m writing about why your voice is important, and about why it deserves to be heard.
The stereotypes of mental illnesses portray a narrative; a story of what it means to be mentally ill. These stories are often limiting, damaging and aren’t the full story. They often don’t capture the experience of having a mental illness, and being a person beyond that.
The stereotypical story tells of what it should look like to be mentally ill, of what it should feel like to be mentally ill, and of who you should be if you are mentally ill.
A young, thin white woman who has a feeding tube and suddenly is miraculously recovered but is still very thin and doesn’t eat carbs, is the story of an eating disorders.
Self-harm is a lost, slightly confused teenager, who just needs to be requited with their crush and then they will be cured.
Depression is a short stint with feeling a bit glum, but once you smile more and think positive, everything is sunshine and rainbows.
Need I go on?
These stereotypes aren’t just false, but they are also harmful. They spread the message that to be sick and to get treatment, your experiences have to mirror these stories.
That’s not to say that actual, lived experiences of mental illnesses do not contain some of these elements, as they certainly might. However they are so much more than these simplistic, one-dimensional viewpoints.
Eating disorders are messy. They can involve screaming, sobbing, your hair falling out, gaining weight, losing weight, eating, or not eating, isolation, obsession, disgusting ways of hiding and getting rid of food, pushing away those closest to you. They are definitely not a diet gone too far, or a supreme example of self-control.
Eating disorders can affect any person, of any weight, gender, race, socio-economic status, geographic location, sexual orientation, religion and age.
They involve food, yes, but they are also involve so much more. They are an accumulation of a lifetime of chemicals, experiences and circumstances.
They are so much broader, and deeper, than a false impression of Anorexia.
And this is just with eating disorders.
There is a plethora of damaging stereotypes surrounding the lesser spoken about mental illnesses – schizophrenia, psychosis and dissociative identity disorder just to name a few. Stereotypes consisting of violenceand fear, casting cowardly shadows on an already deeply discriminated community.
These false impressions do no good, and they do not serve a purpose in healing, in well-being, or in a society fighting the stigma against mental illnesses.
So this is what we must do, despite being afraid and despite not fitting in with what mental illnesses are deemed to look and be like. Share our stories, the messy, horrible and happy parts. The spectrum of emotion that goes with being a human with a mental illness, rather than a mental illness itself.
Share the good parts, the bad parts, the confusing parts. Share the parts that don’t fit in with the stereotypes, and those that may do too, to show that we are more than a singular, flat existance.
Share that there are many roads and paths to recovery, and that recovery does not look the same for everyone. For some, recovery is about eliminating symptoms, and for others, it’s about learning how to live alongside them. Some paths are short and others are long. Some are well-supported while others are not.
All of these voices can, and should contribute to what being a person with a mental illness means. A myraid of perspectives, a full sky of meaning, a vast and brilliant constellation of being human, and of one that experiences hard things.
Try not to be afraid to share your voices my sweet friends.