Anxiety & how to survive surviving

Anxiety as anyone who has experienced it, which most of us have intermittently, can be rough. When it doesn’t go away it becomes a mental illness rather than a mere short-lived symptom and can be debilitating as you attempt to do the things others do.

Wading through mud is how we experience life is one way people with anxiety describe the feeling.

Watching others able to do things without hesitation, then attempting it yourself and finding it akin to holding your breath for a prolonged period of time, or experiencing a heart attack, makes living with anxiety an isolating hardship.

Typically people who experience anxiety keep quiet about it, due to social stigma and the embarrassment of admitting that they are anxious about something that others do not appear to be.

Some people who experience anxiety are able to work through it and ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and because of their success, it may lead others who are not able to follow at the same speed, to feel like they have failed. But there are many layers and degrees to anxiety and this will always impact a person’s ability and how far their efforts take them.

Picture this; It is possible to be standing still trying with every pore of your being and yet not appear that you are (trying) to anyone else.

Picture this; It is possible to do something without trying and thus, expend no effort whilst someone with anxiety has to work ten times as hard to produce the same outcome.

Working ten times harder to do something is pretty exhausting. It can lead you to feel inferior because you perceive others finding things easy, and you conclude, therefore it’s me there is something wrong with. I am weak.

But anxiety is no joke and living with anxiety is a daily battle for those who do not respond to medication or therapy and/or have found the long-term side-effects of medication unacceptable.

We’ve all heard how anxious people are more prone to certain diseases (heart disease primarily) and struggle with jobs that are high-stress as so many of ours are these days. Anxiety can impact academic performance, test-taking, public-speaking, relationships, communication, authenticity and sleep. Often people can only tell we are anxious when we confess, otherwise they may perceive us to simply be avoidant, aloof, quiet or shy.

Shyness and anxiety can go hand in hand but one does not beget the other. The ‘bad rap’ both get in American society especially, is unfortunate. Just as the world does not need to be completely filled with extroverts, we should not expect shy people to become outgoing nor anxious people to stop existing in favor of daring people. Diversity is a good thing, that includes the types of people we are. Anxiety only ever becomes a problem when it begins to rule you and dictate to you, rather than the other way around, some anxiety is natural and we all experience it. In fact, the only people who experience almost no anxiety are psychopaths and sociopathic, meaning, if you have a conscience you invariably experience some anxiety and that’s a sign of being balanced.

Mental illness is when something becomes too much that it controls behavior in a detrimental way. I see it like the snake and the snake-charmer, the mental illness is the charmer, the result is the hypnotic snake that lulls us into altered behavior. In the case of anxiety this can manifest in our missing out on things we might actually like to do.

The first port of call is to establish, are you overly anxious and is it negatively impacting your life? If you are simply an introvert who loves your own company or smaller groups of people, and would prefer to read than say, go to a party, that is not a mental illness it’s a great choice and you will probably be very successful! If you are not going out because you are paralyzed by social anxiety that’s cutting the pleasure out of your life and something should be done about it.

Fortunately unlike some other mental illnesses, anxiety is relatively treatable. That does not mean everyone with anxiety will benefit from treatment but the success rate of treatment is higher with anxiety than any other mental illness. Nobody knows why this is for sure, but some reasons could include, responding well to medication and better options for therapy. Equally, in the milder forms of anxiety there is less morbidity, meaning some mental illness is very intrenched and hard to treat.

For some however, anxiety does not dissipate and this is true of all treatments there are those who do not respond. It’s not their fault, and it makes it very hard for them because it acts as a double-whammy, firstly they have something they see others may not, secondly they do not respond to treatment, two negatives. If you know someone like that, consider the impact of a flippant remark like “you may be anxious but just relax” and how that could add to feelings of inadequacy and error.

Anxiety is heightened by stress and what constitutes one person’s stress differs from another. Personally, the work place was my stressor. I related it subconsciously and consciously to stress because of bad experiences. Anxiety is often ‘the fear of what could or may happen’ rather than what’s happening right now. You can experience anxiety in the moment, but often it’s more of a preview feeling. In the case of work place anxiety, you can get very anxious on say., a Sunday night, imagining the potential stressors Monday morning.

Unfortunately whilst therapy can help you become aware of your ‘internal scripts’ and dialogue and seek to change how you self-talk by changing the meaning of what you internalize, it’s not a certain cure. I can tell myself, Monday may not be bad, Monday could be good, one bad experience does not equate to all bad experiences. And I may logically believe that, but emotionally it is harder to translate the logic to the emotion. The pathway is often fraught with long-learned anxiety triggers and it’s almost a battle of the wills.

Sometimes you hear that someone has been ‘strong enough’ to over-come their negative self-talk and I say, good on you if you’re one of them. Equally, this can lead to feelings of failure for those who are unable to quit the long learned script in their head that manifests dread. Sometimes it’s not even a palpable ‘fear’ so much as a generalized anxiety and it can manifest in more ways than an internal script. Anxious people often sweat, have trouble sleeping, may seek drink/drugs/bad habits to assuage their anxiety without even being aware of it, may increase their heart rate or worse case scenario have a panic attack.

All these things are symptoms of an anxiety disorder that can if left unchecked, control and dominate the strongest people. Whilst much can be done and should be done to limit anxiety, there is always going to be a difference between a laid-back person and an anxious person. This is as much as anything, personality, life-experience, coping, DNA and possibly even biology. The latter because anxiety can be learned, and can run in families (inherited) through a mixture of biological and social traits. Depending on how much is biological it may be impossible to completely eradicate.

Epigenetics is the study of whether something is biological in origin or ‘learned’ (socialization) with the belief being, it is a mixture of the two, and by understanding the relationship between two, you can better predict and understand, outcome. Studies done on twins show that whilst they have the same DNA their ‘life experiences’ and where they live and with whom, influence their outcomes. This is true about every facet in life, including what we eat (we are what we eat) how many children we have and tons of other little nuances. Epigenetics is complex and we can never know for sure, how many factors make up the differences and similarities in people and studied populations.

Whilst a researcher may need to generalize to create a working theory, within that generalization are many differences that do not get picked up by mass studies, this is true of the layers of anxiety and each person will vary in their response to treatment and cause. What may cause anxiety in one, does not in another, but equally, they may become anxious about something else entirely. Ensuring we are sensitive to those who experience anxiety will obviously decrease their anxiety! Thus, we can be the change we want to see!

Mental Health Month “Borderline”

This may offend some people.

I truly do not mean to offend but I must be honest. At this juncture I will not consciously be close friends with someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.

I realize that goes against almost EVERYTHING I have ever said about accepting people for who they are. It’s a giant screw-you to a group of people who have done nothing wrong and do not deserve exclusion of any kind.

But I’m being honest. I cannot.

I truly believe we should embrace and not judge people with mental illnesses. I believed this before I knew I had one. I believe that STIGMA is the single-most damaging phenomenon in the world virtually.

So why am I such a hypocrite?

Because I tried and tried, or maybe I just knew quite a few people who happened to be Borderline. I didn’t judge. I didn’t condemn. I didn’t ostracize. To me, a person with a mental illness is NORMAL and EQUAL to anyone else.

But I couldn’t do it. I admit this. I couldn’t hack it.

Why?

For me, people who are severely Borderline to the point where the symptoms show (some may be mildly) have messed me up too many times. I end up realizing this. If I keep on doing something – whatever it is – again and again with the hope of the outcome being different but every time I do it, the outcome is EXACTLY THE SAME then it’s my fault and my duty to myself to stop the behavior.

Unfortunately the behavior was befriending people with Borderline Personality Disorder. If you have it, and are reading this, you can say fuck you right now.

I’m sorry. It is not a happy choice. I don’t believe it’s right but I have to. Why?

Whilst training I kept hearing about Borderline patients. Most therapists dreaded them. That’s not an exaggeration. Truthfully I didn’t know much about Borderline. I only heard about it around that time, it wasn’t properly understood. I learned Borderline is a personality disorder often characterized by the “I love you / I hate you” extremes in behavior. It is often caused by some severe trauma in childhood and is hard to treat as with any personality disorder. Often times Borderlines will turn on a person not because they are evil or wicked but out of a ‘bites the hand that feeds’ set of responses, or because they perceive the other person to be betraying them.

They are not ‘bad’ or wicked or evil people. They are hurting. They are crushed by the things that caused them to develop this disorder. It is not their fault.

So according to how I live my life, I should be inclusive and welcoming and I was. The only problem was the same thing kept happening. It went like this;

A Borderline person befriends me or I befriend them. We get on well. We are friends nothing more. At first, the Borderline friend really likes me and I really like them. We have a good friendship and things are great. At some point the Borderline perceives that I either do not mean what I say, or I am ingenuous or I am a liar or I am fickle. It could be for a perceived reason or paranoia. It could be based on some degree of reality and then amplified by 1000 percent. The outcome is they switch, they turn on me, I become the ‘enemy’ the perceived reason for bad feelings they have. The bad things that have happened in their life become my fault because I am here, and their past is not. Their response to this is extreme. It can involve a great deal of abuse verbally. We end up not being friends anymore. I am hurt, they are hurt.

If I let this keep happening, though I no longer get hurt anymore, I would be exhausted! I cannot do this. Nobody could. That doesn’t mean Borderline sufferers could never have friends. I believe certain friendships are impossible and that includes me.

I am not blaming myself. If I did I would be buying into the most common accusation a Borderline will throw at me THIS IS YOUR FAULT ENTIRELY YOU DID THIS. I know that is not true.

But .. I accept that I am a certain ‘kind’ of person just as a Borderline is a certain ‘kind’ of person and we – do – not – work.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m too high on the sensitive scale, or the intensity scale, or the closeness scale, maybe I’m too affectionate, maybe I’m too effusive, maybe I’m not effusive enough. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

One thing I know. I can’t do it. And they can’t do it. So unfortunately, contrary to anything else I believe in, I shy away from making friends with someone who admits they are Borderline and that is very sad and I feel very badly about that. But there is no choice. Just as many therapists refuse to see or are reluctant to see, Borderline patients, I am basically avoiding a problem I cannot solve. I realize that is wrong on many levels I just don’t know what alternative exists besides me being a punching bag and I will not let that happen.

Classic Borderline symptoms include; Too much intensity, an extreme adoration of a person that is over-kill and too sudden, the opposite response of extreme dislike/rejection/hate of a person that is sudden also. Many times someone with Borderline is a survivor of childhood sexual or physical or emotional abuse of the worst kind. Borderline is more common among those who suffer from Bipolar Disorder 1.

I feel Borderline people have a really hard time of living in this world. They almost didn’t have a chance, and I admire them for surviving. I would like to help them, befriend them, support them. I do support them in believing them equal to every dignity and right anyone else has. They are not bad people. But the hardest part of being Borderline is that you drive people away. You don’t mean to but you do it. You end up isolating yourself when you least want to. You are lonely but cannot keep lasting relationships. You don’t want to be angry or hateful but you end up being because you perceive that’s what is being done to you.

It’s incredibly unfair.

A friend of mine who was Borderline told me a very valuable lesson. She said, when you are friends with a Borderline person you had better have immaculate boundaries. By that she meant – don’t send mixed-messages of any kind. Do not contradict yourself. Do not say one thing to a Borderline and the opposite to someone else. Do not act like a lover if you are a friend. Do not say you are a friend if you are an acquaintance. Borderline people are very literal. They will take you at your word and if you diverge from your word they will hold you to it.

That might sound like a good thing and in theory it is. Sometimes we have awful boundaries and can be real teases or send mixed-messages. So having healthy and well stated boundaries can really help any friendship. But in the case of Borderline sufferers, people who do not have well-defined boundaries or are very needy, very insecure, very anxious, may inadvertently clash with a Borderline and cause their symptoms to be exacerbated or triggered. In other words not everyone is a good match to be friends with a Borderline. This is not just on them. It’s on us.

I recognize I am not a good match for a Borderline. When I look at my friends they actually do fall into distinct categories. They are either; Very secure and confident. Very sincere, stable and compassionate or very messed up and mentally ill and lonely. The latter is the group I have struggled with the most. If I’m depressed and my friend is depressed it can often work because we can mutually support the other, and understand. A Bipolar friend may get exasperated with me because I’m never manic. A Borderline friend will find me to be imperfect.

I am. I’m imperfect and I’m not super-secure and confident.

So – note to self and note to any Borderline people – we don’t mix well.

This is the first time in my life I have actually realized a good boundary is not being friends with or their being friends with me, a certain group of people. It feels wrong. It feels discriminatory. But it isn’t. It is the setting of those boundaries and the accepting that not everyone gets on and if we know we don’t get on with a certain kind of person then be respectful, we kind, be good, but don’t go the full hog and befriend them with the expectation your friendship will work.

That is growing up. That is experience. That is logic and ultimately, it’s more merciful than keep on doing the same thing expecting a different result.

As for those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. I won’t be the one to write about you because that would be insulting and insensitive. But I will say this, in this Mental Health Month period I hope much is written about BPD people to help them and help others not stigmatize or judge them. A personality disorder is a mental disorder and requires the same level of compassion and treatment as any other.

Mental Health Month “Dying in secret”

Body Dysmorphia / Anorexia / Bulimia / Dieting / Shame / Overweight / Underweight / Orthorexic

For many, dealing with ‘real world problems’ an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food or self-image, is going to seem vain, unnecessary, small-minded and petty. If you’re one of those people, reading this won’t be interesting.

For the rest of us who at some point or another have experienced one or more of the above and/or been close to someone who has, this has a real world relevance and to dismiss it as a ‘rich white girls disease’ is to ignore the many people who die indirectly or directly or get sicker, every year. What good is shaming someone if you perceive their ‘problem’ not to be worthy enough for inclusion?

Let’s assume for a moment, any eating disorder or body-image issue, IS taken seriously and isn’t derided, insulted, demeaned and made fun of. Let’s assume people feel they CAN talk about it without pretending they have no idea what it is, because of fear of being judged and told; ‘Get a REAL problem rather than a made-up one!’ Tell that to the kids who die in hospital EVERY DAY from issues related to body-image.

It’s easy isn’t it? To condemn someone and say they’re petty and vain for having any type of body image disorder. Do you imagine they chose that life? That they want to be held hostage by a strange madness that seizes their otherwise rational faculties and enslaves them?

I’m not going to say vanity cannot play a part, but the vast majority of kids and adults who experience this of both genders because it affects men and trans also, feel this way because of a build up of reasons not just self-consciousness about the way they physically look. We can prove this though we should not have to, by showing the relationship between parents with eating disorders and their off-spring and the increase in likelihood their off-spring will go on to develop some kind of eating disorder. Likewise this is true even when that off-spring is adopted away from their family. In other words, it’s not just socially learned – some of it is inherited/biological.

The most recent body-issue out there is Orthorexia, and it’s trending because it has formed around a phobic over-response to the ideals of health and the fears of ‘bad’ food that dominate our society. Orthorexics will literally fear eating certain types of food because of everything written about them. For example if we took the various guidance of health gurus we would not eat; Any gluten, any fried food, any sugar, any non-organic produce, any alcohol, any dairy. We’d be left with rice-crackers, seaweed, vegetables and apple puree. Yum.

It may seem absurd, or an over-reaction but if you take health seriously it is easy to develop without intending to, a phobia of eating most foods because of this. You feel everything you eat is bad for you, so why eat it? You only want to eat things that are good for you and if you cannot then you skip eating. You may not be able to afford to eat what you want to eat and that presents problems as well as finding it hard to socialize because of your restricted diet.

More people than ever before have ‘restricted’ diets. Maybe they are gluten-intolerant, allergic to dairy, celiac, have a peanut allergy, are on a diet, have diabetes etc. Many menus calorie count, some break down the fats and ingredients. It is easy to obsess more than ever, and social media fuels this. There are sites devoted to this and other extremes as well as an increase in hard-core fitness programs that exclude many foods.

When someone has a tendency toward obsessing over this, maybe due to a pre-existing condition like body-dysmorphia, it’s not hard to become Orthorexic and fear eating a lot of food. The hard part is because it’s based upon health, it’s hard to find a healthy way of quitting being Orthorexic. How can you tell someone, eat less healthy food sometimes! The jury is still out on the ‘cure’ for this, but usually it comes to a crisis point and the sufferer realizes they are being controlled and they either embrace that and continue or let it go a bit and become less fanatical about how and what they eat. But it is not easy.

Anorexia is the fear of eating and the equating of food with weight-gain and negative feelings/experiences. Anorexics may eat but they often avoid it and limit their intake. Some purge afterward. They usually lose weight sufficiently that people will begin to notice. At first they are praised for being so ‘beach body ready’ and later on when they begin to grow hair on their skin as an extreme response to starvation they are made fun of. Anorexics have the highest risk of dying due to the lower rates of a ‘cure’ and they are often hospitalized.

Bulimia is characterized by bingeing and purging or even simply throwing up after eating. Typically a bulimic has many of the attributes of an anorexic and may starve themselves also or be an anorexic who purges. Other times they may purge but not necessarily lose sufficient weight to be seen to be anorexic although health-wise they are at great risk because of the strain throwing up does to our heart. Combined with inadequate nutrition and the strain of throwing up typical side-effects include broken veins in the face and hands, digestive disease and scarring, tooth decay and stomach problems.

Many people with eating disorders are on a ‘spectrum’ that doesn’t fit the absolute diagnosis of one specific disease, they are considered to have an eating disorder and then it is characterized individually.

Over eaters / binge eaters – an eating disorder characterized by over-eating to cope with stress much like anorexia that is heightened by anxiety and stress. Over-eating can include periods of extreme denial and starvation, it can also include purging. Over-eating can cause fluctuations of weight that put pressure on vital organs, and also can be a very isolating disease with a higher risk for suicide for all types of eating disorders. Sufferers may also gain extreme amounts of weight and suffer the judgement and ridicule that many over-weight or large people suffer because of our societies obsession with lower weights and their stigmatization of ‘fat’

Working out – Sometimes people who work out to lose weight or become fit can become obsessed with it. Whilst not always connected to an eating disorder, this can relate closely to body dysmorphia and shares the ‘control’ factor crucial in all eating and body disorders because it is thought, they all seek to control their surroundings because they do not feel they are in control in other ways.

Body dysmorphia is not an eating disorder but it can lead to, cause or exacerbate an eating disorder. Body dysmorphia is the incorrect transmission of an image of oneself. You can see a photograph, a mirror reflection, a film, of your body and you will not see your body the way others do.

How is that possible?

I have no idea. It seems absolutely impossible. I would NEVER believe it IF I had not A. Experienced it directly and personally B. Known so many others who did C. Professionally worked with many who did. Just like those who are not raped cannot always understand how life-changing rape can be, we seem to struggle to empathize and understand unless we have directly experienced it, which is sad.

To some extent it seems like a delusional disorder, or type of madness. I mean if you think you look a certain way but do not, how can you see yourself physically that way? And yet you do.

People suffering from any of the above, often have other conditions such as anxiety, low self-esteem, they may be survivors of sexual abuse, they may have been raped, they may be being bullied. Depression Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar are other co-morbid conditions that often occur simultaneously. The secretive life of someone with this can be so secretive nobody ever knows they suffered.

Any type of eating disorder is pretty hard to ‘cure’ it was once thought Anorexia could never be cured it could be lived with. Nowadays anorexics and others, have access to treatment if they have the money for the often expensive treatment centers or if they are insured. Treatment can include hypnosis, group therapy, aversion and its opposite ‘exposure’ therapy, cognitive-behavioral and many other methods. Nobody knows the exact ‘cure’ rate but many go on to live healthy lives.

Then again like any addiction or disease, it is possible to switch one for the other. When someone who was say, formerly bulimic is ‘cured’ they may simply take their need for control and place it elsewhere. They may become obsessive-compulsive, they may generate more anxiety, they may take up smoking. It is important to look closely at this because some of the alternatives are as if not more dangerous.

Please note, this is the first time I have ever talked about my own experience in relation to eating disorders or body dysmorphia and my teeth are clenched because it’s like standing naked in public and goes against a history of being expert at hiding these things when they existed.

In my own case, I met a girl I thought was so beautiful around 14 years of age, she was bulimic and anorexic. I recall clearly that I wanted to be like her so I copied her, stupid, immature, but that’s what I did. At first it didn’t mean anything I was just copying her, until my grandmother said one day that I was thick around the waist and would never look good in 1950’s dresses (I was 14) and in the same week my dad told me I was ‘chunky’. Sometimes words have no effect, other times they do. When you are already insecure, and have had a rotten time, sometimes they have too much of an effect and it doesn’t go away.

My friend and I had a secret group where we would binge, purge, starve. Eventually we stuck with starving because we felt badly for wasting food. At 16 a gym teacher said I needed to drop a few pounds, a dance teacher said the same thing and so I entered the world of starving for the sport, which many can relate to. At 17 I began swimming four times a week and during this time of a year, I didn’t starve myself, I was simply too hungry to! It felt great, I was free of the demon.

Except that’s never what happens. The reason we know such things are mental disorders is because they are inherited (children of anorexics have a higher risk) they exist irrespective of culture or income (yes, Hispanics and Blacks have eating disorders too, they were just ignored by the main-stream who believed it to be an Anglo middle-class disease, likewise with boys and men) and it’s usually deeply hidden and never talked about and is a form of delusion-disorder, you SEE things that are NOT there. IE: You are skinny and you see fat.

I can remember being in a dance class and watching all the tan girls in their leotards with their long legs and necks, so graceful and then looking down and seeing my inner thighs all flabby and squishy. It wasn’t true, they weren’t, but that is what I SAW. I remember being at a dinner party and suddenly running to the bathroom and throwing up everything I ate, and covering it expertly with a breath mint, nobody knew and it seemed like a super-power, in fact it was a sickness, an invisible and terribly destructive sickness invading my every thought.

At 18 after my boyfriend had left me, the old demon returned (a need to control) and I began to throw up whenever I ate until I was a dangerous weight. Few people knew, including my parents because I was excellent at hiding things related to my eating disorder. I went to college and in that first year it was the worst it was ever. I realized I was going out of my mind and it controlled me completely, I sought help. I went to a therapist about it and how it related to being abused as a child and other things that had happened in my life. This helped.

The main ‘cure’ of my eating disorder though was not what the magazines would like me to say. It wasn’t that I saw the light, I got better, I’m a shining example. Oh no.

I was ‘cured’ because I was in a relationship and I had nowhere to purge, or throw up after eating and I couldn’t not eat because I lived with four people and they would have noticed. there was only one bathroom, the house was small the walls paper-thin. After a while I realized I just couldn’t hide my disorder and as I was also sharing my bed and happy in my relationship I stopped.

That seems a pretty pathetic reason huh? I thought so.

It also wasn’t true, it was another layer of the delusion.That’s like an alcoholic not drinking in public, doesn’t mean they are not an alcoholic. People say, if it’s a disease you cannot control it, but who said that? Of course you can! You think you can anyway, but really it controls you. When I was alone, even for one night, I would stuff things in my mouth until I nearly burst and then throw up, or I would eat absolutely nothing or I would stare at myself and see something hideous. I didn’t and couldn’t talk about it because we all know what others would say. You are vain. You are shallow. You are pathetic. You cause this. You waste food. You deserve what you get. But it wasn’t vanity it was self-hatred and self-loathing, a desire to be that eight year old again, free of everything. I didn’t know why, I didn’t connect it to sexual abuse and other things that so often are the triggers and markers for at-risk youth to develop eating disorders.

But years later when I was single again I began to starve off and on. I saw that the ONLY thing keeping me from having a full-blown eating disorder again was circumstance! I wasn’t cured at all! I was simply living with the secrecy like a double-agent, patting myself on the back for my success when really it was underneath the surface controlling me. For someone who was so open and honest I was a huge liar, nobody knew, and the more they didn’t know, the more I couldn’t say.

HOW can we have so much control that if we live with someone else it may help and if we are alone we immediately fall back to it? How serious and real can it be then? I think it’s very serious and very real, imagine looking in the mirror and seeing someone who isn’t there! I still do. I cannot see the ‘real’ me in the mirror but what I try to do is surround myself with people who eat healthily but normally, and ensure that I don’t let ‘the voices’ lure me back into bad habits.

I have slipped a few times, notably in times of high stress. I realize for some it is impossible to live with the disease relatively well, for some they are so sick they really do benefit from more intensive treatment and/or hospitalization. I was never as sick as some of the girls (and one boy) whom I knew with eating disorders but that doesn’t mean I was well either. After a very serious bad experience I fell back into starving myself the denial felt redemptive, in my twenties I felt I was far too old to be doing this, and yet I was (many anorexics are over forty, everyone assumes they are 18, the age-bias means many do not ever get treatment). That year I went to visit school friends back in Europe, they all told me how unhealthy I looked, how I had no chest, no flesh, and I felt like I lived with a chimera inside of me, dictating this awful tendency to reduce everything to controlling how much I ate.

In our society if we perceive a disease to be ‘chosen’ or ‘self-selected’ and the person had a choice, then we blame the person who has that disease. We say “I’m not going to understand this disease or empathize because I blame you for causing it, therefore it’s not like a disease you didn’t cause.” What we fail to understand is, while we judge, we judge a far wider number of people who witness that judgement and thus, never seek help, we also instill a sense in the disease-sufferer that their disease is a choice, a bad habit, and their fault. In other words we compound the problem all because we condemn people for something we don’t understand. How many times have you heard someone say; “Those damn anorexic models I have no sympathy for them” We believe that kind of illness is essentially a weakness of character or worse, enviable and thus, we resent them. Would we say that if someone disclosed they had ovarian cancer?

I use my own example because I have NEVER publically talked about having an eating disorder before. I would say it’s a lot like being an alcoholic, you are ALWAYS an alcoholic just like you are always someone with a potential for eating disorders. I did go down the road of Orthorexia and left to my own devices would be merrily heading down it now (except it’s not merry, it’s ridiculous and it’s crazy) and equally I still have body dysmorphia. I can only believe that by admitting this as I have here, I encourage others to get treatment. I personally found therapy very helpful and the other thing that helped was ensuring I took the right vitamins and minerals to balance myself and become less unhinged which I was exacerbating by poor nutrition. It is a vicious circle.

It is very hard for me to recount this, I have tried to delete this several times, feeling that if it gets ‘out there’ I will lose control and I realize, that’s what I have to do and what we all have to do if we experience these feelings. For a long time I could not hang out with people with eating disorders, they triggered me. I am such an independent person ask anyone but when it comes to eating I’m not at all I’m a complete follower and that baffles me. I still struggle to eat when I’m alone or at dinner parties, there are things I will always have and need to always remind myself I have, to face them and not deny them, because then they win.

The grand irony is, I have always been genetically thin, so even if I never had this, I would have been picked on for being underweight, and that’s the farce of it, you can look any way and nobody really knows what’s going on for you, they accuse you of being anorexic when you’re not, and commend you for having a good figure when you’re starving yourself, the mixed-messages of our society increase our propensity to be sick. For some they are genetically wired to not respond to those triggers, whilst others are genetically engineered to respond to them, recent studies show there is a definitive link between DNA and the development of any type of eating disorder. Therefore it’s not all in your head and it is all in your head. But for years we were told it was the spoilt princess syndrome, would that make anyone want to admit it?

It is a form of madness I am certain of it, and as such it belongs in the mental health category almost more than anything else. Society does not help, the continual bombardment of thin bodies really doesn’t help. I have been told I was thin my entire life, and I realize, thin doesn’t even MATTER it’s not IMPORTANT and I don’t even find really thin women attractive! Sometimes it’s not about wanting to be thin, in my case it never was, it was about seeking control and having a really bad relationship with food that was very love-hate. Personally I think bigger women are far more beautiful, proof that an eating disorder or body dysmorphia is not always about weight or thinness, although for some it is.

I had a fear of letting go of being a child, of growing up, of intimacy, of body-shame due to sexual abuse, of self-hate due to low-self-esteem. Those were my triggers, those were my things that led me to develop eating and body disorders. For others it may be the same or different. The thing we all share is a need to control what we feel we do not control – a feeling of being out of control. Sometimes people cut themselves, sometimes people do drugs, sometimes people control what they eat. Equally, if you do not see yourself accurately in the mirror this can be a manifestation of self-hate that was inculcated or indoctrinated and it can lead to a skewed self-image which is at the root of body dysmorphia.

I feel an intense embarrassment and shame at admitting this about myself. I know when I press ‘publish’ I will immediately regret this. And that’s why I’m doing it, because it’s time. Time to end the shame. If you read this and think I’m another white-middle-class-whiner who invents a disease, good day to you, but for those of you who ‘get’ what I’m saying here, I say to you, let’s talk about it, let’s get the monster out of the closet and get to the bottom of it, because the one thing that we hate most of all is admitting it and coming clean, that’s what we avoid at any cost, and that’s exactly why we must.

I’m sorry this is all about me, it was the only way I could find to truthfully tell the story.

 

Mental Health Month”Grow up & forget about it!”

Do you know anyone who was sexually abused as a child? Were you? Was your daughter? Sister? Wife? Neighbor? Brother? Son?

Childhood sexual abuse and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse (ASCSA) are in every society in every corner of our planet. It is often assumed children are resilient and can put up with a lot, and this is true, but childhood sexual abuse can destroy and does destroy so many parts of a child’s psyche we can honestly never know with any certainty how much was taken by the act of abuse.

What we do know is abuse, any kind of abuse, including sexual abuse, is going to have after effects that last long after the actual abuse ends. One of the ways this occurs is an unconscious attempt on the part of the child grown to adulthood (or near enough) in acting out the abuse in an attempt to understand it.

Does that seem crazy?

Very often organizations working with adult survivors noticed a pattern of repeat sexual and physical and mental abuse among populations who had endured these things. At first they believed a person who say, was raped was more likely to be raped a second time and this is borne out by statistics. But in addition to this increase likelihood of further victimization there was another pattern emerging; the unconscious re-enactment of aspects of the abuse by the survivor.

What that means in plain terms is, sometimes survivors will create situations similar to the abuse and actually reenact elements of the abuse, and go through those scenarios and possibly be re-victimized as a result. They will do this without being consciously aware of doing it.

Why would you ever want to do that?

It is thought this unconscious behavior is much like an unconscious wish to understand and reclaim what happened. Without intervention the individual is not aware they are doing it, and thus, when it happens is genuinely surprised (and re-traumatized) whereas when they are made aware this is a process of the mind trying to make sense of something that is hard if not impossible to make sense of, they can break the cycle.

Like many survivors who may turn to prostitution because of feelings of worthlessness and devalued degradation and shame, some will go in the opposite direction and have absolutely no sexual desire. These extremes are one form of ‘reacting’ to something the mind and spirit are trying to reconcile. Another way is the reenactment of the experience on some level. It has even been postulated that BDSM is one outlet for survivors to ‘act out’ their feelings and possibly reclaim their lost power.

Whether true or not, for others who have not had this experience, it may appear the individual is seeking to be abused on some level. It may even be an accusation thrown at the individual. Statements like; “You must want this / you keep putting yourself in these situations and letting it happen!” The individual will perceive this as being another condemning, blaming, shaming comment.

Abuse is hard to understand. I cannot understand why someone would sexually abuse a child, a woman, a man, an animal. I don’t think I could ever understand. So in absence of understanding, we sometimes go to great lengths to try to make sense of what happened to us.

I knew a woman who would drink a lot and go home with men and wait to see if they raped her. She was not aware she was doing this, until she really stopped the compulsion and thought about it. Then she realized she was seeing if she would be ‘betrayed’ again by a man who she had trusted and who had raped her when they had been drinking together. She had tried to talk to her friend who had raped her afterward about why he would have done this, he refused to say, and so she unconsciously put herself in similar situations to see if it would happen again and maybe understand it better. Of course when she realized what was happening she realized she did not want to be raped again! But until she came to that point she was unawares this was even happening.

Legally if she had been raped whilst drinking even if she consented to go home with someone, it would be rape if she did not give consent for sex and some would argue, if you are drunk you cannot give consent so with the exception of committed relationships where many times, partners will have sex when inebriated, the rule of thumb is, if you are not in a relationship and you or your partner are inebriated do not have sex with them because you cannot guarantee consent (unless it’s very obvious). Of course this is a difficult thing to gauge and it’s unrealistic to expect nobody to drink, so that’s where the legal system can get unstuck in issues of consent. However in most cases it is obvious for example if you are passed out drunk and someone has sex with you, that’s rape and you did not give consent, if you changed your mind and didn’t want to sleep with someone you withdraw your consent.

Therapy can be useful in working through trauma that involves enacting out parts of the abuse. Childhood survivors of sexual abuse go through triggering phases in their lives where it becomes challenging to deal with the history of their experiences. Typically these occur at puberty, during your first serious relationship, in pregnancy, during your child’s puberty and other occasions. It can be hard talking to family members about this, especially if the abuser was a family member. In a healthy marriage, talking about past sexual abuse histories helps you communicate what is and is not acceptable and what boundaries need to be respected, as well as bringing you closer.

Survivors of adult sexual abuse can have large issues with rage – anger – helplessness and anxiety.

Rage – anger at the perpetrator, at those who didn’t do enough to stop it, at oneself for being a victim, at people who trigger a reminder in any way.

Helplessness – feelings of impotence, uselessness, weakness, a feeling that nothing you do no matter how hard you try will change things or count.

Anxiety – fear, phobias, self-hate, secret-keeping, terror, flashbacks, nervousness, triggers, and general anxiety around anything related to or reminding of, the abuse.

Those as well as other symptoms can lead to severe mental health challenges, not least, depression and difficulty with trust and emotions. Unlike some who if raped may hopefully get some degree of immediate support, many times adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, may never report what happened, may be disbelieved, may suppress it and keep quiet about it. Others may feel it was dismissed, forgotten about, considered unimportant and feel that people think they should ‘get over it’ by now. Those who are raped as adults and receive no support will probably also experience this isolation. That feeling can lead to mental illness if left to fester and remain unresolved. Rape Crisis Centers will see ANY child or adult of either gender who was raped or sexually abused in any way at any age at any time in their life. They have therapists who are trained in the legal ramifications, and also how to actually help those who have experienced this.

A fellow blogger reminded me to be mindful of male-rape and male sexual abuse and assault and how even if it does not happen with the same frequency it may suffer greater stigma because males are less likely to report any kind of sexual abuse, for similar reasons, but also because they are not as typical a victim and thus, they fear the condemnation of others who may think ‘you’re male, why were YOU raped? How could you have let that happen?’ As with women, and children, nobody LETS rape happen, they are victimized by a rapist and they survive that rape.

Men and boys of all ages can be raped by other men and boys. Men and boys can be raped by women, although this is the rarest form of rape and sexual abuse/assault it does and can happen. Typically the most common form of sexual abuse perpetrated by a woman toward a man is between a female relative (older) to a male relative (younger) when the power balance and physical strength is on the female’s side. The male relative may be told ‘that’s a fantasy come true’ when he tells his story of being raped by an older woman, but of course, for many young men this is no sexual fantasy, this is rape.

A man or boy can obtain an erection even against their will, because our bodies respond whether we emotionally wish them to or not, this is also true of women. A man or boy may be able to be touched to erection and then raped, and orgasm, and thus he may feel he was not raped even if he emotionally feels he was. A woman or girl can also experience this. The fear of ‘I came so I must have liked it’ is one big reason why males in particular do not talk about their sexual abuse. Another reason is, if a boy is raped by another boy, he feels people will think he is gay and whether he is or not, this can be a palpable fear in many social settings that perceive being gay negatively in some way.

For a boy who is not gay, being raped by a male, to the point of ejaculation is horrifying and leads them to have many internalized fears of ‘I must be gay / I must be twisted / I liked being raped’ instead of seeing that climaxing is no indicator of pleasure, it is a physical response to stimulation. Likewise, if raped by a member of the same-sex, the rape can be physically damaging, and emotionally scaring because that male may never have considered that they too could be raped. For girls and women we’ve always known it was a possibility, it doesn’t make it easier BY ANY MEANS but it’s a socially known phenomena, less for male-on-male-rape and yet, it has been used for years on the battlefield with both sexes.

Rape isn’t about sex it’s about domination, control, sadism, anger, violence.

Sometimes sexual pleasure is another reason that is gained by the rapist who inflicts pain, control, domination, fear, anger, violence. In other words, they get off on it. That’s the definition of a sadist and probably a sociopath (someone who has no empathy or regard for others). Equally narcissists can be deluded into thinking anything they do to anyone must be good because it feels good to them.

Those kinds of people capable of rape are our norm. But what about the good person who rapes? Is that possible?

Many times a best friend rapes their friend. In such incidences, everything you thought you knew flies out of the window. How could my best friend do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? You didn’t do anything. Sometimes people, even good people, do terrible things. We should not excuse a good person who does a terrible thing, because they committed an act that will stay with us forever. Oftentimes though, these are the very rapes that go unreported and can occur before adulthood.

Of course who wants to report rape when the system is broken? Ideally everyone should, that is the only way rapists are stopped. But even if you don’t, seeking therapy to work through the messed up feelings you will have afterward, as well as checking yourself physically and ensuring you are protected as much as possible from disease and injury is essential. This can and should include, an examination, evidence collected for should you proceed with a case (and you may not know if you want to at the time so get it taken so you have that choice) documentation of damage (for future reference in relation to your long-term health, blood tests for contracted sexual diseases and treatment if applicable including but not limited to, prophylactic treatment.

prophylactic treatment can include certain antibiotics that work to counter certain STD’s that are commonly transmitted. Others include The Morning After Pill which is not an abortion pill but a pill that prevents conception much like the regular pill but is taken once during the first 72 hours after a man has ejaculated inside you, to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

The least well-known prophylactic treatment is a HIV prophelactic. If you believe your rapist may have had HIV this is one measure to prevent contraction. You are given a large quantity of medication similar to the HIV treatment for up to six weeks typically a month, they have side-effects but they are reliable in preventing HIV transmission. Many people do not know about this and if it is applicable, it should be requested.

What about adults of childhood sexual assault? They are often raped in childhood, it is often a secret, as adults they may have scars and side-effects from this abuse including STD’s which further the shame and humiliation they feel. Seeing a good doctor who can go through your history and check on you regularly as well as prescribing appropriate medications can help though often the damage can be lasting and far-reaching which is why children abused in secret is so devastating as many are never treated until it’s too late.

With therapy it is never too late. I have seen people in their eighties who until that moment had never spoken about being abused as a child and at the termination of therapy they were glad they spoke out. It is never too late. Never.

But if you don’t get therapy for someone you love, it might lead to things you couldn’t imagine like them becoming the predator and abusing another child, as I saw many times happen, not because they were evil but because it’s a taught, learned maladaptive behavior that can be acted-out to the extent that the line between ‘abused’ and ‘abuser’ is blurred and finally, lost.

If you are friends with someone who has gone through something like this, be a friend to them and talk with them about it, don’t side-step around it, let them know you care and want to talk about it and encourage them to talk to a professional also.

Childhood sexual abuse survivors can be among the strongest most resilient souls you could ever meet, they are often the most inspirational and giving and helping. Nobody has to be destroyed by childhood sexual abuse, it is very rare that they are, but those who are, need the voice of us all, to prevent as much as we can, this quiet abuse that can be occurring right next door to us. We should all know the signs and symptoms of an abused child and not be afraid to check on a child we fear might be at risk of abuse.

That said, temper enthusiasm for helping with caution. Being brought up by a single father, many assumed I was at risk for being sexually abused by my father. He never did and never would, but I could see why they may have found it unusual for a small female child to be reared by their father. I was appreciative of their caution when I look back, but glad it didn’t cause further enquiry as that can be as damaging as doing nothing. It may be a fine balance but together, we can lower the number of children who are invisibly being abused in our society right now.

Mental Health Month “the stigma-ism’s”

You can get rid of mental illness by …

believing in God more

working harder

socializing more

going to the gym regularly

quitting bad habits and making good ones

replacing negativity for positive thinking

sucking it up

reducing how often you ruminate

and so the list goes on

The problem with all of the above, whilst absolutely good habits for most of us (bar sucking it up) are, they imply therefore, the sufferer of mental illness is not doing enough to help themselves and ultimately they leave the after taste of judgement.

So how do you strike a balance between helping someone or seeking to help someone with a mental illness and coming across like ‘if only you did this, you would be well’ and thus, not understanding mental illness isn’t a lamp, it doesn’t get switched on and off easily, mental illness isn’t a fad (though it isn’t always life-long either) and (some) mental illness isn’t easy to dismiss with will power alone.

Why do we judge?

Why do we stigmatize?

Have you ever thought about that? What is within most of us that causes us to judge others?

If you really think you have NEVER judged someone unfairly or harshly award yourself the “unlikely” prize!

If you really think you have a right to judge someone else regularly, it’s probably best to stop reading now.

Judging has its place. If someone kills your entire family in front of you, chances are at some point you will judge them and find them guilty. Those who have lost family members to these examples of violence, typically say they have to forgive the perpetrator to some extent to prevent it consuming them, or they have to work through the hate and get to a better place. It is not ‘necessary’ to try to understand why someone would do something so evil, but usually in our effort to understand, our first port of call is judgement.

Why did you do this wrong thing? Why are you the way you are? What is wrong with you?

In the case of the murderer of an entire family I doubt many of us would have an issue with their being judged. That’s where judgement comes in handy. Law and order. Justice.

But what about every day life? Why do we go around judging things all the time thinking we are the judge and jury and even executioner (figuratively speaking) what is it about human beings that makes them relish judging or attracted to judging others?

Is it as simple as being insecure? Putting someone lower than ourselves helps us feel better in a twisted way?

Is it as simple as egocentricism? I know I’m right, therefore if you do the opposite of what I believe, you are wrong?

Is it blind faith? This is my faith and belief, anything you do to contradict it or throw it into doubt, means I will turn on you and condemn you.

Is it a knee-jerk reaction out of not understanding? Condemning what we do not understand?

Is it fear? Fearing we are more alike this person whom we judge than not, and thus, pushing them away by judging them, making it clear we are different so nobody will consider we are also guilty?

I don’t know the answers. What do you think?

What I do know is nobody likes being judged. Sometimes it’s useful or necessary in extreme cases like the one about the murderer, or in small incidences where we help someone learn or grow as a person – but this is more advice-giving than actual outright judgement. Outright judgement tends to have no benefit other than to shame that person. If they are guilty of rape, child abuse, murder, swindling, theft, I don’t have an issue with judging someone guilty and then giving them a consequence depending on the seriousness of the ‘crime’ that’s law and order, but in our society we judge continually in casual ways that we may believe have no lasting impact.

And yet … they often have a life long impact.

Cruelty goes hand in hand with judgement. Often the two are nearly indistinguishable. Mental health can be affected by bullying, judging, condemnation, shame, humiliation, etc. Ask yourself, do you feel judging will help anyone? Will it make anything better? Or is it just your desire?

Ever heard the phrase, you can think it but don’t say it? Sure you have. I’m one who is all for the truth, I would rather someone said something to my face than thought it and kept it quiet, but I’m in the minority, most people seem content to be ignorant of the truth of what someone thinks of them, preferring that they not share the negative assessments/judgements they may have.

Next time you find yourself tempted to say something judging, ask yourself, are you judging because you want to make something better and will that judgement achieve that goal? Or are you judging because YOU CAN AND YOU WANT TO.

Then put yourself in the shoes of the person you are judging.

Sometimes its soooo tempting to want to bring someone down a peg or two. You’ve all met one of those, the people with huge inflated egos who boast and seem unbreakable. Haven’t you been tempted to give them a piece of your mind? Or dent their parachute? At the same time do you really know the egocentrism they display is real? Could it be an elaborate construct and underneath an insecure person hides?

If you have to judge, consider judging those who judge others. If there is anyone ‘deserving’ of being judged it is someone who does it for a living. Next time you hear someone being torn apart, defend them, stand up for them, shame the judger. That’s the best way to use our proclivity for judging, for the benefit of the underdog and others who are picked apart.

Words stay forever. You only have to be told once that you are ugly, worthless, a failure, stupid, to believe it. If that seems weak, look at a childs face when they’re told that by a parent or someone who matters.

Mental Health Month “Inferiority”

The next time you come across someone who has a mental illness, consider the following…

We poke fun at people calling them mentally ill (Trump) without really considering the effect such labeling may have on someone who IS mentally ill. In poking fun we are looking to someone we do not respect and saying ‘they’re mentally ill’ by implication, someone we do not respect is mentally ill – this is all bad.

Just like saying ‘he’s so gay’ or ‘that’s so gay’ you may mean nothing by it, (good grief who hasn’t said it at least once?) but it is implying a negative connotion.

White people cannot and rightfully so, use the N word, but black people can because they own the rights to that word over anyone else. Likewise if you are gay, you could say to another gay person ‘you are so gay’ and it wouldn’t be offensive because it’s about who is saying it to who. So the same applies to derogatory statements about mental health. If two people are sitting in a psych ward and say “Trump is mentally ill” that doesn’t have the same emotional fall out as if someone who is not mentally ill makes the claim.

That may be hard to undesrtand but it’s about sensisitivity and it’s just like any category of people. A Native American can make jokes about Native Americans but an Anglo person cannot. Is that Political Correctness run amock? Not really, when you consider the history behind this.

Much as I have heard some awful sexist jokes and the only person who could tell them should be a woman, and not even then. Bottom line; Don’t go there, it’s not worth it.

I would argue, black people are better off NOT using the N word, and the same applies to any group who may use derogatory jokes/statements about their group in jest, it’s probably not very funny. If that’s too PC then so be it, I don’t see it as a detriment to world humor if we reduce how many off-color jokes we tell.

Ultimately what we relate things to says a lot about what we think of them. If we compare mentally ill people to someone they know we despise, then it’s a criticism whether wrapped up in a joke or not. Next time you are tempted to joke about mental illness consider whether it’s really worth the punch line and the laughs, and whether it’s really funny or just a means of exploiting an already stigmatized group of people. If that seems too serious, so be it, mental illness IS serious just like racism is, sexism is, prejudice is.

What does the mentally ill person feel when they hear jokes and put downs related to mental illness? Inferior.

One may say, a person who suffers from a mental illness is already subject to feeling of inferiority and this is probably the case, therefore they are vulnerable to begin with, and every subsequent insult and attack adds to that feeling.

Again, I have heard people lament the ‘weakness’ and over-sensitivity, of mentally ill people. The typical taunt being; “Why do you have to be SO over-sensitive?”

I would argue, what does it take to be a little sensitive around someone you know is going through a hard time? What does it actually TAKE?

There are many people who identify or are HSP (Highly Sensitive People) and this is not always related to mental illness but the two have a relationship because of the difficulty  of being an HSP in a world of mostly harder-nosed types, proud of their ability to not be sensitive, who see any sensitivity as a weakness and are not afraid of saying so.

I’m not going to labor the point about the value of having sensitivity or the obvious detriment to compassion if we do not have any, because I know there are two sides to this, and with such extremes it is unlikely they will agree. I would only ask that less judgement and condemnation exist, permitting those who are sensitive to go about their lives unmolested.

If you are a HSP and have a mental illness, your struggle is often magnified by the accute awareness of your situation and others reactions and responses to you. If someone makes a joke at your expense that wounds you on a deeper level than those who are able to shrug it off. For some, sensitivity is perceived as a weakness of character and their attitude is one of a bully who takes pleasure in seeing the sensitive person react. If you know someone like that, maybe now is the time to call them on that.

The TV show Thirteen Reasons Why may not be a good example of mental illness, and is lacking in many ways, but one truism is the development of hurt in the main character by the insensitivity around her. This can be a determining factor that leads to the taking of your own life, as in her case. I would argue that she also hurt others, and this was not explored in the show sufficiently, nor was mental illness really examined which it should have been. But irrespective, it highlights the progression of hurt to someone with presumably a pre-existing mental condition, that acts as a trigger to take her own life.

We can be part of a reason why someone is crushed. We may not realize we have that power, and maybe knowing we do, will make us a worse tormenter, but if we want to avoid hurting others, which I hope most of you do, then considering what our words do to those who are more sensitive, doesn’t take very long, doesn’t cost anything and can literally make such a difference. It can stop someone who already is feeling inferior from feeling so inferior that they see no purpose in going on.

Everyone is equal. Nobody is inferior to someone else until they act badly and show their true colors.

 

Mental Health Month “The Workplace”

Ask many people with mental illness, how’s the workplace? Many will describe the frustrations of trying to work alongside people who either do not know or do not understand the struggles they are going through, the high rates of unemployment, underemployment and patchy employment relating to mental health.

We hear how many working days are lost to mental health, we know this, but as a society we do nothing to improve the resources for those experiencing mental health challenges. Again, for those who have not experienced any mental health issues, they may wonder, what could be so bad as to take people out of the work place?

Where to start? Panic attacks can make going to work feel like a torture. Anxiety can cause reduced career opportunities because of fear, phobias including agrophobia may make it hard to actually venture beyond the house to a place of work, depression may keep a sufferer in bed on days when they are most needed at the office, bipolar can cause a worker to shift from highly productive to shut down over night. Without a full understanding of the complexities of mental disease, your boss is likely as not, ill equipped to handle these things and that is why so many people with mental illness struggle in the work place.

But what are we doing about it?

In recent years, bullying in the workplace has been a topic of discussion and highlights that we have not progressed as far from the playground as we may think. Typically people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the object of bullying both in the school yard and work place. We hear about work place violence and assume some ‘crazy person’ came and gunned down some innocents, and whilst there is no justification for work place violence, is there any excuse for work place bullying?

It is worth considering this if you work with someone who is being bullied. Stand up for them, let someone know it’s happening, don’t let those tensions get out of hand, and then wonder what you could have done about it after it’s too late and that person commits suicide or brings a gun to work. Equally, if someone is mentally ill and they’re making it hard in the work place let your boss know, so that they (whose job it is) can do their best to resolve the issue.

Let’s look at an example;

One

Jemima is a closeted lesbian who suffers from anxiety. Her work colleague grows suspicious of her ‘life style’ and watches her type in her password, when Jemima is out at lunch, her work colleague ‘hacks’ her email account bringing up private emails of Jemima’s to her girlfriend. The work colleague prints them out and everyone in the office giggles over their content, unbeknown to Jemima. One person in the office feels this is wrong but doesn’t know what to do. What should they do?

This is a true story. The outcome was, nobody did anything, and Jemima ended up leaving her job, feeling that she had no choice after she found out what had happened and experienced severe anxiety and feelings of shame and bullying. Some would blame her for being in the closet, whilst others would understand, sometimes it has to be that way. But what could have changed to prevent this? If one person had stood up and told Jemima’s boss, then thanks to legal changes protecting people’s private-lives, her boss, whether approving of Jemima’s ‘life style’ or not, would be legally bound to act. If they did not act then this could be protested. Additionally, Jemima’s colleague who objected to this hacking, could have told Jemima and urged her to go to HR and report this as a violation. By doing nothing, nothing gets better.

Sometimes when you stand up. You make a difference. It really can take one person to do it, think of Rosa Parks.

Case Two

Jose is Bipolar but feels if he tells anyone at work he will be fired because that’s happened in two previous jobs so he says nothing. When he gets insurance through his job he does not go to see a psychiatrist because he fears his disease being part of his permanent record and worries this will stigmatize him in the future. Consequently he pays for private care and spends a lot of money on medication.

One week he does not have any medication left and doesn’t have the money to replace them. He begins to get the side-effects of not being on his medication including being unable to sleep at night, paranoid thoughts, inability to concentrate and feelings of mania. He is not able to tell anyone what is going on, tries to do his work at home but because of not being well doesn’t do a complete job.

When he returns to work after getting paid and getting more medication his boss tells him he has to let him go because of poor performance. Jose loses his job and now does not have the money for his medication or any health insurance.

What could have been different here?

The American laws concerning healthcare protect us somewhat from workplace discrimination. This is not inclusive and it’s fallible because people can and do make up other reasons for firing their employees. If in doubt speak to the workplace commission in your state about what your rights are, knowing your rights is half the battle. Likewise, Jose’s boss would be breaking the law if he chose to disclose Jose’s health status to anyone else at his work place, so in this sense, choosing to speak to his boss about what was going on, protects Jose more than staying quiet.

The reality is however, that until stigma around mental health is gone, there are always ways to subvert someone based upon prejudice. If your boss is predisposed to thinking ‘everyone with bipolar is a nut-job’ they may circumvent the law and find a way to get rid of you despite your best efforts. Having anyone else on your side improves your chances, as well as letting the proper legal channels know. Ultimately however, not enough is done to self-guard those with mental illness in the work place and this is one failing that needs serious remedy. After all, we need an income to afford health care one way or another, if we cannot get a job, how are we expected to get treated?

The reality of mental illness is many people are in the closet about it, for a plethora of reasons, and until we reduce the stigma and judgement as a society, they have no incentive to come out. Mental illness does not mean you cannot be an asset to any job, but a level playing field means a fair one, where there is no condemnation or presupposition based upon a mental illness diagnosis.

For a GREAT example of mental illness at work – watch the TV series HOMELAND with Claire Danes. It’s one of the most realistic (as far as anything on TV goes) portrayals of the struggle against the system by a young woman with Bipolar 1.