Last week I asked people around the internet to talk about mental illness. If they were victims, I asked they talk about their afflictions. This was a tall order, but I’m happy to say that the response has been overwhelming. We are all in this together, and there is strength in that. We empower each other every time another one of us stands up and says “I am your child, your sibling, your friend…and I’m sick.” This is how we cultivate a wiser society.
I also asked that those untouched by mental illness write about how knowing others with mental disorders has changed their lives. For others, I asked that they learn something new about mental illness and that they write about it. Again, many immediately climbed on board.
Before I get into some of them, I want to throw out this comment from the post for all the people in the field of psychology.
Can we please start a community of Atheists dealing with mental illness? I’m tired of suffering alone. Too many people think faith is the only way to deal with these issues. We can build community too and we have proved it before. There should be some central website to talk about these things and support each other. How about it?
Does something like this exist? If not, I will put something into motion. There needs to be a place where non-believers can go and have their concerns met with medicine, absent the judgment and prodding to ask Jesus to cure the condition god thought was a good enough idea to leave in his design.
This commenter over at Pharyngula hit the nail on the head.
If anyone out there is thinking about going to a psychiatrist, but is afraid of the stigmatization, do it. Do it as soon as possible.
Also, if you are a supportive friend of someone with mental illness (protecting the person from his or her own bullshit, checking discretely and not condescendingly for burn/razor marks, etc.) you are a lifesaver. No preacher, bishop or spiritual healer will ever compare.
The world needs to realize that people with mental disorders are not angsty mopers who don’t know how to handle a break up. We’re not the people who clean their house every day and self-diagnose themselves as OCD. We are your co-workers. In many cases, we’re your heroes. As an exhibit A on that point, read fellow FtBlogger Stephanie Zvan’s account of her own psychological tribulations. If there is any confusion in your mind as to what courage looks like, you can resolve them by clicking that link.
All of us, if we’re good skeptics, know what it means to fail while trying to be reasonable. How many of us know what it feels like to have to reason their way around their own minds, only to arrive at the conclusion that they cannot be trusted to map out reality on a particular subject? Stephanie and Jen have succeeded and done great things despite that hindrance. Victims of mental illness are not weak people – we are fighters. What’s worse, because of our own insanities or because we live in a world that shuns the afflicted, we’re often battling alone, unable to ask for help. Kudos to Stephanie and Jen for stepping up and breaking the ice.
As my father always said: “It’s the confession, not the priest, that absolves us.” With 22-23% of the population having some sort of mental disorder, coming out can not only liberate an individual from the stigma attached to mental illness, it can tell others close to you that they are not alone.
I tell the BF. “I’m crazy.”
I hear something I didn’t expect. “I’m crazy too.”
More crying, only it’s happy crying now. The imaginary Apollo audience goes “awwwww,” the imaginary receptionist averts her eyes and looks ashamed.
Lastly, please read this post. The conclusion, which I excerpt here, could be an opus for the closeted loon who is not so loony as to believe in Canaanite Jews rising from the dead.
And, important for me and for many others: the treatment of these things doesn’t have to include a deity. It doesn’t mean “giving it up to [god here].” If that helps, great. But there is a full life without a deity, there is hope for atheists with mental illness. I am an atheist, and I have depression, and it’s not because of my lack of a god, and a god isn’t helping me at all. I have reasons to live beyond any kind of hope that a creator could give me. There is the hope that we can have in reality, in humanity, and in ourselves. There is so much to empower ourselves with, and this is important to talk about. Can we please just talk about this?
It’s perfect, yet it doesn’t do the rest of the post justice. If you read none of the other pieces I link of atheists coming out about their disorders, read the one above.
There are so many more, and I will continue to post them. I’m trying to keep up with all the incoming mail. The response to this has been overwhelming, so it’s a herculean task. I don’t mind though. I love hearing all your stories! I want to share them. Please feel free to send along your stories (wwjtd21[at]gmail[dot]com), but please be patient.
On some of the email I’ve been receiving. I am not a psychiatrist, but I do know that self-diagnosis means you are getting wikipedia at best when you may need a doctor. If you are having prolonged symptoms that seriously affect your daily life, do not self-diagnose and call it a day. Go see a doctor. If you self-diagnose yourself and carry on about your daily life, throwing out your self-diagnosis with the same casual smile as you do discussing your new pair of jeans, you trivialize the suffering of others and you contribute to the present view of society of mental illness-sufferers just needing to get their shit together.
Now, there are some of you reading this who worry that you are being weak if you go see a doctor. There are people reading this who think they have somehow failed by even considering the possibility their brain may be malfunctioning. You are not being weak! You are no weaker than a cancer patient who decides to see a doctor rather than fighting it by force of will. But don’t rely on your own assessment: many mental health problems make your own analysis unreliable. Speak with friends and follow their lead. They care for you. Ask them to go to the doctor with you.
I can encourage you to live without shame. It would be immoral of me to think I can diagnose anybody writing to me. Please, please go see a doctor for that. No less.