This is the last day of Mental Illness Awareness Week, but for me everyday is a day for mental illness awareness. It should be obvious that awareness is the key ingredient for beneficial change, first in attitude, through gaining knowledge, and then through speech and action. But how do you get people who are unaware to the place where they can wake up to the fact that mental illness is a part of the human condition?
Those of us who have not fallen into acute mental illness still have personal experience with depression, anxiety and irrational thinking during stressful times. We've all touched into mental and emotional imbalance. Perhaps that is why the stigma against mental illness is so great -- it's too close to home. People want to foster the illusion that "crazy" people are different, other, the enemy, out there somewhere.
I'm doing what many people who suffer from mental illness are doing, I'm writing in a blog with the intention of helping myself and others to understand the nature of mental illness, specifically and generally. Specifically, through relating personal stories, and generally, through reflecting on those stories and bringing in a bigger picture. It's an education process that in some ways is very old and traditional, very human.
Before the invention of writing, there was a serious oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation. People got together and told each other stories. Many stories were forgotten, but some lived on. Those who learned and told the stories were skilled performers and sometimes stories were modified or embellished and the initial story began to be transformed. This mixing of fact and fiction is a part of what it is to be human. We're drawn to tales and drama and confessions.
For me, I work hard to keep fact and fiction separate. I think many other bloggers with mental illness try to do the same. Our stories still have some drama and some confession in them, but I think that has more to do with where we went astray with our illness, where we tried to transform fiction into fact. The lure to turn fiction into fact is in the way we entertain ourselves with books, television, movies, video games and popular music. The internet can used this way too and yet it is also a library and a communications center, a place where with some determination you can gather some facts and express your views on what you've found.
Bloggers who write about their mental illness are reporters and witnesses. The more honest and articulate they can be, the more the shroud of stigma gets reduced. This is what I've been witnessing these last six years that I've been blogging. There still should be more of us writing about our struggles and successes, but there are enough to reach a solid percentage of people surfing the web. The illusion that those of us particularly with psychotic disorders are always on the borderline of having a violent outbreak is just beginning to diminish.
Slowly major depression and bipolar disorder are becoming accepted by the general population, as are anxiety disorders, but schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder continue to be much maligned. That's one of the reasons why I write to show that I am as human as anyone and not some kind of freak or monster. I also write to show that those who are psychotically ill and have been violent towards others are also human and deserve compassion. They are not monsters, they are very, very ill human beings.
There are no monsters; there is no enemy, there's just us and we are complex psychological beings. We share the same stuff. In order to survive we need to be inclusive and not exclusive. In the human race there should be no gated communities. We share everything, our mental illness and our mental health. But the more aware we can get of being side tracked by mental illness, both great and small, within "crazy" people and "normal" people, the more we can understand its dynamics and re-direct ourselves towards mental health. Awareness and understanding go hand in hand and make us wiser.