I’m confused about the stigma of mental illness. I agree that people shouldn’t be stigmatized for being mentally ill, but all too often, there’s overlap with other issues.
First of all, people who are grossly immature are written off as being mentally ill. This is problematic because:
- people shouldn’t dismissively be called mentally ill, and
- immaturity has nothing to do with mental illness.
Someone will act all immature and childish, and someone else will say, “I’d stay away from him/her. Something must be wrong with him/her,” in hushed tones. Yeah, there’s something wrong. Immaturity!
Mental illness isn’t connected to immaturity in any way that I know, but I’m sure there’s some overlap. It’s like that episode of The Golden Girls when Blanche realizes that a man in a wheelchair can still be a jerk. (She was under the false assumption that his handicap made him nicer somehow.)
So I guess it’s possible for someone to be both mentally ill and immature. But what I’m saying is that the two factors need to be weeded apart from each other.
- Difficulty functioning
- Inner distress of an emotional and/or perceptual nature
- Paranoia, depression, mood swings, anxiety, et al.
(I’m just brainstorming here.)
- Stubborn refusal to take ownership for misbehavior
- A sick, twisted enjoyment in upsetting people on a regular/consistent basis
- A tendency toward gross insensitivity and unawareness of others’ feelings
And here’s the overlap! It’s coming up…
Mental illness AND immaturity:
- Bad behavior
Here’s the thing. Everyone will misbehave. If they value the relationship, they’ll apologize. If they regret their behavior, they’ll apologize. If they want to improve, they’ll try to prevent a recurrence of whatever they did wrong. If, however, they’re stuck in perpetual victim mode, they probably won’t apologize or be sorry.
We’ve got to hold people as accountable as they can be held. If someone’s misbehaving because they’re psychotic, manic, hormonal, anxious, etc., then we should make allowances. Especially if we know they’ll regret it once sanity has been restored. If someone’s misbehaving due to immaturity, that’s not mental illness. It’s immaturity!
I’m not sure what has sent me on this rant, but the concept of mental illness versus maturity has been on my mind for a few years. Advice columnists would have bad behavior described to them and write, “It sounds like your neighbor [or whoever] is mentally ill.” UGGGGH. It seems more likely that their regular late-night partying is due to immaturity.
I can’t think of any specific examples right now of what I’m trying to convey, but here’s another point: mentally ill people often want to grow and become better people. Often, we got a bad start at life. Maybe we were abused, and/or maybe we hit puberty and became bipolar overnight. Maybe we were shunned by our classmates. It’s hard to grow up mentally ill. But the best mentally ill people strive to overcome adversity, and they take pride in it. The worst mentally ill people wallow in their diagnosis and wear it like a badge. “You can’t touch me! I’m [insert mental illness here]. Nothing in life could be worse! I should be pitied, and I flat-out refuse to improve myself.”
I don’t like people like that, and I’ve encountered a handful. There are two types of people on this earth:
- People who strive toward personal betterment, and
- People who wallow in self-pity.
I get self-pity. My motto is, “What the hell? Let yourself dwell.” What I don’t get is perpetual self-pity that lasts day in and day out, and that includes the strong belief that, “Whatever’s wrong with me, other people can deal with it.”
Like, I knew a guy once who was badly passive-aggressive. He flat-out refused to work on his passive-aggressive tendencies. He forced me to accept his passive-aggression or to leave the relationship.
I knew another guy who was perpetually self-absorbed. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, and believe me, I tried. Spittle would form at the corners of his mouth as he’d talk. And talk. And talk. Same with him–I was forced to tolerate it or leave the friendship. I made the wrong choice, actually. I chose to tolerate it. And it bit me, hard.
Maybe I’ve just known a lot of immature people.
But I’m sure we all have. That one quality that makes some of us better is that we try to overcome things. We might not succeed, we might not act perfectly all the freakin’ time, but heaven above, we’re committed to self-improvement at any cost.
I seek that quality out in people. I always have.
For someone to get the Meg Seal of Approval, the person must value insight and personal growth. No one else need apply. I’m disgusted and sick and fed up with people who want constant sympathy over a diagnosis and/or act all victimized over the time they scraped their knee in Kindergarten. That’s not trauma!
Some people say that anything you couldn’t cope with counts as trauma. No, no, no, no, no. If you stub your toe or lose a dollar bill or buy a bad apple, you have not freakin’ been traumatized, so get over it. Yeah, you can whine and complain. Day-to-day life happens. But then let it go and move on. Don’t still be on it twenty years later, unless you’re telling the story as a joke. It wasn’t traumatic.
To anyone who has bonafide flashbacks, I don’t mean anything I just said. To anyone who clings to bad memories because it fills them with comforting self-pity like a warm blanket, I’m talking to you. Move on! Reach for a better reality!
Mentally ill people shouldn’t be stigmatized. We should be judged not on what we can’t control, but on our actions and our values.
That said, if I see a mentally ill person who’s begging everyone around her to feed her self-pity party, I darned will stigmatize her. But not because she’s mentally ill. (I understand that life gets depressing sometimes. I want to be clear here that I’m talking about people who cling to their victimhood as a badge of honor.)
I hope this hasn’t offended anyone!