I have spent the past year trying to focus my writing around issues of mental health. With this I hope that I have given some helpful advice and some interesting stories. I like to believe that by doing this I have helped at least one person to see that they aren’t alone. What I wanted to achieve by writing about these issues was to give people who don’t live with mental health problems a glimpse into the difficulties faced by those who do. What has somehow happened is that people now have decided that I do not have a mental health disorder, but instead an addiction problem. I want to know when it became more acceptable to be an addict than it is to be crazy.
I think that part of this is because crazy is something we don’t control. People who don’t live with a mental health disorder, much less multiple disorders, seem to accept addiction more easily. Addiction is something that can be controlled, or at least that seems to be the prevailing theory of those who have been confronting me lately. It isn’t my OCD that causes me to think in circles, but instead it is some addiction. The truth is that I am not an addict. I can’t say that I have never drank too much or tried things which I shouldn’t have. I have never needed a substance to survive, well other than food water and air—all of which are made up of chemicals. I can live without medication, and even if I choose not to, this choice doesn’t mean I am an addict. I do not feel as if I cannot handle life without medication, and I don’t believe that for my disorders that medication is a long term fix. It is a band aid to be used while I learn other ways to cope.
The truth is that many people with mental health difficulties do self-medicate, and often find themselves in positions of addiction. Since I do not claim to be an expert in addiction, I cannot say anything more than that it is possible for someone who starts off with a diagnoses and medication can become an addict. I only know this much because I have seen it happen. This does not mean that anyone who has gone to a doctor for help and takes medication is an addict. Nor does it mean that every person taking medication is doing so because they need to. There are plenty of people who get prescriptions legally for problems they don’t really have. From what I have been told, and experienced, if you go to a doctor who is just trying to see as many patients as possible, all you have to do is give a list of symptoms and they will prescribe what pill goes along with that set.
Recently I have been told by recovering addicts that I have addiction problems, and that I need to get clean and sober. They congratulated me when I went off medication, and proclaimed that I was taking a step in the right direction. They seemed to think that they influenced my choice in going off meds, but the truth is I went off meds because I wanted to see what affect they were even having on me. The reality is that for the most part they were affecting my memory. There were other effects from the meds, but the most disturbing to me was with the memory. Other than that they didn’t change my personality and they didn’t help consistently with my anxiety, so why take them? Well for me the only time I feel medication is helpful is when I have to be in a situation where I have no ability to avoid my stressors. These would be holidays, family events, and weddings.
The next set off accusations about being an addict came from someone who doesn’t know me outside of text messages. We text a couple times every few months and that is the extent of our communication. I have never met this person in real life, and I really don’t have any desire to. Recently, while talking to him about my current job situation he accused me of being an addict. This was based off me not having been able to find a decent job in the past nine months. Because of course only an addict would have trouble finding a job in a bad economy, therefore I must be an addict. It couldn’t possibly be that my skill set lies with writing and mental health advocacy. Or that my degree, which he also claimed I must not have, is in a field which tends to require at least a Masters to find work. My education allows me to be a candidate for entry level jobs, but my experience puts me at being a little over qualified, or a little under qualified. If I mentioned that I am crazy I would spend another ten years looking for work.
So when did mental health turn into addiction? When did people who have no experience with one or the other become experts? I don’t claim to be an expert in mental health other than my own. I know what is wrong with me, and I don’t need people to create new labels for me to make themselves feel more comfortable. If you don’t believe that OCD, and Anxiety can cause extreme difficulty for someone, then I am not someone you should be associated with.
As we change how mental health is viewed, we seem to being adding a new face to crazy. I can’t just be crazy, I must be abusing something, or I wouldn’t act the way I do. Since people tend to think that crazy celebrities are only this way because of substance abuse, why not believe that everyone is this way? Well, the biggest reason for why not, is that it is Not True. Not every person who decides to embrace their own crazy, go out into the world and live their lives is an addict—just as not every person who is on drugs has a mental health disorder.
The picture of mental health is bigger than people seem to want to accept. The rules keep changing, and they aren’t all changing for the better. Every day we have to learn how to live in a world which doesn’t understand us, and has to create some new reason as to why we act the way we do. We can’t just be crazy anymore, no we have to be on something, and even if the thing we are on is to help us control the crazy aspects of our personality this now means that we are addicts. Not everything is so cut and dry. People however don’t like messy, and mental health is messy—it’s complicated and makes people uncomfortable.
So I am sending out a big thank you to all of the people who realize that this is not easy. Thank you to everyone who doesn’t try to change me or anyone with a disorder, and to everyone who doesn’t need to have me be an addict so that I can fit into your box. Thank you to all of the people who are fighting for these diseases to be understood, and who stand by their friends and family who are fighting everyday with some form of mental illness. And most importantly a huge thank you to those of you who are yourselves fighting for your own version of sanity and doing what you can to live in a world which hasn’t learned how to accept your particular brand of sane.
I hope you all have a happy, crazy, fun filled and safe Thanksgiving.