About Mental Illness

I recently learned in a personality psychology course that the effect size in regard to how much words make a difference to people is very small. I’m currently trying to find studies which either argue for or against this, but in the meantime I decided I’d write a short blurb about it.

I’ve found nothing becoming about the term “mental illness”. It feels defaming and self-deprecating. I don’t really consider myself disordered and I’ve been ambivalent about the term schizophrenia and schizoaffective. And if I find these studies accurate, verifiable, and reliable, than I suppose none of this really matters.

I’ve been hung up on it since I was 14. In the CCMD, one of volumes, I remember reading schizophrenia was labeled as “Integration disorder” or something similar. I read a lot of books describing mental struggles as strengths, describing medication as poison, describing this idea of “illness” as bad. I agreed, and to some degree I still do.

But I’m learning to drop the words, really. It’s not about what you want to call it. Call it Schizophrenia, call it Integration disorder, call it Mental Illness, Disorder, Disease (even though there’s not enough actual scientific evidence to prove the disease part), call it whatever you want to call it because regardless we’re all talking about the same experiences. We’re all talking about the same pain, the same beauty, the same horror, the same frustration. The issue comes when people internalize the concept of illness.

The issue comes when someone loses sight of the rest of their future because they’re being told they need to take medication for the rest of their life and they can’t work, they won’t be normal, and everything has to change now–for the worst.

This is a problem because us humans are infamous for letting go of alternative possibilities when we’re provided an answer. This happens to be scientifically proven.

What I mean is, if our answer is: “take meds for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I need to find some stable ground, heal myself, and maybe find a way to not take so much medication/taper off. Or maybe I won’t. I need to explore all my options”.

When the answer is: “you’ll have this for the rest of your life”, our brains don’t automatically respond with “I may have this for the rest of my life, I also may not. What are other options?”

No, we say, shit, I have to take these meds. If I don’t, I’ll be unwell again. This is my life line.

We say, shit, I’m doomed. This has ruined my life. There’s nothing I can do.

Sometimes life experiences and therapy and friends and support forces help us see that our life isn’t ruined. Sometimes we can get off medication, and sometimes we can’t. What’s hard for me to swallow is that a lot of us don’t ever get to the point where we can consider either point of view. What’s hard for me to swallow is that when we try and advocate for each other, we do so from the perspective of “illness” instead of “wellness”.

We glamorize this idea that “I live with a mental illness and I’m doing well.” We have that weird AA group mentality of powerlessness. Studies show AA is actually quite ineffective and having been in both AA groups and Al-anon, I find them very cult-ish. I’ve also met countless people who have been saved by AA, NA, and other support groups based in “higher-power” thinking.

But essentially, if all our power comes from us being powerless, then we’re not actually powerful. We’re not anything really, but a pawn. A puppet, maybe. We let ourselves be pulled by the strings of our “disease” or disorder and we find no other avenues of compromise because we are powerless. Sometimes we feel because we made a choice to be powerless, we are empowered. Other times we argue against this adamantly, that we “manage” our illness, and “we don’t let it control us”. But the thing that all these black and white views have in common is fear. The fear, and knowledge, that we can’t control anything.

Why do we need to? That’s the question I ask everyone who presents me with this argument. Why is control even an aspect here? When you are in a healthy relationship or friendship with someone, and you have a disagreement, do you let them decide everything for you, your thoughts and feelings, because you’re powerless against them? Do you shout back and yell and scream and punch them? Hopefully not! Hopefully you don’t engage in either activity. Hopefully you engage in compromise.

When you’re in an unhealthy relationship, if someone is abusive, the partner often submits, terrified, hopeless in an uncontrollable situation. I am guilty of trying to force my thoughts and my mind into submission: I abused myself. My mind is guilty of trying to trap me in madness; my mind abused me.

But if we can engage with compromise with others, if we can strive for balance, if each person can have equal say and equal pull, if I can influence my mind and feel safe allowing my mind to influence me, then the issue of power and control is eliminated. We are free.

Is the healthy opposite of not being able to control anything absolute submission? Is the healthy opposite of powerlessness absolute power?

And so I don’t subscribe to the concept of being mentally ill. I accept that I experience moods and delusions and hallucinations indicative of what we’ve categorized as schizoaffective. But I am not a pawn. To be submissive, to feel I either need all of the control or I shouldn’t have any control, is ill to me. And so I don’t consider myself ill.

I’ve tried very hard to avoid the term “mentally ill” because of this. But hearing about these studies and their small effect size has got me wondering if any of it really matters. It’s got me wondering if the actual concept of mental illness can be looked at differently now.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever get away from this “sick not weak” hashtag.

It’s got me wondering if we will ever see ourselves as having potential for balance, for real vitality again, for health and wealth, without also having to mention the name of our disorder.

I honestly don’t care if you’re a writer with schizophrenia. I just care that you’re a writer, and a damn good one. I care about what you write. I care that you’re living well and are happy. If you have schizophrenia, great! If you don’t, great!

Let’s empower each other’s wellness, not our illness.

PS: I never said this was a site of popular opinions, or popular science.

I stray from popular for a reason. Popularity usually invalidates authenticity.

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