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Letter: To the people who just don’t get it when it comes to mental illness

First, please understand that mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety are real. They are medical conditions, which have been documented, studied and proven to exist. You need to understand when we are sick, we are not just sad or in a bad mood. At the other end of the spectrum, when we seem to possess the ability to get a million things done and have perfected the art of multitasking, this is usually a sign of impending disaster. Quite frankly, there is usually a runaway train in our brain that is speeding out of control and doomed to crash, throwing us back into the pit.

Consider this: If we suddenly grabbed our chest and said we were having a heart attack or began vomiting because of the flu, then would you tell us to snap out of it? Would you expect us to try a little harder? Would you tell us to stop exaggerating? Or would you be more apt to believe us because you are witnessing the physical symptoms taking over?

There is no quick test for mental illness, but for all of us who struggle, it’s as real and as terrifying as a heart attack. Just because we are smiling on the outside doesn’t mean our brain isn’t shutting down or we’re fine on the inside. We could be merely one step away from the edge.

Just as all medical conditions are real, so are illnesses that occur in the brain. Just as a heart attack can sneak up on you out of nowhere, so can the symptoms of mental illness. One moment, we may be fine. The next moment, we could find ourselves confined to bed or being admitted to the hospital. Just as it takes time to recover from a heart attack, it takes time to stabilize the chemicals in our brain.

Our thought process is greatly compromised due to our illness. We cannot will our way out of it. Trust us, we’ve tried and felt extremely guilty when it has not worked. When you don’t take us seriously, it hurts.

Ask yourself this: Would you willingly make us feel guilty for having the flu? You may not even realize you are doing it, but please, don’t pass judgment on us for something we would never make up or exaggerate, something we cannot control. All we’re asking for is some compassion and willingness on your part to understand.

If you are struggling with mental health issues and are in need of additional support, I may be reached at gottahavehope38@gmail.com

Mark Jacobson

peer support specialist