What NOT To Say To Someone With A Brain Disorder

Here we are in the 21st Century and I am still astonished by the lack of knowledge about brain disorders.

I have a plenty of pet peeves about ignorance and stigma, but one of the worst things anyone can do/say to someone with any mental disorder is to deny the veracity of that person's feelings -- real, normal everyday feelings we ALL experience such as sadness, joy, fear, anxiety, discomfort, et al.

If someone with clinical depression (and NO that is not “the blues”) has just lost a much loved pet and is grieving, you don't say, "Oh, that's just your depression, you're over reacting, it's only a dog."

This is something my mother would often do; if I expressed sadness at the end of a summer at camp where I grew to love my new friends, she would tell me "you're acting, it can't be that bad, they’ll forget about you in a week.” Or worse, if I got enraged by her gaslighting or lies she would tell me I was "crazy" or “hysterical” though of course she didn't assist in getting me help for my "craziness.” Oh wait! I was actually “acting!”

ANNOUNCEMENT: FYI to anyone who doesn't know. Someone with a mental illness or brain disorder can actually have normal feelings. It is one of the most painful things to not be taken seriously because one has been open about his or her illness. That should NEVER be used as a weapon or even a defense for unacceptable actions…

This is yet another reason why extremely high functioning individuals who have a mental illness do not reveal it for DECADES. If no one knows they have bipolar or even schizophrenia, well, they're "OK to be with." Often if the illness is revealed (after years of secrecy) an individual will lose friends or be observed differently, even thought he/she is exactly the same individual and has never exhibited “crazy” behavior in front of these same individuals. After the point of revelation a switch is flipped and one is no longer trusted to be a good friend, a co-worker, or even an employee. (Review the story of Elyn Saks.)

Would you doubt a cancer patient who is upset over the loss of a limb, or a loss of libido due to chemotherapy? He is upset. Of course, you accept he is upset as he is a human being with cancer. Somehow as usual, individuals with mental illness aren't "regular" human beings. All "real" illnesses count. I suppose neurology isn't much of a science at all is it?

I have had breast cancer, and though the experience is horrible, I have dealt with it better than the misery of depression and DP/DR and anxiety; I would have a far better attitude towards it WITH A HEALTHY BRAIN.

A few years ago I was foolishly charmed by a man who bowled me over with his affections -- and note I mention I was a FOOL, I'll cop to that, and I am also entitled to being a fool, even though I have a brain disorder. I was needy, I wanted his attention (quite a common situation). Initially it felt wonderful. But he was also abusive at times and quite ignorant about my illness despite having read this site, and despite the fact that his own child has a mental illness -- that is truly sad. He would “forget” I had my own issues as “I looked so normal.” I couldn’t win for losing.

I found out this man was getting remarried and literally contacted me only a few weeks before his wedding, and slowly revealed the truth. When I was angry about what he called his being sometimes "less than truthful" (!!!!! -- note he “isn’t a liar") he told me, on the phone, "I can't talk with you now. You're having one of your episodes."

So in other words, my anger and sadness that he was married was due to my depression, anxiety and DP/DR. Not a genuine rage at his endless lying and cruelty.

More recently I was in a very awkward situation where I was forced to express my discomfort with a friend's uncleanly home. Odors from her home were being transferred to mine (via her car and clothing) and it was becoming unacceptable. I was horrified at having to bring this up and tortured myself about it and assumed it would mean the end of the friendship. I consulted my therapist who said I had to tell her. I scoured the internet for advice, proposed hypothetical solutions to friends who did not know this person, and found the only answer was to confront the individual with honesty and live with the consequences. I had that right.

When I confronted this friend, she said, "Oh, I didn't know … I think we can work on this. Of course I know you have some OCD tendencies … some of this is probably 'real' and some of it is probably 'mental' on your part."

So came the demise of that friendship which is a shame.

But no one, not one of you who has a brain disorder -- anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, DP/DR, OCD -- need APOLOGIZE for your illness. And if someone ever tells you a REAL feeling is related to your "mental disorder" and is "exaggerated" or your feelings may be "part real, part imagined" that is your cue to walk away. That is now my cue to walk away. It's taken me 50 years to figure that one out. Better late than never!

I had to get that off my chest. All identities have been changed to protect "the innocent." And I REALLY feel this way; I am not having an episode, it is not due to my brain disorder -- I am ticked off. Thank you for listening.

PS this was written in anger, legitimate anger. My spellcheck isn’t working. Excuse errors! Those are not due to my mental state either! Oh, and I look perfectly fine as well.