I’d like to take a moment to note that long-time QMH writer, Corvus, is joining us again after a hiatus. Welcome back, Corvus!
Trigger Warning: Descriptions of trauma, especially involving medical professionals
I’m a pretty hyper visible person in my gender and queerness. So, it’s odd to experience the other side of the coin with my health. I struggle with bipolar disorder, PTSD, chronic pain and fatigue, and a multitude of other things. I am the most out I have ever been about my health but still struggle to share these things. Part of this is because I look around and see how people view people with these labels and how people use these labels to demean other people.
She’s so bipolar! He’s a psycho. Don’t go all PTSD on me. OMG I’m like so OCD. Fibromyalgia doesn’t exist, doctors just say that to shut people up. If it doesn’t show up on a blood test, it’s not real. No one will ever believe you. It’s all in your head. But, you look ok today?
Mental health issues are synonymous with abuse, harm, and instability while physical health issues that are invisible are often thought to be connected to attention seeking, laziness, faking, inability to cope with “normal” feelings, etc. People are always trying to invalidate disability and find ways in which someone isn’t really deserving of any help. What I can tell you is the truth: I am suicidal all of the time and have been since I was a young teenager. Right now I am typing this with pain patches on my joints, an ice pack on my chest, and am breathing shallowly because any deep breaths shoot piercing pains and cutting aches through my chest due to chronic, never-fucking-ending costochondritis. This shallow breathing makes my dizziness from my heart palpitations worse and makes my anxiety worse along with the racing thoughts and fears that I will continue to get worse and that I will continue to be denied disability benefits (I am currently technically homeless with no income and just received my first SSD denial last week). I feel dizzy, completely exhausted, hopeless, and sick. And simultaneously I often feel anxious, “up,” fidgety, irritable, paranoid, delusional, and so on. I have nightmares every night. Sometimes they are so severe that what happened in them haunts me for days as if it really happened. Some days I can’t get out of bed. Some days I can’t stay in bed or sleep for longer than a couple of hours. I have been on countless medications, many of which made me worse. I’m a recovering addict and thus cannot take narcotics for pain and am always at a high risk for addiction. I had to go through opiate withdrawal after my last surgery despite taking medication as prescribed. I go to sleep in pain and I wake up in the middle of the night in pain and I wake up in the morning in pain. And pain, pain will drive you mad. And if you’re already mad, well….
Why am I sharing all of this? Those words above are a tiny glimpse into what I deal with every hour of every day. And there are other people out there with “invisible” disabilities that struggle in their own ways every day. And what does this world do? It uses us as punchlines and punching bags. It pushes us to see what it will take to make us break then laughs at us while we are down. Then it complains when we don’t get up and tells us we’re lazy. Then kicks us in the stomach again.
Suck it up. Go to a doctor, then. Get in therapy and you can be all better! Have you tried deep breathing? Have you tried drinking more water?
These statements and questions assume that people who struggle are somehow stupid and have not tried normal every day things and also assume that medical establishments are infallible. I have been in therapy since I was 9. Some of the gems of experiences have been a psychiatrist who insulted and berated me in my first visit at 16 to “see what it would take to break” me, a psychiatrist and therapist (I know, they’re rare) who had me, as a teen, take off my clothes in his office so he could stare at my body to “see my scars,” a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who deliberately mismedicated me because I “needed to suffer” so I wouldn’t come back to the hospital again. My experiences with non-psych doctors involved telling me mono was all in my head until it showed up on a blood test, telling me to take certain drugs or treatments that I didn’t want to which then made me worse, commenting on my mental health or lack of enough meds, dismissing my physical health concerns due to mental health, and all of the harassment and discrimination that comes from being trans and queer in hospitals and doctors offices. Until the past couple of years, for these reasons and others, I didn’t seek help for a decade. I now am back in the medical world by force and am lucky enough to have met some genuinely kind doctors and therapists.
Everyone gets sad and tired sometimes. I know you struggle but you just have to get up and go like everyone else.
I am a hard worker. People throughout my life have had to tell me to SLOW DOWN over and over again. Like when I was doing my own research at a university while going to school while working and supporting myself on minimum wage, doing several organizing efforts including one organization I was almost completely responsible for, and volunteering at a shelter on weekends where hundreds of seized animals infected with a deadly virus were struggling and dying. I had no time for friendship let alone rest. And these experiences, especially the ones in which I was exposed to animal suffering, added to my trauma. I pushed through the mental breakdowns, burnouts, illness, pain, and so on for years. And in the third decade of my life my body shut me down completely.
Why am I telling you this? Because I can’t work anymore. Hell, I can barely laugh anymore. I can’t dance. I can’t run. I can’t walk for long. I can’t ride a bike anymore. I can’t sit up straight for long. Not without severe, maddening pain. And today, I tell myself, “Suck it up. You’re just lazy,” and then I run my fingers through my hair and look at all of the strands that have fallen out of my head. “Stress related hair loss,” Oh… I thought that was just for people on chemo. How do I destress? How do I destress with no money and no relief from pain or mental health struggle? How do I keep going?
I just…do. I just keep going. I don’t have a reason why either.
So, the next time you’re about to reduce abusive behavior to mental illness, I ask you to remember that statistically people with mental health struggles are far more likely to be victimized than they are to be violent. The next time you’re questioning someone’s handicap placard because they aren’t using a wheelchair, think about what may be beneath the surface. The next time you want to call yourself OCD because you just have to do the dishes before bed, consider if you care about people who struggle with actual OCD. The next time you want to call your ex a “psycho,” consider what psycho means, and if they just needed some support. And the next time you see someone struggling, if you can’t lend a hand, don’t kick them while they’re down. If someone is acting crazy, they might actually be crazy, and trust me, you wouldn’t want to trade places with them for a second. Have a little empathy. Remember each person is fighting their own battles just as you are fighting yours. And if you can’t lend some support, consider walking away rather than becoming another trauma.
Afterthought: This writing is not meant to excuse when people struggling with disability are abusive. Trust me, I am a survivor of those kinds of people. I am saying break the stigma. Those with the most power are often those who appear or are the most “sane” and it’s often charismatic narcissists and sociopaths are found often amongst those in the upper ranks of society if you do see disorders.