After my mother texted me yesterday to tell me I had to read Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times Sunday op-ed — “First Up, Mental Illness. Next Topic Is Up to You“– I didn’t drop everything to read it right away because she recommends a lot of articles to me. But then — Amen! That’s what I wanted to shout out my window when I read it this morning.
My own suggestion for a systematically neglected issue: mental health. One-quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, including depression, anorexia, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, according to the National Institutes of Health. Such disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, the N.I.H. says.
A parent with depression. A lover who is bipolar. A child with an eating disorder. A brother who returned from war with P.T.S.D. A sister who is suicidal.
What Kristof has to say in his piece about how neglected the reality of mental illness is in our society (unless it’s the national media covering “extreme situations such as a mass shooting”); about how “mental illness is not hopeless;” about how “we as a society have to break taboos about mental health:” these are things I know to be true.
I did wince when I read the sentence “A lover who is bipolar.” I guess that’s because I am that lover. Maybe you are, too. And as much as I adore this column he wrote, that sentence implies that living and loving someone with bipolar disorder is a burden.
Now don’t get me wrong. I know that bipolar disorder can be debilitating. It has been for me in the past. It’s likely that it will be, at some point, again.
But what about those of us who are bipolar yet leading “successful” lives? Those of us who work every single day to manage our moods? Those of us who have lived with partners whose mental health is far worse than our own even though they don’t have a diagnosis? Those of us who hide medication under the bed for fear a new lover will judge us?
My mother doesn’t know I write a blog about bipolar disorder. Neither do any of my friends, or–god forbid–my coworkers. As I have said before, it saddens me that I feel the need to conceal my identity. Unfortunately, it’s much easier for people like Kristof who are not “out” as mentally ill to write about the mentally ill.
Though it’s important to note that we are not all ill, as it were.
Much more profound and complicated than a mere illness, bipolar disorder can become our identity, as Andrew Solomon so beautifully articulates in this TED TALK (not specifically about bipolar disorder, but about all the kinds of conditions and disabilities).
All I can hope for, now, with this blog, is that I am playing a small part in Kristof’s, in Solomon’s– in so many others’– calls to action to raise awareness about mental illness.
Because, indeed, we are not hopeless.