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Negative Gut Reactions to Bipolar / Mental Illness Information

We all have gut reactions to information. It’s the reaction when our stomach knots or tumbles, our breathing quickens or stops, our eyes light up or look down. It’s the reaction we have before realizing we’re having a reaction.

And gut reactions around mental illness can be powerful. The problem is, our gut reactions are so often wrong about mental illness and mental illness treatment.

Gut Reactions to Mental Illness Diagnosis

When someone gets diagnosed with a mental illness, one of two things happens. They think:

  • Thank god! I finally understand what has been happening to me.
  • You’re wrong. I’m not crazy.

Both of those are completely reasonable. It’s the “I’m not crazy” one that will get you though. Your gut jumps from symptoms to “crazy” without the intermediary step of logic.

This is particularly true of psychosis. I hear over and over again how people initially refused to tell anyone, even their doctor, about their psychotic symptoms because it made them “crazy.” True, psychotic symptoms are a break from reality, but they are just a symptom of an illness like depression or feeling worthless.

Gut Reactions to Mental Illness Treatment

One of the strongest gut reactions I ever had was to the word “antipsychotic,” as in antipsychotic medication. I had heard of antipsychotics for years before I ever agreed to take one, in large part because of that gut reaction. I was not psychotic. I was not crazy. I was not taking a pill that said I was.

And then of course there is the strongest gut reaction of them all – the gut reaction to “shock therapy,” (even if they do call it electroconvulsive therapy). The gut reaction to “electroconvulsive therapy” usually involves the concept of running from the room. (If guts could run; I swear they would.) Generally our gut goes right to the image of being electrocuted while being fully awake and strapped to a table. Our gut goes right to the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Gut Reactions are About Fear, Not Reality

mp9004438181Get reactions aren’t bad, in many ways they are good. They keep us alive. They keep us from doing stupid things. They warn us of danger before we can cognitively detect it. Gut reactions tell us who’s an enemy and who’s a friendly. Gut reactions do this better than we often can consciously.

But gut reactions are often just about fear. The gut goes right from the information to the feared scenario. And so often that feared scenario is wrong, especially for mental illness. Most people have no idea what the facts really are about mental illness. Our feared scenarios are mostly made up. We have created terrible, frightening fantasies for ourselves built from media and movies and third-hand stories. But we have to get past those to get better.

Because no matter what the word is, or what it implies, we need to look at that information with intellect and logic. Yes, electroconvulsive therapy is scary, but it’s not run-from-the-room scary it’s think-about-it-carefully scary. And there’s a big difference. But it’s a difference your gut isn’t able to distinguish.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

7 thoughts on “Negative Gut Reactions to Bipolar / Mental Illness Information”

  1. Hi Legs,

    I’m so sorry you’ve had those experiences. Many of us have.

    First, I’m not a proponent of hiding the truth. It will come out eventually and really, if the person is going to act like an ass, better to know up front. I tend to include the information conversationally when it fits in. Without a lead-up or production. It’s just a thing. Like a million other things about you.

    Second, one of the things you have to understand is that most people don’t know anything about “crazy.” They don’t know the facts about mental illness, what it is, what it isn’t. And they don’t know what to say about it. Just because the person reacts badly in the moment, doesn’t mean they always will. It just means that they didn’t know what they were doing. It took you a long time to learn about your illness, you can’t expect others to have that knowledge in an instant. (Sometimes people are just jerks, however.

    Third, I know this is really hard, but try not to take it so personally. This is about an illness. If I told people I had cancer there would be a variety of reactions but they wouldn’t be about me, they’d be about the cancer and they would be due to ignorance.

    So, in my opinion, try to offer the information up front and be prepared to do some explaining/teaching. And give the person time to become educated and digest the information. And understand not everyone can handle it no matter what you do.

    – Natasha

  2. How do you explain this to boyfriends? I have dealt with some really difficult comments whenever I told a boyfriend of this little condition I have. I told one boyfriend that I was so glad that he understood my condition. He responded,”You can’t help it if you are crazy.” (Needless to say, I cried.) Another boyfriend asked me, after seemingly being okay with my bipolar status, “Is there a chance that this can be passed onto children?” I responded, “Yes.” He broke up with me 3 days later. (Now, years later, I do hope that his children are perfect, perfect, perfect.) Another quite clueless boyfriend said that his bronchitis is a much more serious disorder. I kid you not. I have been told just to not disclose the information. Just hide it.

  3. Hi Vanessa,

    Well, thank-you, that’s very kind.

    “That first night sitting down to take that first pill was hell. I actually cried for about an hour.”

    That’s exactly what happened to me. The terror of taking the first pill isn’t understood by many.

    I’m glad you can identify with me and others because it’s important to know you’re not alone out there. We’re with you. And yes, we _are_ like everyone else, our brains are just sick.

    Thanks for commenting.

    – Natasha

  4. Hi Kerri,

    Holly’s good people. I adore her.

    Thank-you for your kind words. I think many people appreciate the ability to just say what I mean without couching it in too many political worries.

    “Consequently I have gotten more education about this topic from you, than I have gotten in therapy in the last 3 years. I am currently looking elsewhere for therapy! So up front, a big THANKYOU.”

    Well, I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t been getting the information you needed, but I’m glad to help in the way that I can. You are welcome.

    “I always feel like sinking into the floor when I squeak out the term atypical antipsychotic. I offer up the honest answer because I want to feel brave and unembarrassed by the truth, but deep down I feel exposed and humiliated saying it. An unhelpful hang-up I know.”

    I’d say that makes you pretty normal. Don’t be hard on yourself. It has taken me years to come to terms with parts of my illness and treatment, and I still find things here and there that I’m hung up about. No one is brave all the time.

    And besides, by being here and speaking out, you are showing bravery. Try to remember that.

    – Natasha

  5. Hi Natasha,
    I have been reading your blogs and following you on twitter for a time now and LOVE the fact that there is someone out there that can I can identify with. This blog rang a strong bell with me as it made me remember the day I was diagnosed and prescribed meds.
    My initial diagnosis was simply “ok, well you have BiPolar disorder. Make another appointment.” Later I changed doctors and at that point I was given medication. That first night sitting down to take that first pill was hell. I actually cried for about an hour. My mother looked at me and was like ‘what’s the problem’? I looked up from my pill packet and said “if I take this pill, that means that all this is real..that I really am crazy and I’ll never not be crazy..I’ll be this until I die” That first night was terrible.

    That was two years ago and now I am coming to terms with my diagnosis. It really helps to see people out ther that are dealing with the same issues that I am and who are not ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ but are everyday people living everyday lives. Thank you!!

  6. Hi Natasha, my name is Kerri and I have Aspergers, Bi-Polar 2, and DID. I have just recently finished viewing all your blog articles and am up to date with your column. I would like to say how much I have enjoyed your topics of discussion. I too am a facts person and someone who likes to be direct and honest rather than beat around the bush with political correctness. At times I have found your humor really  refreshing, as well as your forthright opinion. 
    I started out reading Holly Grey’s Dissociative Living at Healthy Place.com (and still do), and it was she who recommended your blogs to her readers.
    And I am so glad she did, because even though I have a psychiatrist, all he does about my Bi-Polar 2 is prescribe meds and nothing more. Consequently I have gotten more education about this topic from you, than I have gotten in therapy in the last 3 years. I am currently looking elsewhere for therapy! So up front, a big THANKYOU.
    Secondly I could not agree with you more that our first fear responses to a lot of information, whilst protective, should be viewed as just that, initial reactions that should then give way to considered judgement based on accurate data. It’s just hard to get out of the way of your own resistance sometimes.  I often have the unhelpful thought, “Why should I ? Other people don’t have to do ABandC to get by, why should I?” Also when anyone asks what class of drugs I am on, I always feel like sinking into the floor when I squeak out the term atypical antipsychotic. I offer up the honest answer because I want to feel brave and unembarrassed by the truth, but deep down I feel exposed and humiliated saying it. An unhelpful hang-up I know.

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