As I work, I battle the stigma around mental illness. It feels like often, all day, every day, it’s the only thing I do. But I do it because I feel it’s important. I feel it matters. I feel it changes people’s lives.
And one of the misconceptions I’ve heard multiple times recently is about bipolar and mental illness diagnosis. That by accepting a diagnosis of a mental illness this somehow removes the responsibility from the individual for their own wellness. That, somehow, a mental illness diagnosis makes the patient weak because now they are looking for someone to “save” them or “cure” them.
Well nothing could be farther from the truth. Getting a mental illness diagnosis is only the first step in what a patient must do in order to recover.
Mental Illness Diagnosis and Responsibility
I have yet to meet anyone that thought, “Gee, things are hard, I bet a mental illness diagnosis would make it better.”
And indeed, if relieving yourself of responsibility was the result of a diagnosis, it would make things easier, but alas, this just isn’t the case. Getting a mental illness diagnosis isn’t like hiring an office assistant; you still have to get your own coffee.
In fact, I would suggest that getting a mental illness diagnosis is actually an invocation of greater responsibility. Because now, you’re responsible for managing a life-threatening illness. Sounds fairly heavy to me.
Doctors Can’t Cure You
And unless your doctor has an ego the size of Texas and likes to lie to you, no doctor is going to tell you that they are going to cure your mental illness. Doctors are a great help, and often the cornerstone of fighting mental illness, but they aren’t men on white horses. They are more like the white horses themselves – you need them to get where you want to go, but you still have to do the work yourself.
What About Waiting for Medication to Work?
True, mental illness is often a waiting game. We’re often stuck waiting to see if med A or med B is going to help us and this is a disempowering place to be. But, really, waiting for meds is just a tiny part of the treatment plan. There’s getting your life together. There’s developing and maintaining routine. There’s therapy. There’s support. There are healthy habits. There are appointments. There are coping skills. And on, and on, and on. While waiting is hard, it’s not exactly free time.
You’re the Only One Who Can Make You Better
Now understand, I’m not saying that all treatments work or that treatments will work tomorrow or that it’s your fault if a treatment doesn’t work – it isn’t. What I am saying is that if you’re not doing the work you certainly aren’t going to get better. And your responsibility – as a person who wants to be well – is to do everything in your power to get well. And that’s a lot. And that’s hard. And that’s daily. Choosing health means making good decisions all day every day because each one will have more impact than for a healthy person.
And if that isn’t oodles of responsibility, then I don’t know what is.