Many times when people are feeling ill because of a medical condition, they are openly allowed to not feel well in the presence of others. It is usually expected and accepted that someone with a more serious health issue, as well as their family members, are given time off, and empathy and support are usually offered. Conditions that require extra care usually have precautions set in place in case of an emergency. Someone with diabetes may need to carry around insulin, someone with asthma may require their puffer, or someone with high blood pressure may need to take medication at certain parts of the day. Even more physical accidents such as breaking an arm or leg is usually responded with extra care and time off of work -- "It's a funny story, I slipped and won't be able to make it to work today".
Someone who suffers with any form of a diagnosed mental health condition such as anxiety, bi-polar disorder or depression, are usually not able to be as open with their family, friends or workplace. There are no predictions to how someone will feel when they wake up in the morning. Many times people are patted on the back and told they are just having a bad day, or to pretty much suck it up. Yes there are anti-depressants and mood stabilizers for the various mental health disorders, but sometimes they may not be working to their full potential every single day. Many people also suffer in silence day in and day out without realizing they have a diagnosable, treatable condition.
Severe anxiety can literally cause physical pain to the point of mimicking a heart attack, yet many people are told to get some fresh air or try deep breaths. Someone with bi-polar disorder, who may be having a manic episode, can seem irritated or agitated -- "So maybe we need stay away from Dave at work today because he's in one of his moods again." Someone with depression may not be able to get out of bed to hang out with friends -- "Stop being a baby and come out!" All of this advice from friends, co-workers, and family, may seem light-hearted and they may be done with the best of intentions, but it is usually these words that seriously affect the way a person acts and reacts to others with regards to their condition. Not only do people with mental health conditions suffer inside, they are judged on a daily basis by those closest to us. "What's wrong with her again", "You'd feel better if you left your house once in awhile", "You're just having a bad day".
As someone who is still recovering from severe depression, and who still battles with anxiety on a daily basis, I can tell you all of the above statements are easier said than done. Unless you have personally been diagnosed with any mental health condition, you may never completely understand what it feels like to wake up and not feel right. I am tired of feeling that I constantly have to justify that I can't just snap out of it. I feel like I am screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of a crowd, and nobody can hear me. Not only do I feel like absolute crap, I then have to convince others, or prove that I have a legitimate reason for feeling this way. Dealing with a mental illness can often be a very lonely, misunderstood place where you feel stuck no matter what you try to improve conditions. Imagine the battles we face daily in our own heads, now add the stress of dealing with the outside judgmental world.
I personally find it extremely frustrating to try and explain myself to people who just don't understand what it is I am dealing with. I can tell you that when I am having one of those days, it is not easy for me to just suddenly feel better, it can take quite some time before I truly feel up to doing everyday normal activities. Sometimes just going into my part-time job for a four hour shift can really stress me out to the point of feeling I am on the verge of having a breakdown. I can't call in and say "Hey, I am having some anxiety issues and can't get out of bed, so I won't be coming in today". It's more acceptable to call in and tell them I sprained my ankle, I'm throwing up, or my asthma is really bad and I can't breathe. THESE are acceptable, but somehow my anxiety attack is viewed as "not being that bad" on the spectrum of valid reasons why I can't come into work.
People usually say "it's just a couple of hours, what are you going to do when you work at a full time job?" I am almost always made to feel like the bad guy by talking about things such as not wanting to work as many hours as I do, needing more days off or even taking a break. If the people closest to me decide for themselves that I am either lazy, or being spoiled because I don't work as often as most 23-year-olds, what does society think of me? Am I not a productive citizen because I don't work the standard 40 hours a week? I want to do so many things with my life, but some days I need to take a time out to focus on me, otherwise I will become overwhelmed to the point where I feel like I can't take it anymore.
Back at the beginning of this post I discussed how sympathetic others can be towards those who have physical conditions. If we as a society can somehow react the same way towards our family members, friends and co-workers who may be struggling with a mental health condition, life could be a little bit easier for them. It's not helpful to dismiss how someone may be feeling , like their mental health issues are not legitimate or valid. In fact it can actually make things worse. You think most people want to wake up and feel like they can't even get out of bed to shower, or that we want to worry about things so far in advance to the point it makes us physically ill? Most of us with mental health conditions so badly want to live a "normal life", but we still need to realize our limits and take care of ourselves.
Someone in a wheel chair may need ramps to access a building, or someone who has broken their hand may require specific accommodations to make things a little easier for them. This doesn't make them any less capable of doing other things such as having relationships, owning a home or being the CEO of a huge business. So maybe, just maybe, people with mental health conditions need their own form of accommodations to make their lives just a little bit easier. Although we are just as capable as anyone else, we need equal support and understanding like those who have visible medical conditions.
So the next time your friend, loved one, or co-worker says they aren't feeling that great, please don't dismiss it by saying some lame comment about how it's just a bad day, or they just need to blow off some steam. Perhaps there is more to it than just what you see. Ask them if there is something you can do to ease their load. Take the time to listen, not give advice. Try to understand and empathize that mental health conditions affect not only the way we feel inside, but also they can have a profound impact on our physical health, relationships and careers.