A couple of months ago I tweeted about having been waiting, somewhat impatiently, in a psychiatrist’s office, most of the morning. I wasn’t expecting a response aside from ‘doctors, eh?’ sympathetic irritation. It’s not like I keep it a particular secret that I have mental health difficulties. I often find myself having to self-censor to avoid annoying the bejesus out of my Twitter followers on a bad night – the temptation to fire 140 characters of misery into the ether is great, and mopey tweets are the gateway to mopey blogposts, and after that, I may as well give up and become a one-woman misery machine.
Checking my replies later on, I was shocked/amused/a bit of both to find one that just said ‘psychiatrist? are you nuts or something?’
And I cracked up laughing, first, and then sent a serious reply that perhaps the tweeter might want to refrain from calling psych patients ‘nuts’… and then resumed laughing.
Am I nuts, or something? Well, a bit of both, I suppose.
It’s hard not to feel a bit stereotypically nuts on a day like today, when I’m writing through a meds-induced fog and having trouble remembering synonyms for most words. Mind you, it’s better than yesterday, which I spent alternately asleep and wishing I was asleep, because wakefulness was hurting too much to be kept up for too long.
Right now I’m trying to work myself up to go for a run, but I’m afraid I might lose my way. On a treadmill.
I am lucky enough to have friends who understand all this, who’ve been there themselves or been around me long enough to understand that this sort of decreased functioning comes and goes by the day. That depressive episodes happen, but that they end eventually. That sometimes I cancel plans because I’m feeling too agoraphobic to leave my room. That, if they’re reading this, they’ll forgive the dreadful writing.
Part and parcel of that familiarity is that we speak about mental illness among ourselves in a way that would seem very irreverent, even ableist, to an outside onlooker. Sorry, having a crazy day. Are you having a BPD moment? The brainbats are acting up. Can’t go out right now, too much Outside already today. It’s not my fault I’m mentally interesting. Did you take your meds today?
Like most minority groups, those of us with mental health issues reclaim the words that in other circumstances would be insulting or dismissive (coming from outsiders) and add them to our own vernacular. Not everyone, of course: some of those who’ve experienced discrimination will always associate the slang around mental illness with bullying and fear, and that is both a very understandable and a very sensitive matter.
In first-year torts class we learned about the eggshell-skull plaintiff. The legal definition isn’t particularly relevant here, so, in real-world terms: if you do something negligent, like dig a massive hole without putting up a warning sign, or fail to secure a heavy sign on your property, you are liable to be sued if your negligence causes somebody else harm. However, you don’t get to say ‘well, a grown man wouldn’t have been injured by the sign that fell on the little old lady, therefore I shouldn’t have to pay her compensation.’ If Mrs Murphy in all her frailty is the one injured by your negligence, then you’re liable for whatever injuries she has. Poor Mrs Murphy.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. When you’re talking about mental illness, you never know who’s going to hear your words, or what state of mind they’ll be in on the day. Something that on a good day wouldn’t hurt me (haha, yes, I am a bit nuts) could, on a bad day turn in to ‘I’m not nuts, I’m ILL, and it’s RUINING MY LIFE’ followed by a certain amount of invective about the goddamn internet. Unless you know the person very well, you just can’t tell what sort of day it is, or what amount of mental resilience they’ve got.
So, summing up:
– Good friends who understand you are like hen’s teeth. Rare, amazing, and just a bit weird.
– In the case of H. Dumpty v R, the liability would fall entirely on All the King’s Men, and the egg would make bank in compensation.
– Don’t ask strangers on the internet if they’re nuts. Please.