I remember begging my psychiatrist to write something other than ‘illness’ on my sick note. “A panic attack, anxiety, something!” I pleaded with him. He refused due to doctor-patient confidentiality, but what he didn’t realise that it caused more harm than good. My story is not the only one.
When you’re diagnosed with a chronic mental illness in Malaysia, you can apply for OKU (orang kurang upaya/disability) status. Insurance is beginning to cover psychiatrist visits. This is great news. The gap is the line between colleges needing to know exactly what’s wrong with you in order to give you that MC notation on the attendance list, and the psychiatrist not wanting to break confidentiality.
I’m hot-headed, so I was like, “Fuck this – tell the damn college what’s wrong with me. Write there ‘She had a mental breakdown due to stress and therefore is unable to attend class today’!” but of course, he refused. Time and time again.
I’ve taken a long hiatus because it’s been so long since I’ve really felt like writing, and writing is always personal to me. Between my time in the psychosocial rehabilitation home (would not repeat), the psych ward (was okay) and recuperating at home – it’s been an uphill battle to prove to people that a) I can do this and b) I can do this my way. That was between December last year and March this year, so I can safely say I’ve done some writing since then.
My brain is constantly attacking me. It’s always telling me that I’m not good enough, I’m not doing enough, I’m not enough and I recognise these things as negative intrusive thoughts, but I’m not always strong enough to push through and push these things away. Sometimes, I’m even paralysed to even go to the GP to get an MC because why would telling some random (trained) stranger that I was diagnosed with a mental health issue and I really need the day off to physically recuperate, be something that I should talk about? Other people are far more high-functioning than I am. That’s something I’m simultaneously ashamed of and happy about. My psychotherapist (yes, I see two doctors) said that we can have conflicting emotions about something so I’m basing this off that.
Filling out forms is a nightmare for me. When the form asks “have you ever been treated/hospitalised for something before?” – I hesitate before answering. I wonder if writing “was warded in the psychiatric ward in December 2018” will lose me the job. I wonder if my supervisor is going to look at me funny because he now thinks I’m a crazy person. I wonder if I’m going to get the leeway I need. If my job were something that didn’t require careful researching and my creative juices and networking, it would be simple. But it does, and it creates this endless cycle of “should I, would I” when it comes to employment forms – and another cycle: I need to be mentally stable to create new content but creating new content requires me to be mentally stable, and that relies a lot on being financially stable. Being financially stable relies on my ability to create content.
It’s a clusterfuck.
No matter my current cocktail of medication to keep me sane and stable, I’m always going to have intrusive thoughts. Explaining my mental illness (because Borderline Personality Disorder is kind of rare) has become me giving the same ol’ shtick about what happens if bipolar disorder and c-PTSD had a demonic lovechild. I write poetry about my BPD and it is both my greatest love story and most tragic tale. 5 years of being diagnosed and while it was a sense of acceptance (there was finally a name to what was wrong with me), there was also this sense of carrying the burden and trying to make sure that I didn’t misrepresent my illness (a) and didn’t use it as a crutch (b).
Girl, Interrupted was a revelation to me. There were films about mentally ill people! Then Gone Girl came out and people would ask me if I would fake my death and frame my husband for my murder. Because this is how BPD is represented in the media.
The point of this post is to talk about stigma – there’s blanket statements (all mentally ill people are unstable), there’s internalised stigma (I shouldn’t do this because of my mental illness) and there’s media misrepresentation (DEPRESSION: picture of girl crying mascara tears). Depression isn’t a pretty girl curled up under a window, an eating disorder is not what you see on pro-ana blogs at all, suicide attempts (I’ve had 10) are rarely the graceful, successful events that they’re portrayed as.
Depression for me, is not showering for 3 days because the effort to get into the shower doesn’t seem worth it. Depression for me, is not getting out of bed because your sleep wasn’t restful and getting up seems like an insurmountable challenge. Anxiety doesn’t always manifest in anxiety attacks, but in the subconscious fidgeting I do in meetings where I’m scared I’ll get called on. Anxiety is not leaving your house because you’re worried that your internal processing is not functioning right, and your perfectionist streak wants to get everything right. Those are my mental illness tics.
I don’t know if I subconsciously choose to surround myself with mentally ill people, but I have a habit of connecting to those who do. They shared their stories – the first time he went to the therapist, the time she hid under the bookcase because she was having an anxious breakdown, forcing a smile through work because no one needed to see that she was in a distressed state. I think I’ve heard a lot, but I haven’t heard it all. The one thing all these stories I’ve heard have in common is the fear of the stigma. The social stigma that sticks to us like feathers and tar when it comes out that you’re not like everyone else (mental health-wise).
I mean, it’s cool to be depressed now. I follow meme pages that have to do with mental illness because at least I can laugh at it (is this how Gen Z deals with their mental illness?). We are one of the most medicated generations since mental health really became a thing. Prozac Nation? How about the Xanax Generation.
I want to wean off benzos, get rid of the clonazepam I keep stashed in my bag for really bad days, I want to function normally. I don’t get why ‘bartarding‘ is a thing because I hate the spacey feeling my anxiety medication gives me, I don’t get why people would do it recreationally but here we are.
Normalising mental illness is one way to get rid of the stigma but it also comes with misrepresentation – committing suicide and filming tapes accusing people of contributing to that (yes, 13 Reasons Why) is not something that actually happens and people don’t actually change. They nod, they say their condolences, and they leave. It doesn’t impact their lives as much as that show makes it out to be. I’ve met some people who were seriously impacted by the suicide of a close loved one, but those cases are rare.
There are days where I want to shout, “You’re not depressed, you’re sad” at some people. There are days where I want to type in all-caps on my Twitter feed that “ANXIETY IS NOT A FASHION STATEMENT”. There are days where I see people who are perfectly functional, diagnose themselves and while the validity of self-dxers is still up for debate – these people are not mentally ill. These people are just using buzzwords like depression and anxiety for the attention.
PDs (Personality Disorders) all stem from trauma in some way, and depending on whether you’re an A-cluster, B-cluster or a C-cluster personality disorder – they can manifest in some pretty ugly ways. People don’t want to talk about ASPD. People don’t want to talk about schizophrenia. People don’t want to talk about Narcissist Personality Disorder. Why? Because they’re not cool.
I guess I’m just sick of the stigma and sick of how it’s impacted society. Asian society in particular waves off mental illness as ‘not enough faith/not working hard enough/too much idle time’ and sweeps it under the rug if they’re not taking you to your local ustaz/pastor/temple. THIS IS NOT RIGHT.
The stigma needs to stop, and it needs to start with us.