Today is #BellLetsTalk day, a day where well-meaning people spend their day talking about mental illness, raising funds for research, and doing their best to end the stigma that surrounds diseases of the mind. It’s also a day that I mostly avoid the internet, for fear of being triggered.
I’ve lived with mental illness—specifically, bipolar type II with some schizoaffective psychosis and mild anxiety—for almost two decades now. I’m not on medication anymore, managing my condition through cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness, but the illness lurks, ready to escape when the time is right. I’ve learned to identify triggers, to take care of myself when I feel a relapse coming on; to any person I meet, I’m a high-functioning, seemingly-normal individual with a strong self-care regimen.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard, or not frustrating, or not simply exhausting. I’m always on guard, always being careful; I know I’m not 100% well, so I have to be extra vigilant in avoiding situations that could cause me pain.
When I read the late Carrie Fisher’s thoughts on living with bipolar disorder in her memoir, Wishful Drinking, I nodded my head vigorously in complete understanding:
“At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
The should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
Maybe that’s why I find the #BellLetsTalk day so triggering: it makes talking about mental illness feel easy, when living with it is decidedly not. Ms. Fisher recognized this all her life, and she made it a goal to express that difficulty over decades. Wishful Drinking may not have been my favorite memoir, but it was one I needed to read.
I applaud the efforts of the organizers and everyone who is contributing to the #BellLetsTalk cause, but right now, for me, I’d prefer a hug than a few words typed into a status update.