Mental illness is in right now. What started with Britney shaving her head has evolved into a cultural movement. Glenn Close has spoken out about it, Michael Angelekos (lead singer of Passion Pit) has been vocal, Catherine Zeta-Jones has lent her voice, and if that’s not enough, a movie chronicling two people’s struggles with mental illness won Oscars just last week.
Additionally, ailing writers are getting famous for their accounts of what goes on in the head of someone with a serious mental illness either on the Pacific Coast Trail or in the confines of Ivy League institutions. In fact, some of the more notable writers in history dealt with the demons from Sylvia Plath to Hemingway and even Abraham Lincoln who, it’s said struggled with some pretty severe depression.
Simply enough, a case could be made that mental illness is becoming not only popular but fashionable and anyone who deals with it and has come out the other, more paranoid side, is issued a sympathetic ear at even the most upscale parties.
Presented without comment is a guide for those of you who would like to get into the whole craze.
1. Never leave your house. Instead, take frequent cigarette breaks in between writing the next great work of fiction and constantly tell yourself that you need to either accept the imaginary criticism you feel from the world through your constant and crippling paranoia of even looking someone in the eye, or try to rationalize it by telling yourself that it’s all happening in your head and the thoughts, feelings and emotions you feel can not be trusted as real.
2. When you do leave your house, keep the constant nagging notion that everyone you come into contact with is either laughing at you or making fun of you and constantly try to tell yourself that they’re all assholes, and that some people are assholes and you just need to accept that. It’s not your fault that they’re making fun of you; it’s their own deep insecurities manifesting themselves. Remind yourself that you don’t need to change your behavior because people don’t like you. Just try to be yourself, whatever that is, with the overwhelming anxiety and vulnerability that you have no choice to show because that’s the only thing that comes naturally anymore, even when society tells you that you need to grow some balls, be a man, and keep your emotions hidden. Finally remember that all this shit may just be going on in your head and there very well may no basis for any of it in reality. Then hurry back home to shut yourself away from these ‘evil’ people and the thoughts that they bring.
3. Try to act natural… Try to act natural… Try to act natural… Try to act natural… Try to act natural… Try to act natural…
4. Forfeit and sabotage any potential relationships because you’re either not sure you’d be able to handle all the intense emotional components of love, or because you know that if you tell them about your illness, it would bring forth every negative memory of crazy exes, stalkers, abusers or the potential of violence, and thus, label any basis of human connection you had with them with the biggest red flag there is, the stigma of being crazy.
5. Spend years after your diagnosis experimenting with different combinations of antipsychotic medication until you can feel at the very least, like you can get out of bed in the morning, if only just for that first cigarette.
6. Remember to bring your meds with you anywhere you go because if you forget to take them, you might start to think or act a little nutty and the paranoia you feel could very well play its tricks on you and make you start to actually believe the things your mind is telling you. Which could then lead to some behavior or emotional issues and cause you to get in the face and start a fight with that otherwise completely normal fellow standing over there laughing with his friends about what? You don’t know but you suspect it’s about you and one of your many imagined shortcomings.
7. Lose your closest friends because when they hear that you ‘had a breakdown’ and spent several weeks in the mental hospital for thinking you were God, and for becoming obsessed with aliens and the Illuminati, and for forming all those glorious connections, and for uncovering the deepest, most profound conspiracies in the heart of the world’s governmental powers, they just don’t treat you the same. Blame it on the stigma when they complain that you’ve ‘changed’. When you do find the resilience and feigned confidence to make it to one of their weddings though, become acutely aware that they’re talking about you behind your back, and that laughter you hear immediately after you’ve left the room definitely isn’t about you, but then again, maybe it is.
8. Spend years after your diagnosis analyzing and picking apart the nuances of social human interaction in an attempt to understand why they happen and to build a repertoire of go-to motions, degrees of eye contact, speech patterns, body language, and appearance that will make people think that you are at least halfway normal and maybe, just maybe, a little shy but otherwise confident, because being a little shy is much better than being a raging lunatic.
9. Hesitate or outright lie to people when they ask you what you do for a living because you’re wary of them knowing the truth that you live on monthly disability benefits from the government, and are, therefore, crazy enough to be receiving disability benefits in the first place, and also of little or no worth because you can’t hold down a steady job ‘contributing to society’ by sitting in a cubicle being around other people which causes you too much stress.
10. Avoid any and all stress at all costs, especially if your meds aren’t right, because if things get too busy or there’s too much coming at you, you might start to think weird things which, as we know by now, can elevate to some pretty strange behavior and quite possibly another trip to the psych ward.
11. Try to develop a sense of humor goddamnit. It always helps to laugh.