Normalize Treatment, Not Mental Illness

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“The phrase ‘It’s ok to not be ok’ has become a popular statement in the movement to de-stigmatize mental illness. I hadn’t thought much of it, only noted it as the hashtag to use for anything related to mental health. But a recent post on Instagram has me pondering it on a deeper level, peeling back the layers and analyzing the message this motto is conveying. I think the idea is a good one, but as with many of these catchy phrases quickly adapted as the face of a social movement, I believe it became oversimplified… and in some ways, may become somewhat damaging. 

Yes, it’s ok to not be ok in the sense that it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to be depressed or anxious or burdened by mental illness. You likely didn’t develop these issues because of any negligence on your part. You can’t just will yourself out of them either. There should be no guilt or shame associated with the fact you live with any kind of mental illness. 

But it’s NOT ok to feel the way you do. While mental illness is becoming increasingly common, and so many of us struggle with it in one capacity or another, it’s still not ‘normal.’ That’s not the way your brain should have to operate or the way you should have to live. There are things that can help you regain your functionality and quality of life. You do not have to just accept this as your ‘new normal.’

I know that’s not the message this little mantra is trying to send. But I worry that in an effort to destigmatize mental illness, we are normalizing it. That’s a big thing in society these days. Normalize this and normalize that. But normalizing something is making it the standard, and I will never accept this as the standard for my life. 

I know I’ll always struggle with mental illness. It will come and go, and there will be some really dark periods that are worse than others. But I’ll always be hoping and striving for something better. I won’t beat myself up on the bad days, but I’m not going to use my mental illness as a crutch either. I’m not going to throw myself a pity party while I wait for it to pass. I’m going to take responsibility for seeking the help I need, and making sure I’m the happiest and healthiest I can possibly be. I’m happy to listen to a friend share the dark reality of their current situation, to help them feel heard and seen. I’ll gladly share some of my own experience to let them know they’re not alone. But I’ll never tell them it’s ok or normal to feel this way. Again, they should never beat themselves up for it, but if they aren’t already, they should really make sure they’re getting help. 

Now, I understand mental illness can be incredibly debilitating. There are so many aspects of my life and my husband’s that might never be the same because of it. And what’s ‘normal’ for everyone else may not be normal for us or for you. You might have to find new ways of doing things and new perspectives. All of that is ok as long as you’re doing what you can to improve the things within your control, and finding healthy ways to cope with the things that are not. And while you might have to be ok with certain things for now, that may not be the case forever. I hope and pray researchers will continue to find new and improved methods for treating mental illness and reducing the negative impact it has on our lives. 

I think what we really want when we say to normalize something, is for others to stop judging and misunderstanding people who experience it. For people to not be weird about hearing we’re getting therapy, taking medication, or receiving treatment for these mental disorders. I’d rather normalize treatment and recovery than the illness itself. I’d rather see stories of hope and encouragement, and recovered lives as the standard. But I don’t ever want to be ok with feeling this way, or have others be ok with it. And when I forget what normal feels like, and the darkness is so heavy it clouds my judgment and leads me to believe what I’m feeling IS normal, I hope those who love me will gently remind me it isn’t.”

Shot of a young businesswoman looking stressed while using a laptop during a late night at work
Courtesy of LaylaBird (via iStock)

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