Oh no! Not another awareness week! Yup. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. It just so happens that it coincides with the anniversary of a dear friend who died when she was refused hospital admission, even though she was desperately ill with depression.
Why do we keep having awareness campaigns? Why are they all the same? They are all the same, you see. All the posters say something along the lines of “People with this disease are not to blame for being sick.” and “Stop treating us badly just because we are sick!” and then there’s the “stop walking all over is as though we don’t exist” messages.
Most posters covering illnesses like mental illnesses and some physical illnesses like Lupus, Lyme, Graves, the dysautonomic illnesses, early stages of MS and of course ME /cfs are called INVISIBLE. I contend that they are not invisible and I don’t just mean those of us using wheelchairs, crutches or having tremors, myoclonic, or other visible symptoms. I mean no one who is seriously ill looks like they are perfectly fine. The “But you look ok” message that so many complain of receiving is a reflection on the speaker, not the sick person. It’s a let-me-off-the-hook of actually caring response.
Why does modern Western culture seem to treat disease and sick people so weirdly? The media has two stereotypes; “the brave cripple” and “the benefit scrounging lay about”. Despite the well known fact that the media can’t be trusted to tell the truth about anything, people seem to have absorbed this and then sick people get sandwiched in the middle.
Case in point: Let’s call her Jen. She is very ill with a chronic disease. She tries to get on with her life and yes that often takes enormous courage. But there are times when her courage fails and all she wants to do is sit in a corner and cry. This is part of any chronic illness and most acute ones too. It’s normal life.
Meanwhile Jen is stuck between two sets of people. The ones who catastrophise her illness so that she is forced to either reassure, or simply hide the truth – not easy due to the way she is ill – and then on the other side there are the ones who simply don’t get how sick she is and expect her to perform. Worse still one relative feels it’s his duty to reassure the others by making out she isn’t that sick – so she is set up to “perform” for all.
This isn’t a one off story. So. Let”s try a build a world where people can be truthful, encouraged and cared for; a world where there are NO INVISIBLE ILLNESSES.