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AMBER LOVE 11-MAR-2014 The most disrespectful things you can say to someone with mental illness:

HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE!

No. No it is not. People don’t choose sadness, depression, envy, or any other emotion so why would happiness be a choice? It’s ignorant and one of the most insulting memes of the world today. I’ve seen it on internet memes and on bumper stickers. I’ve heard yogis tell it to their classes.

What is true is if some people might have the ability to control emotions, then they stand a chance of curtailing unproductive emotions like fear, anger, and depression. Mothers don’t choose post-partum depression after what should be a joyous birth. The issue at hand is how the general public believes the cliches which are not helpful and are in fact, more harmful. You are not showing your friend/loved one/stranger support when you espouse pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-scientific rhetoric like “happiness is a choice.” The phrase uttered by you can alienate the other person tremendously. It does nothing productive for them. It smothers them with a blanket of guilt and shame because it implies that our lives are fully in our control and we know that they are not. I cannot control my depression or suicidal thoughts any more than I can control whether or not a tractor trailer will careen into my car today because the driver was asleep at the wheel.

If you are so in tune with your body and mind that you believe happiness is a choice, perhaps you can also tell when you’re about to have a heart attack or when your cancer is forming. If you believe happiness is a choice, do you also believe people are choosing other maladies like lupus, addiction, muscular dystrophy, Guillain-Barrė Syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome or a broken bone? Cults like Scientology believe that people choose their illnesses and maladies. Do you want to be part of their communal hivemind? I sure don’t. I want to respect that my body, which includes my brain, has its way of existing and going through processes that keep it alive or decide when it’s time to drop dead.

It is imperative that people understand how dangerous it is to tell a person with a mental illness that they are that way because of their own thought patterns or something they did; that it’s all their own fault; that it’s in their control. People suffering from a mental illness can already feel the immense burden of guilt because they require special care and attention by loved ones. Rhetoric that is harmful adds to this guilt. Guilt adds to the feeling of knowing the world would be better off without you. When you’ve had to rely on someone else to give you your food or meds or make sure you follow a routine, that already comes with guilt because you’re a burden. When you frequently break down at small things or at nothing at all that is not a choice. Nor is being some place your brain decides is scary and unsafe after it wasn’t previously. Being triggered by a word, sound, smell, touch, or location about a past traumatic event is not a choice.

My silent reply to “happiness is a choice” is: My choice is not kicking you in the nutsac right now.

JUST BREATHE.

This is a bit challenging. Breathing deeply and efficiently definitely can help bring a person out of a panic attack. It might not stop a waterfall of tears after the heart racing calms, but it’s a step. Breathing helps but it’s not like you forgot how to do it in the first place. Forgetting to breathe did not cause the attack. Breathing techniques I learned in pranayama yoga segments never stopped me from crying during the rest of the yoga class or in a doctor’s office not even when combined with xanax, aromatherapy and visualization. Trust me when I say I’ve thrown the gamut at my inconvenient attacks. For medical visits, I’d begin in my car. I’d continue in the waiting room. I’d regain focus once in the exam room where of course I’d be waiting another half an hour.

Breathing techniques won’t necessarily help someone with any other mental illness other than panic and anxiety disorders. I don’t even know if schizophrenics can hear you coaching them to “breathe, just breathe, remember your breath.”

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD

I think we have made progress here. “It’s all in your head” seems to have been replaced with the less insulting, “Depression lies.” But not everyone has depression so please get that straight. Depression is not the same as bipolar disorder of any “type” nor is it schizophrenia nor dementia. There’s a general laziness about lumping all mental illnesses under a singular blanket. It’s like saying, “We don’t know how to look at this under a slide so you’re part of the mental illness category.”

IT GETS BETTER!

Not for everyone. Progressions of diseases normally get worse. I think this one of the overused catchphrases people like to pass around when someone is having a bad day, but it’s infected the world of severely depressed and suicidal people most likely because of that awful campaign by The Trevor Project. I respect the charity but hate that ad campaign with a bloody searing passion. I think the charity only meant it gets better in relation to teenage bullying; the big problem is it’s completely untrue. If you only watch Fox News maybe you miss the headlines but LGBT are battered every day. Depression they might have felt as teens could conceivably get worse as adults when they aren’t faced only with taunts but with physical violence. It gets better is said to anyone now showing signs of depression — and it’s ignorant.

If what the person you’re seeing or chatting with is facing a panic attack, you could instead say, “this moment will pass, this fear will pass, this thing that has you scared to death right now is temporary.” Like saying, “it gets better,” it’s miles above “happiness is a choice” because it’s not blaming nor shaming the person for their state of being. But saying it as simply as “it gets better” is too much like fortune telling because a mind could deteriorate further and ten years down the line the person may be suffering even more, not getting better but getting worse. “This is thing scaring you is temporary” may only be appropriate at certain times. If an episode is triggered and bounces the person back to a past time of trauma, that may not be temporary. That trigger may be there forever. The moment of facing the trigger is temporary and specifying in that way could be more helpful.

Deteriorating diseases like dementia and schizophrenia are unlikely to allow cheerful quotes like this to be helpful.

More than anything I wish for everyone to please learn about triggers and the reason why some posts have the words “trigger warning” in the headlines. If you don’t know that you are in fact being insensitive, you have a chance to alter YOUR behavior before you try telling someone that they are choosing their state of being.

One of the key pieces of advice is people who suffer are told is to establish meaningful relationships and support systems. This is really difficult to do if people around you believe you are choosing to live in despair or chaotic thought processes. If you’re the type to go around posting memes that say “happiness is a choice” or posts that might trigger someone’s trauma, you are definitely not the person to be in someone’s close support network. If you think rape jokes are funny, you really need to understand why people who are sensitive to that don’t want to be your friend.

I’ve previously discussed how the advice to exercise is well-meaning but not helpful when someone is paralyzed by anxiety or fear. Mindfulness is another great tool that non-sufferers think is easy to achieve. Like other bits of advice, it is generally only applicable to depression and not going to be feasible for other illnesses like schizophrenia.

I direct you to read my old review of a dramatic play, “Hearing Voices, Speaking in Tongues” by Michael Mack and suggest you look up the author’s personal experiences.

I’m not an expert, not a doctor, but neither are the people passing around stupid unhelpful memes telling people that vaccinations are bad, that you can cure your diabetes with lemons, or that happiness is a choice. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll be able to add to this list of unhelpful, more harmful garbage.