August 24 2017
One of the main reasons why invisible illnesses are called illnesses is because of the physical impact they can create and leave on a person. Mental illness is so much more than what happens inside the mind, it is also a huge physical strain which can feel debilitating to say the least. It’s bad enough that a lot of society has some issues (to put it nicely) on figuring out how to handle mental illness within themselves or others, many people are a sad mix of willfully ignorant to just plain clueless when it comes to the physical pain of mental illness. Just to give you an idea, here are some of the physical strains one can experience with different mental disorders:
- Frequent exhaustion, usually from feeling anxious and just trying to get through the day.
- Random moments of hyperactivity or manic behaviour.
- Lowered immune system.
- Lack of sleep or sleeping way too much.
- Intense fluctuation of hormones like cortisol or adrenaline.
- Heart problems.
- Painful, tightened feeling usually in the stomach, chest, head, neck and joints.
- Nausea sometimes to the point of vomiting.
- Digestive problems.
- Frequent headaches or migraines.
- Lack of appetite or increase in appetite resulting in weight fluctuation.
- Acid reflux.
- Difficulty breathing.
These are just a few of the numerous psychosomatic effects from mental illness. It is a very difficult vicious cycle and it takes a lot of work and a lot of courage and strength to battle with it as part of your regular basis. Thankfully, just as there are natural solutions to help with the mental aspect of mental disorders, there are also a few natural remedies that can help to ease the pain. A diet rich in magnesium (dark chocolate, Swiss chard, cereals) Omega-3’s (flaxseed, chia, hemp), protein (chickpeas, soy, lentils), carbs (whole wheat, quinoa, oatmeal) and B Vitamins (citrus fruit, nuts, nutritional yeast) can make a world of difference. What we put in our bodies will ultimately have an effect on how we live. Making a few healthy changes would also be a good suggestion. Reducing or cutting out unnatural sugars would not only lower your stress levels but it would also help you to balance out your cortisol and adrenaline levels thus reducing the chances of a panic attack, same could be said about reducing or cutting out caffeine as well. It is also super important to remember that just because your thoughts are not always rational, or if you feel just overwhelmed and depressed and feel like life is just crushing you, your feelings are valid, you are valid. Do not try to block out the panic attacks and fear because you will only wear yourself down, it is better to try to face it than block it and bottle it up.
As for those of you who have someone in your life who has a mental illness, it is likely that you do what you can to help and support and show love to whoever is afflicted with a mental disorder. However, for those who do not realize, there are a lot of things you can do or should probably if not definitely stop doing because you do not just want to be their friend, lover, family, co-worker etc. you want to be their ally. Many people actually have mental and invisible illnesses and it should not be treated with any less care than any other physical handicap. Society has done a pretty thorough job at misrepresenting mental illness to us for as long as one can remember and unfortunately it has also affected the way we treat those who suffer mental afflictions. Our ignorance of mental illness is rooted in fear of what we do not understand, some of us choose to progress in knowledge on the subject and help to create a safe environment for those who are mentally ill, and there are those who do not. For those of you who want to be a better mental health ally, first of all you are doing the right thing by trying to gain a more intimate understanding of how mental illness is, second of all, here are some things you should or should not do.
- Stop assuming the person is lazy because they are tired all the time. Just getting through an entire day when you feel pangs of anxiety, depression, having a mood swing etc. is absolutely exhausting. What can be simple and easy to deal with for some could be grueling for others. Rather than make assumptions based off of nothing, maybe actually go and talk to the person and ask them why they are tired. Create a welcoming space for them, they probably already feel isolated.
- Your loved one is so much more than just their mental disorder and if you actually care about the person and want to show your support, you should remind them that you appreciate the person behind their illness. They are a complete person with interests and ideas and life experience. Just because they are not neurotypical that does not mean that their mental disorder is the reason behind all their quirks and traits so stop painting them over with your own generalizations of who they are and why.
- Your loved one is probably if not definitely aware that their mental disorder makes them irrational. However, it does not help to just tell them to forget about what they are worrying about because it is “just irrational”. Instead remind them that their feelings are valid, because in truth, they definitely are. Pointing out that they are being irrational, especially when they are in a state of panic doesn’t help.
- Educate yourself on mental illnesses. As a mental health advocate it is imperative that you inform yourself and others about mental illness, and not just the ones your loved ones go through. Not only will you find some potentially very fascinating information but it will help you maintain a better understanding of what your loved one experiences.
- Check on those around you. Your friends, family, coworkers, everyone appreciates knowing that you care. Questions like “how are you?” or “is there anything I can do to help?” will already show that you are trying to make a safe space for them and will be appreciated.
- Watch your language. Seriously, this absolutely cannot get stressed enough but it can be said with a lot of certainty that many people with mental illness have heard (and are probably sick of hearing) things like “get over it”, “other people have it worse”, “you’re so difficult/crazy/irrational/lazy/etc.” They are probably also tired of hearing derogatory, judgmental terms and slurs like psycho, head case, retarded (that one in particular is just awful) or crazy. It does not help anyone. Ever. Also stop making a person’s mental illness all about you, it’s not. Sorry your friend is being a little moody lately, maybe instead of whining and complaining why not ask them how they are doing, it will likely be much more appreciated, if they don’t want to talk then maybe they want some space, or they are sick of you telling them to “get over it” or something like that.
- Check on your own mental health. Seriously this is important. One of the biggest dangers of society’s behaviour towards mental health is that so many people are in denial of it, especially those who are between their late 30’s and older because they tend to come from a generation where mental illness was far more stigmatized. Do not be afraid to admit you may have a mental illness, it is okay, and this does not change you or make you a bad person. On the flipside of this pointer, an important note for many; STOP TREATING MENTAL ILLNESS LIKE A TREND!!!!!!! It cannot be said enough how many people misuse terms like depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, anxious, OCD just to describe day to day quirks and habits one might have when these illnesses actually afflict people on a day to day basis. You are not normalizing mental illness by doing it; you are making it seem like a joke, a really bad joke.
- Realize that your loved ones really appreciate you sticking by them and making these efforts. A big trait of mental illness, especially ones like borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety is an overwhelming sense of feeling worthless. A depressed and/or anxious brain is acting as a constant bully trying to make the sufferer feel like they do not deserve love and friendship and care. You sticking by them and making the efforts to try to understand them more and being patient with them will likely show them that not only do you care; you want to validate them too. You want to show them that you see them for more than just mental illness, but as a person you love.