I’m trying to act in a way that promotes self-acceptance and honesty. I have stopped lying to people when my illness precludes me from participating in something. I no longer say I have a stomach bug, or that my parents need me to help them with something. I say that I am disabled, and I need to just sit and do nothing for a day or two in order to prevent an episode. This puts me in a vulnerable position. I may be judged harshly, not taken seriously, or even hurt someone’s feelings. But if I want to be a mental illness advocate, I know I need to live that role. Most people are understanding and want to help, even if they don’t know fact one about mental illness, so I decided that it’s a good idea to put awareness and information out into the world. I want to be an ambassador of our cause, and the best way I can do that is by being open, honest, and frank about my disability and what kind of help I need.
Asking for help takes bravery, nothing less. It means admitting that you can’t do something for yourself. No adult wants to feel that way or be seen in that light. But if you are disabled, you have a legitimate need that has to be met. If you can’t help yourself in the active sense, you need to spend some time thinking about what help or accommodations you need, so that you can ask the people around you very specifically to help you in those ways. Guess what? Most people want to help. Like seriously, earnestly want to help, even when they don’t understand the problem. If you ask someone for help, you will probably get it. Isn’t that great?
Of course, everyone fears the day that they ask for help and are denied and told that mental illness isn’t real or some other mean-spirited or evil thing. I’ve been asking the people around me for help for almost 13 years, and I’ve only had one person be mean to me because of it. Sadly, it was my best friend at the time. I was crying and didn’t know why, and when I tried to explain that I thought it was the bipolar and I just needed a hug, he shot me down, saying “No, I’m not going to hug you! What the fuck is wrong with you?” That’s pretty much the worst case scenario for asking for help. However, I survived and went on to ask many, many other people for help of various kinds, and ALL of those people were kind to me, even if they didn’t or couldn’t help. That’s a damn good average. Not everyone will be able to help, but since most people want to see themselves as primarily “good”, the average person will probably try.
Honesty is key to asking for help. You must accept that you are ill. You must accept that you need help. Then, you must figure out exactly what other people can do to help you. If you’re thinking “There’s nothing anyone can do to help me”, I understand that. I’ve been there. I was there for the first three years of my illness. Eventually, I figured out some things I could do to help myself, some ways to change my surroundings into a place that felt safe, some specific sentences that were very comforting to hear from a loved one, and what expectations I needed people to change. I wrote down the helpful sentences and gave a copy to each loved one, explaining that these phrases that they already believed would be helpful to hear during an episode (examples: “I love you”, “This will pass and you’ll be okay again”, “You are strong”, “You will survive this”). I also let them know that I can’t live up to the expectations of healthy people. There will be events that I can’t attend. There will be times when I have to go outside for a long time to calm down. I need to leave some parties early. I can’t walk through an IKEA. All of these truths about what helps me are now part of my support system. Honesty and bravery will get you far.
Being honest with others is helping me accept myself. Every time I put myself out there and am not met with meanness or anger, I get stronger in my sense of rightness as a person. What I mean is that the way I am is a legitimate way to be a human being, and I have as much right to exist in this space-time as anyone else. We each have inherent worth. I am not greater or lesser than anyone else. It’s easy to believe that I’m not greater; it can be tremendously difficult to believe that I am not lesser. So the more honest I can be, the more validation I will receive in return, and I believe that if I continue this relatively new behavior, I will be in a much healthier position within a year.
The truth is, we all need help. You will be furthering the cause of mental illness awareness with every person you talk to about your illness. Every time you show someone how to help you, you are making a difference. Being honest about your abilities and disabilities makes the world better and helps you. Even if you don’t ask anyone for help (which I don’t recommend), telling the truth about why you can’t go to that party on Friday or why you stayed in bed all day yesterday is tremendously liberating. When you’re honest about your illness, you are showing yourself love and respect. You deserve love and respect from yourself above all. Tell the truth. Watch what happens.