Danny Baker believes there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with your own mental illness.
Rationalhub.com recently shared an infographic that read:
Depression is not selfish, anxiety is not rude, and schizophrenia is not wrong. Mental illness isn’t self-centered, any more than a broken leg or the flu is self-centered. If your mental illness makes you feel guilty, then go review the definition of the word “illness,”and treat yourself with the same respect and concern you would show to a pneumonia patient or a person with cancer.
I couldn’t agree more with this statement. You should never feel guilty—or ever let anyone else make you feel guilty—for having a mental illness.
But that doesn’t mean you should never feel guilty for how you handle your mental illness.
Having a mental illness does not give you a free pass to behave any way you want
In my line of work as a mental health advocate, I have noticed a disturbingly large proportion of people who use their mental illness as an excuse for any form of antisocial, inappropriate or abusive behavior, and who have absolutely no qualms about doing so.
Let me give you an example. If Stephanie suffers from depression, then there may be days when she feels suicidal. Let’s say one night she does, and on that same evening, her friend Kathy is having a birthday dinner. In such a case, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Stephanie to tell Kathy that she’s not up to attending the dinner, and to instead, for example, see a doctor or call up her local lifeline. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s acceptable for Stephanie to go to the dinner, drink two bottles of wine, come home and spend the rest of the evening abusing her husband Bob, and then the next day turn around and say “I behaved that way because I was drunk, and I drink because I suffer from depression. It’s not my fault.”
In this case, Stephanie shouldn’t feel guilty for having depression and not attending Kathy’s birthday, because she can’t be blamed for feeling suicidal—however, she should feel guilty for how she chose to handle her depression. She had a choice between handling it in a positive way—e.g. seeking help in the form of seeing a doctor or calling up Lifeline—or handling it in a negative way—e.g. getting drunk and abusing Bob—and she chose to handle it in a negative way. That is her fault, and Stephanie needs to take responsibility for that.
Let me give you another common example: Larry has bipolar disorder, and when he was diagnosed, his doctor told him that if he did the things he was supposed to do—like take his medication, commit himself to therapy, read self-help books, eat well, sleep well and exercise frequently—that he’d in all likelihood be able to manage his illness relatively well. But Larry—like many people who have bipolar disorder or some other type of mental illness—doesn’t do these things, because he feels that it’s much easier not to do them. Since he doesn’t take proper care of himself he’s wildly unstable—depressed and chained to the bed one week, then manic and rarely home the next. As a result, his family suffers.
“But I have bipolar disorder!” Larry says. “I can’t help it!”
But in reality, Larry can help it—by doing the things that he’s supposed to do to get better. He needs to take responsibility for failing to do those things, and stop blaming his illness for the pain he’s inflicting upon his family.
In the end, it comes down to this: you should never feel guilty for having a mental illness, because that’s not your choice. But if you have a mental illness and you choose to handle it in the wrong way—i.e. by not doing the things you’re supposed to do to beat it—then that is a decision of your own free will, and if it leads to inappropriate, obnoxious or abusive behavior that hurts your loved ones, then that is something that you are responsible for. In such a case, it is not justifiable—nor is it acceptable—for you to blame your illness and say that nothing’s your fault.
Take a look in the mirror
If you find yourself in the position where you believe your illness is causing you to get in a lot of arguments and lose a lot of friends, then it’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and answer the following question with brutal honesty:
Am I doing absolutely everything in my power to beat my illness? Am I taking my medication; committing myself to therapy; reading self-help books; exercising frequently; eating a healthy, balanced diet; and practicing good sleep hygiene to try and make sure I get at least seven hours of sleep each night?
If you can honestly answer “yes”, then it’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can, and over time, because you’re doing the right things to recover, you eventually will, and you won’t have those problems with your loved ones any more.
But if you can’t answer “yes”, then you must take at least some of the responsibility. If there’s more you can do, then you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to do it. While it’s their responsibility to be understanding about your mental illness and help you get through it, it’s your responsibility to do everything in your power to try and get better.
If you enjoyed reading my post, I encourage you to visit my website and download a FREE copy of The Danny Baker Story – How I came to write “I will not kill myself, Olivia” and found the Depression Is Not Destiny Campaign – which is my memoir recounting my struggle and eventual triumph over depression. I wrote it so that sufferers of the illness could realise they are not alone – that there are other people out there who have gone through the same excruciating misery, and who have made it through to the other side. I also wrote it so that I could impart the lessons I learned on the long, rocky, winding road that eventually led to recovery – so that people could learn from my mistakes as well as my victories – particularly with regards to relationships; substance abuse; choosing a fulfilling career path; seeking professional help; and perhaps most importantly, having a healthy and positive attitude towards depression that enables recovery. Multiple-bestselling author Nick Bleszynski has described it as “beautifully written, powerful, heartfelt, insightful and inspiring … a testament to hope.”