Mental Illness Visibility: How to see what is invisible (Guest Post by Joan Jessup)
This week, I’m excited to share a guest post written by fellow Gravity Imprint author, Joan Jessup. Joan’s debut memoir, Bipolar Goggles, was just published last month by Booktrope. You can find out more about Joan at the end of her post, but first:
Mental Illness Visibility: How to see what is invisible
I have often heard people refer to different forms of mental illness as invisible. I have to disagree. The wrinkles on my face clearly would disagree if they could speak. The years of scowling, frowning, and contorting my face to reflect my inner moods have made my mental illness visible. I have Bipolar Disorder and also live with anxiety. My entire body reacts to the different moods I experience; often several times in a day.
My shoulders and neck are knotted from the tension I feel, my stomach is cramping from the constant distress, and my skin is splotched in red from the most recent panic attack. I know some people may say, “But how can we see the knots in your shoulders or the cramps you are experiencing?” Let me tell you how. OPEN your eyes. I am sure many people have had a back or neck ache. It’s normal with that to walk a little hunched over or be self-massaging the painful areas. I know from personal experience seeing friends or family doubled up from stomach pain.
Maybe we choose not to recognize those as signs of mental illness because we often fail to see how mental strain can cause a reaction in our bodies. To this I say, “Our brains are control freaks. They run the show so why would you think the body wouldn’t react?” Let’s move on to the facial expressions shall we??? There are memes on social media depicting the “resting bitch face.” Take a look in the mirror next time you are mad or sad: tell me what you see.
My kids, friends, and family are constantly asking me what is wrong. I tilt my head to the side like a dog hearing a loud whistle not realizing how my inner mood has been reflected outwardly. I may not see it because I am not walking around holding a hand mirror and checking my every expression out. Based on the amount of times I get that question on any given day, I would say my mood is absolutely visible on my face. Hence the damn wrinkles.
I don’t want to be rude but if you can’t see my mental illness then I have 3 words for you:
“OPEN YOUR EYES.”
Yes, there is a distinct possibility that if you see my expressions you may ask me what’s wrong and I may tell you. Yes, it could bring up a conversation that you aren’t ready for and that you don’t understand. Yes, it may be hard for me to convey my feelings in a way that you understand because it is highly likely I won’t be in a rational state of mind. Yes, I may scream and cry and tell you nothing is wrong and yes, you will know it isn’t true. You will know because you will have opened your eyes and looked at me. You will have acknowledged that feeling in your gut that is telling you something is going on with me. You would probably be right.
I can’t tell you how I will react because there are days I can’t even believe how things will affect me. Simple things like the wind blowing, the birds whistling, and if I am honest: the damn sun shining. I can’t always explain to you what I can’t always understand myself. What I can tell you is that talking about it can ease my stress and tension. If you see me and see my mental illness then I don’t feel like I am on eggshells. I stop feeling like you are judging me, and I can just breathe. Somedays breathing is a chore and if you see me then maybe it will be a bit easier. Maybe if I’m not carrying all that weight then my neck will relax and finally my shoulders won’t be tense and curled in. Maybe if you ask me and I tell you then I can sit a little straighter and without so much pain.
If you ask me and I tell you then maybe the stress won’t have my stomach in knots and I won’t sit with my knees pulled into my chest. Maybe you will ask and I won’t tell you. Maybe I will remain quiet but if you stay then I will be comforted by the knowing I am not alone. Sometimes the panic is overwhelming because fear can thrive on the fear of being alone. I may cry but I know from experience that my face will relax. You could be credited with saving me a few wrinkles. That would be appreciated by myself and my bank account. I can’t really afford Botox.
My mental illness doesn’t sound so invisible now does it? I guess we can all learn something. If I can be honest and find my voice, then I can release some of what I carry around. If you can open your eyes and see what you don’t understand then you can open your mind as well. Learning is a good thing, for all of us. The only way we can end the stigma of mental illness is if we see it and then we talk about it. I don’t want to hurt and I don’t want my moods to hurt you. I need your acceptance in all of this and you need my honesty. If you see me then I think maybe I can be honest with you.
I will be patient with you if you will do the same for me. Next time your gut is telling you something is wrong, even if that person isn’t holding up a sign: follow your instincts. Just a simple act of belief for an illness that is hard to understand can make a difference. For those of you that have asked when I was unable to answer, this is for you.
“I have Bipolar Disorder. I don’t even understand it all yet.
I have anxiety attacks which scare the hell out of me.
I have Borderline Personality Disorder but I can’t explain that
Because I am still dealing the rest and I am overwhelmed.
When I know you have seen me it’s like a weight has been lifted.
You may not have noticed but I felt it. I thank you for that. I see you too.”
In a weekend of self-discovery author Joan Jessup started writing what would become her memoir. Bipolar Goggles is the first book by Joan and now available. She lives in the sun of Florida becoming a better mom and person every day. She hopes her struggle and acceptance of her mental illness can serve as a reminder to others that they are in it together. Connect with Joan on Twitter, Facebook, and JJessupWrites.