Funerals and Mental Illness

When you have a mental illness is like perpetually being at a wake for a funeral. I am sure many you are scratching your heads because you cannot fathom how the two are alike. Trust me. It makes a lot of sense. If you having ever been a part of the receiving line at a funeral for a loved one, you are approach by two kinds of grievers: “the aunt” and “the date”.  The first kind, “The Aunts”, are the ones who are the true grievers. These are the people who probably knew the passing party on a close personal level. These might be siblings, close cousins, maybe a family friend, these people really knew who this person was. When they come up to you in the line, they know how to approach you. You can see and feel that they had lost also. You find their words or maybe lack of words the most comforting. There is a connection between you and this person where you want to comfort them also. These people will usually tell you something genuine and honest.

And then you have the people who are there because the feel like it is something they should do, “The Date”. I think in our lifetime, we have all been this person once in our lifetime. These are the people who are the Aunt Beth’s son’s girlfriend of a couple of months. You know them. You can usually spot them from a mile away. Standing there. Awkwardly clinging onto the party they came with. The uncomfortable smile and “Oh hello. Nice to finally meet you.” Then they approach in line. They feel the need to give you an extremely uncomfortable hug. They tell you that it will get better or some other kind of generic sentiment. They may go on about how they couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose someone. Or they will go on for 45 minutes about when they lost their childhood dog which is a lot losing a loved one. Right? Then they will realize their escort has moved one and they will quickly rush off because they don’t want to be alone in a room full of crying strangers. Not that I could really blame them.

So you are wondering how this all applies to having a mental illness? When you have a mental illness like bipolar or depression, you come across two kinds of people. There are the people who either have/had a mental illness or someone close to them struggled with one. Then there are the people who only know about mental illnesses from their high school health class or television. When you tell these people of your mental health status, you come across two general reactions.

The first of the two is the reaction of understanding. These are the people who have been there before. They understand that mental illness isn’t quick fix or a matter of changing your outlook on things. These people may recommend treatments you may not yet heard of. They will listen to your stories and get out of it a sense of connection. You yourself are at ease to talk about your mental health history without feeling like freak is written across your head. They may even feel a sense of relief that they can share their story with you and not be judged. You are not inhibited by the feeling of shame when you speak. When I get to talk to someone like this, I am overjoyed because I know they are seeing me not my disorder.

However the world is filled with too many of the second kind of people. I don’t fault these people for how they at. We are not raised to be comfortable around things or people that are different. They only have the information they have been given over their formative years to go off of. I was one of these people. For some time before I was diagnosed my only point of reference for what mental illness was health class and my schizoaffective grandmother. I thought all people with mental illness were like her. She would take her meds and function until she thought she didn’t need her meds. She would get really weird. And then she would get tired of hearing all the voices and take all her fucking pills at the same time. This occurred a number of times over my childhood. So I already had a mistrust of people with mental illness. Television and health class only fueled my concept. So I understand the awkward comments I get when they find out I have a mood disorder. I get the why they have a look of surprise on their face because I am not at all what they perceived a person with a mental illness is like.


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