living as a person with mental illnesses in the time of infographics and social media

an open letter for neurotypicals: do better, be better

Note: This personal blog post is a bit all over the place as I’m just writing it in one go while my mind is filled with so much. I will not be talking about my mental illnesses and personal experiences because neurotypicals are more interested to see how my brain works as if my pain is your circus. I will not feed your curiosity. In this post, I will talk about how you need to do better. Please hear me out.

art by Laura Anne Walker

In the past few moments, I’ve spent hours scrolling through my Twitter and Instagram feed, watching Netflix, and then back to Twitter and Instagram. From time to time, I would see people repost infographics on their story focusing on mental health. Typical posts with eye-catching graphic designs and headers that says “depression is real” and “self-care tips for when you have anxiety”. I caught myself feeling taken aback, realizing the person who had posted it had glared, made snarky comments, and laughed at me when I met them on a few occasions. I scoffed, rolled my eyes, and continue scrolling.

As I’ve been trapped at home the past few months, I reflected on how I’ve moved through the world in my 21 years of life. I have come to realize that allyship does not exist for people with mental illness. And it probably never will.

When I started taking antipsychotic medication a few years ago, I became the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I immediately gained more than 40 pounds, which is a common side effect of taking antipsychotic medication. And with a nasty combination of binge eating disorder and locking myself away at home due to extreme depression, I became even heavier.

This added an extra barrier to how people had treated and viewed me. But this time, their judgment of me had been placed even before I opened my mouth to speak. I became so distraught about my weight gain, that I had tried to stop taking the medication several times. To me, I was willing to continue to suffer from extreme psychosis and delusions that had led me to suicide attempts than be fat.

However, I now realize that my fatness is my armor of protection. My fatness is the direct result of my medication, something that I am extremely lucky to have access to when so many do not. Although there is no cure for my mental illnesses, it is something that helps me deviate from it. To be fatphobic is to be harming the mentally ill.

In public spaces, I had always seen others staring at me while I was speaking. A clear hesitation, and then giving the side-eye to their friends. “She’s so weird….” would be written across their faces. I would remember thinking to myself, “Did I talk too much? Did I say something odd? Is my behavior unusual again?” Not knowing what I did or said was strange to others, I become increasingly hyper-aware of how I present myself. I’d spent hours, even days, rethinking conversations I’ve had with people that had laughed under their breath when I was speaking (or perhaps rambling), their judgemental glare with pursed lips and wide eyes.

As someone that suffers from mental illness, I have no choice or say in how it impacts my social skills or my interactions with others. There are days when I am beyond charismatic, a powerful force demanding the attention of everyone in the room. But there are other days where I am struck with extreme paranoia and anxiety. I feel restless that I almost feel as though I am wearing a bodysuit, a body that isn’t mine.

When I’m speaking with others and notice their shift in their behavior, thoughts begin to ping-pong in my head, my mind zapped with an extra layer of anxiety as I’d try to deconstruct what I was saying or doing that had made them look at me this way.

To be transparent, I am mostly uninterested in social interactions because of how incredibly draining it is. Suffering from extreme anxiety and paranoia, having people police my behavior accelerates my discomfort even further.

I had spent years hating people for not understanding me. For thinking I was strange, awkward, or “too much”. It is already difficult for me to manage day-to-day life, but facing people that had no basis for who I am and dealing with the repercussions of it continues to be taxing.

People are willing to talk about mental health and create space for it, but no one actually wants to deal with mentally ill people. It’s too unsettling and uncomfortable.

I had spent years filled with anger and envy towards neurotypicals. I wanted you to so desperately understand me, to just take me for who I am without any further explanations. But I have come to pity you. I understand now that this is the result of a system that fails to educate people on mental illnesses or how to treat those with mental illnesses. We live in a system that enforces the idea of depicting our worth based on how skilled we are, how fast we are, and our efficiency purely for monetary gain. However, when someone is stripped from all of this, what is their worth? How do we measure their worth if they are unable to contribute to society rapidly and efficiently?

Whenever you are not able to understand me or mistreat me, I know that it is because you are brainwashed with the belief that everyone views the world the same way as you do. You are instructed to give your respect to those that can quickly equip themselves in processing information and executing tasks swiftly. When you are faced with those who are not sharp and naturally self-efficient, your mind suddenly feels confused as it only knows nothing else other than what our capitalistic society had taught you. The second you realize that someone is not on your wavelength, you shut down. So your brain does what it knows best when facing a situation where someone is different from you— you feel superior to them and judge.

I want to reimagine a world in which we allow ourselves to coexist with one another. Where we can show up for one another and have mutual respect without needing to explain why we deserve it. Today I ask you, how will you make space for people with mental illnesses to just simply be?