Disclaimer: Still not a professional, 90% of what I write about is based on my own experiences and opinions, not on research. Also there’s generally a very good chance I’m splitting when I write as I usually only do it when I’m feeling all the feelings.
I don’t often regret deciding to be open about my mental health issues but it does happen. It didn’t surprise me that the way people treated me changed after I came out about having BPD but I think overall I was fairly naive; I expected awkwardness, funny looks and the occasional splash of ignorance. I touched on this in my first ever blog post, frustrated at some of the misguided advice I’d received, but it’s a complicated issue and the deeper I get into my recovery the more overt stigmas become.
What did surprise me is how eager people are to put me in a box. Words like destructive, aggressive and manipulative being hurled at me with no explanation. A quick Google search, a skim of WebMD, it’s easy to think you’re qualified to give advice or pass judgements. I have so many experts in my life, why the hell have I been paying for professional help?
I’m not sure why people feel the need to do this. Is it needing to feel superior to someone? Is it just not knowing what to do? Have I completely misread the situation and this is actually an attempt to help? Or am I just as bad as everyone thinks I am, just another textbook case of one of the most despised mental illnesses?
Explaining how I feel and why doesn’t often seem to get me very far or build much understanding for this highly stigmatised illness, so without further ado I bring you a list of Do’s and Don’t for engaging with Borderline (or otherwise mentally ill) individuals in your life.
- Continue to treat them like a human being.
- Ask polite questions about any concerns or confusions you may have if they are open to it (I am, ask me anything!).
- Reach out to them and offer support if you would like to, just remember mental illness isn’t a walk in the park and this is likely to be a consistent effort.
- Feel free to share your experiences with mental health issues with them if they’re open, it can often make us feel alone.
- Decide it’s your place to educate them about their mental illness.
- Tell them they just need to go for a walk.
- Diagnose them unless you are a professional.
- Begin throwing around stigma fueled words such as intense, manipulative, etc.
- Relate every issue in their life back to their mental illness.
- Source all of your information regarding their mental illness from WebMD and Wikipedia.
- Discourage them from discussing mental health issues.
- Decide to compete in a game of ‘Who has it worse?’ (e.g. “At least you don’t…”)
- Assume they are automatically in the wrong because they have a mental illness.
- Make rash declarations of support if you’re flakey or don’t actually mean it.
- Put them in a box, figuratively or literally.
- Lecture them for refusing to examine their own behaviours whilst you are doing just that. (Already seeing a psych, it’s not just the mentally ill who should consider self improvement).
- Give them unsolicited advice, especially if it’s vague, oddly enough this leads to confusion.
- Lecture them for coping mechanisms that you also indulge in.
- Encourage them to engage in coping mechanisms which you have ‘dubbed’ unhealthy when it suits you.
- Make generalizations about mental health.
- Tell them not to discuss you in their blog (asking them not to or saying “let me know first” is appropriate)
- Collectively ostracize them and then flood their social media with your sick pics of their former loved ones partying without them.
- Yell at them when they have questions relating to anxiety fueled insecurities.
- Attempt to isolate them for their supports in stressful situations, or you know, EVER!
- Scold them for symptoms of their mental illness that they are presenting (instead aim to have a productive conversation with them if they are displaying problematic behaviours).
- Scold them for symptoms of their mental illness that they haven’t even exhibited.
- Refuse to answer polite questions when you have accused them of symptomatic behaviour.
- Tell them to smile (…just don’t do this one to anyone, okay?)
- Offer to listen and then ignore them for days.
- Bail without a word.
- Suggest they view movies which represent a stigmatised view of their mental illness.
- Be a dick.
Yes, a lot of these are oddly specific… for some reason. While I would’ve previously assumed the above list goes without saying, recent experiences have taught me that certainly isn’t the case. As a plain, white girl who doesn’t have a very competitive career I’ve been fairly sheltered from discrimination, mostly just the odd sexist comment from old white guys I work with. As such these past several months have been pretty mind blowing for me. I wasn’t ready for people I loved and trusted to start treating me like a monster upon hearing my diagnosis; I trusted that since I was the same person I’d always been things wouldn’t change too much. But I wasn’t the same person, not to everyone. To some I was inferior, damaged, crippled. Profoundly abnormal and diagnosably monstrous.
It hasn’t all been bad though. While some people have adjusted how they interact with me for the worse, some have actively offered me support and made me feel like I was still important to them. These are kindhearted individuals who understand that people are more than the labels that get stuck on them and that mental health is a complex issue that warrants compassion. If you’re reading this and this applies to you, you probably already have a good idea of who you are, but I will slip a cheeky shout out into the end of this post.
To my ‘Adventure Friends’, beloved and beautiful girlfriends, the True Heirs to the Throne, my family, and of course my soulmate; you’re the reason I’m still here. You’re the people who I’m trying to get better for, thank you eternally for your support and helping me work through the metric shit-tonnes of baggage that we all know I come with. You’re fucking amazing!
Edit: I have updated this several times as I remember more things that have pissed me off and this will probably continue.