What does it mean?
Why Mental Illness and not Mental Health?
Why did I put it on a shirt…and a sticker…and make it my “brand”?
These are the questions I’ve received since November 2020 when I first launched my shirt design and while it’s easy to very briefly answer “oh, it’s just about ending the stigma,” I wanted to sit down and finally fully articulate what it means to me…and what it doesn’t mean to me.
In fact, the motivation to write this blog post partly came from the latter: What You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness doesn't mean to me, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
What Does 'You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness' Actually Mean?
⭐︎ It means that I know that mental illness is invisible.
⭐︎ It means that I see you and know that you’re struggling.
⭐︎ It means that I know that there are probably people in your life who either don’t believe your disorder exists or just don’t want to hear about it because it makes them uncomfortable.
⭐︎ It means that it’s safe to tell me about your OCD or Bipolar Disorder or whatever other mental illness/condition you have and I won’t call you crazy or treat you like you’re from another planet.
⭐︎ It means that it’s OK to tell me that you’re on antidepressants and that you go to therapy and I won’t judge you or ask if you’ve tried yoga or changing your diet instead.
⭐︎ It means that if you’re having a particularly hard day and I ask you how you’re doing, you don’t have to lie to me and you don’t have to worry that I’m going to try to fix you or flood you with toxic positivity.
⭐︎ It means You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness.
Why Mental Illness and not Mental Health?
Here’s the simple answer: Mental Illness and Mental Health are not the same. Despite that fact, people often use them interchangeably and the uncomfortable truth is: one is way more stigmatized than the other.
So what’s the difference?
Everybody has mental health - just like everyone has physical health. Many things can affect your mental health - lack of sleep, relationship issues, feeling overworked, etc. Just like many things can affect your physical health - lack of sleep, smoking/drinking, being around people who are ill.
Not everybody has mental illness. Examples of mental illnesses/conditions include Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and many, many more. While many people will periodically experience the traits that go along with these conditions, in order for it to be a mental illness, it must drastically interfere with your ability to function on a day-to-day basis.
So, yes, while everyone gets anxious sometimes when dealing with a stressful life event, people with an anxiety disorder may feel overwhelmingly anxious all the time for no particular reason. While a friend might like a tidy house, someone with OCD might clean the same room over and over because their brain has convinced them that something horrible will happen if they don’t. While it’s not uncommon to experience mood swings from time to time, someone with Bipolar Disorder will experience prolonged periods of crushing depression followed by periods of mania.
It’s important to distinguish the two terms because a lot of people are OK with hearing about mental health because it’s often conflated with what is thought of as self-care: bubble baths, alone time, massages, thinking positive thoughts, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of those same people get very uncomfortable when hearing about self-care that includes going to therapy, taking antidepressants, and talking openly and honestly about mental illness.
Mental illness is way more stigmatized than mental health. While it’s considered OK to say “I’m so stressed out from work - I’m going to take a bubble bath,” saying something like “I’m so depressed. I can’t get out of bed, practice basic hygiene, or leave the house” is often met with awkward silence and/or the accusation that the person is exaggerating their symptoms or just looking for attention.
The lack of mental illness acceptance in our society means that there are tons of people out there who never feel comfortable reaching out for help; they’re all around us every day. You ask how they’re doing and they say fine because it’s what they’re supposed to say. They don’t say, “actually I’m pretty horrible,” because they don’t want to deal with the negative reaction they might receive. So people mask their true feelings. They establish unhealthy coping mechanisms, sometimes turning to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with their illness. And way too often, the life of the party - the person you know that’s always cracking jokes and laughing - silently decides their life is no longer worth living and everyone is shocked. They always seemed so happy! How did we not know? Why didn’t they reach out for help? Stigma. That’s why.
Why Put It On A Shirt/Sticker/Make It Your Brand?
For all the reasons above!
I got very frustrated with the idea that there are things that so many people experience on a day-to-day basis that are considered taboo to talk about. I got sick of lying about my mental state when people asked how I was doing. I was tired of posting pretty pictures of food on Instagram and acting like everything in my life was amazing and perfect. I realized that once I opened up about my own experiences with mental illness, people felt safe talking to me about theirs; they felt less alone and I did, too.
So, in November 2020, I posted an Instagram story asking if people would be interested in buying merch that raised money for mental health nonprofits. The response was an overwhelming YES and my You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness design was born. Wearing one or displaying the sticker tells people you’re a safe person to talk to about these very common topics that we’re supposedly not supposed to talk about.
What You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness Doesn’t Mean
I’ve struggled with this question for a while because it’s one I consistently ask myself.
Your brand is You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness so that means you have to answer every single person who reaches out to you on social media and wants to pick your brain about mental illness, otherwise you’re a hypocrite, right?
Recently, I’ve felt like like people might be misinterpreting my intentions behind You Can Talk To Me About Mental Illness. I’m not and have never claimed to be a mental health professional. In fact, I have disclaimers all over my website that say just the opposite. I cannot diagnose you or tell you what treatment plan to utilize.
Despite this fact, I get messages every day asking for advice. Often, the people sending these messages don’t even ask if I have the time or emotional energy to help. They send paragraphs-long messages detailing what they or a loved one is going through and want me to respond with all the answers ASAP. Most of the time, these people are complete strangers to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m SO flattered that people feel safe coming to me to talk. A lot of the time, however, people are asking me questions that I’ve written about in detail on my blog already. The topics I’m frequently asked about are ones that I’ve gone out of my way to write about and compile resources for because explaining over and over how I was diagnosed with ADHD and OCD or what I do to manage my anxiety is emotionally draining and time-consuming. I think sometimes people forget that I am able to talk so accurately about mental illness because I live with mental illness.
I’ve had people get mad at me for setting boundaries. Strangers who follow me on social media who insist that because I speak so openly about my experiences and encourage others to do the same that I must be available to help them 24/7. And if not? I’m just using my disorders for attention or to make money.
Here’s the difference: I post about my experiences on my own blog and social media. People have the option to follow me or not, to interact with my content or not. There are no hard feelings if someone chooses to ignore my content. I know I’m not for everyone. However, when someone sends me a long message about whatever it is they’re going through, of course I have the option to ignore them, but that’s just not who I am. The problem is I want to help everyone but I’m not emotionally or mentally capable.
Answering messages, even if it’s to say sorry I can’t help right now, takes time and energy. It takes time and energy away from writing posts like this that can succinctly provide the answers to these questions I’m asked all the time. It takes time and energy away from designing something that I can sell which in turn helps support mental health organizations and helps me afford to keep this blog and my business going.
This is NOT me saying that You Can’t Talk To Me About Mental Illness
It’s me saying that in order to take care of my own mind, I have to set boundaries. I have to accept the reality that living with mental illness (specifically ADHD) means that I only have so much energy and motivation in a day and that as much as I want to talk to everyone about everything all the time, doing so very often means prioritizing a stranger’s needs over my own. If I can’t take care of my own mental health, I can’t possibly help someone else with theirs.
So I guess what I’m saying is, I want you to reach out to me especially if I’m one of the few people you feel safe and comfortable talking to and especially if you’re in crisis and need help finding help. But if it’s not an emergency, maybe check my blog first to see if I’ve already answered some of the questions you have. Maybe start your message with “hey, do you have the time and/or emotional energy to talk to me about _______ right now?” Maybe think about buying me a coffee or purchasing something from my shop to show that you realize that my time and energy are valuable.
And, again, please remember that I am not a professional. I cannot diagnose you. I can only share my experiences living with mental illness and tell you what has worked for me. Everyone is different. My treatment plan will likely be very different from your treatment plan. The way I experience ADHD and OCD is probably very different from the way you experience ADHD and OCD. If you need help finding help, please check out my Resources page. I even wrote a blog post about how to find affordable and accessible therapy.
I’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating and compiling what I hope is useful content on my site and social media because it’s important to me that people are able to find the help they need and deserve. It’s also important to me to preserve my own mental health.
As always, thank you for reading!