The only thing I can tell you is, that's how you know it's an illness.
When we do things that are detrimental, from eating bad food, to spending our savings, even to suicide, we do them because we really think we need to. We think it is the only way to end the extreme pain and suffering we feel.
I have no idea how to describe this to someone without mental illness. I know that being able to understand this would help end one of the biggest stigmas against this illness, which is people assume we choose to be this way and we are just being irresponsible.
|Photo by tommychheng, Flickr Creative Commons|
My husband still asks me "Why do you choose to do that?," especially when I eat poorly. As if I sat down and thought, "Yes, I know eating this doughnut will send me into a mania risking my health and the happiness of my family. I don't care about myself or anyone else. I would like bad things to happen so I'll eat the doughnut." That's not the way it happens. It's more like this: "I know eating this doughnut will make me worse and cause issues for my family but I am in so much pain that if I have to spend one more second like this I'll die. I am not that important to my family anyway." That doughnut will increase my serotonin and make me feel good, for an hour, before I get worse again. But when you have a mental illness you often live your life second by second, hour by hour just trying to stay alive and ridiculous things seem rational at the time. Or like how in the middle of the night when my mania is mixed with my depression I truly, 100% believe my husband doesn't love me and we should separate. Seriously? In reality he loves me 110% and we are like Adelie penguins, together for life.
|Photo by linpadgham, Flickr Creative Commons|
Expecting someone with a mental illness never to do detrimental things or irresponsible things is like asking someone with an amputated leg to walk. However, you could get the person an artificial leg which could help manage the issue they have and that is what I hope my blog helps people do, manage their illness. While it is essential that we understand mental illness, that does not mean the bad behavior is ok. Particularly if the person is emotionally or physically abusive. Understanding it means we can then discover appropriate ways to deal with it, not that you don't hold the person accountable for their actions.
Overall, I hope that much of my blog talks about ways in which to manage mental illness (please read some of my other posts for more on that), but I really want people to understand the fundamentals of it first. If we don't understand the true nature of the illness we will try the wrong management techniques and not be able to help our loved ones.