This is a response to Sarah Hawkinson‘s video (embedded below) about whether we should be proud of our mental illness, and the ‘anti-recovery’ community. She was responding to a video I haven’t yet watched, but intend to.
I want to preface this by saying that I understand what Sarah is trying to say, and she does try to clarify certain points, but oh man do I have mixed feels about the way she says it.
Sarah opens by talking about the ‘anti-recovery’ community on Tumblr and how they do not want to be ‘normal’ and ‘fully embrace their mental illness,’ and that was my first icky moment. While I do believe some people experience mental illness for a short period in their life and then go on to recover, in the commonly used sense, many people are living with lifelong mental illnesses. Recovery in the traditional sense is not an option for us and, for me at least, embracing & accepting my mental illness has been part of my recovery (in the learning-to-live-with-it sense) as I mentioned in my most recent post about my Instagram revelations.
Proud of mental illness?
She then poses the question, “should we be proud to have our mental illness be a part of our identity, or should we treat it as something that we don’t want?” and again I can see the line she is trying to tread. Personally, I wouldn’t say I’m proud to have BPD, but I am proud of how I have dealt with it, and I am proud of who I have become because of it.
Throughout the video Sarah talks about how mental illness is a “negative thing” and, while I would give back in a second the struggling that BPD has caused me, I would actually not give back everything. Not every aspect of BPD is negative for me. I am at a point now where I guess I’m not sure where I stand, because I value the positive aspects of BPD, but they are the flip side of the rough parts. I love the empathy and ability to feel so intensely that I have because I’m borderline, I think it makes me kinder than average, more driven to want to help and change things, it means I love with all I have, but I still don’t like the fact that those same traits mean I feel others’ pain in situations where it is not useful and drown in sadness when it swings by.
I cannot pick & choose the bits of BPD that I want to keep but I believe that having BPD, and learning to manage it, has made me a better person.
Later in the video she mentions members of this Tumblr community are mocking neurotypicals, this information is then followed by the question, “Is that not the goal? Is the goal not to be mentally well?”
Firstly I want to point out that, to me, those are two very different things. I’ve said before in my post about preventive medicine that well managed mental illness is not the same as not having a mental illness. I can be mentally well, able to function, live my life without being neurotypical. Just because my symptoms do not present in the same was as before, or you cannot see them, does not mean they are not still there. I still have a mental illness, I am just managing it well.
That neurotypical comment then leads into the comparison between physical health & mental health. Sarah says that if you have cancer the goal is to treat it, not to learn to live with it or accept that you’re different. What she neglects to say is that, even in the case of cancer, it can be well managed but still present, and treatment does not always make you ‘able-bodied’ again.
After this she explains that she thinks the goal should be to live “as normal a life as possible” and expresses her desire to be able to function like other people, and again I would say that that is not the same as being ‘cured’ or neurotypical.
While the video is set up to talk about the ‘anti-recovery’ community on Tumblr, there is relatively little discussion of that attitude & opinion in it, but I want to share my thoughts anyway. I’m not a huge Tumblr user, but I do use it and I do follow mental health blogs there. I am yet to find someone who is anti-recovery but I can absolutely believe that that community exists.
I am not anti-recovery, I consider myself to be in recovery now that I have modified my definition of it. I believe that recovery can mean that we learn to live with our mental illness, we manage it in a way that works for us, we understand it & make adjustments when necessary to compensate for it.
I believe you should find a treatment that suits you, if a treatment suits you. I believe you should support people to do what they need, to find what works for them. It is not for me, or you, or anyone to dictate how someone should deal with their illness. It is, in my opinion, wrong to tell someone they must take medications, just as it is wrong to tell them they should not take them. I absolutely find it difficult to see people suffering but also unable to try things, it frustrates me when people ask for help only to ignore any & all advice, but I’ve been there. I’ve been that person, unable to see any way out. I’ve heard those suggestions and just not believed that it could work for me because I’m not strong enough, or too ill, and as I wrote before, your cure is not my cure, and vice-versa.
I am in recovery but I still don’t function like a ‘normal’ person. I am still affected by my BPD daily, I still experience symptoms, I just understand & manage it better. What I am anti is the “everyone must be ‘normal'” idea. I will not be ‘normal,’ or neurotypical. Ever. Shockingly though, that is ok! I do not need to be ‘normal’ to enjoy my life, to be loved, to achieve what I want to achieve. I can do those things with my mental illness, and I fully intend to.I do not need to be 'normal' to enjoy my life, to be loved, to achieve what I want to achieve. Click To Tweet
Also published on Medium.