The Trouble with Mental Health Memes

Shadow WomanI recently wrote a post for the blog By Lauren Hayley about how well-meaning friends and family can say things which can be hurtful towards us. This blog post explained how we can see these people as the enemy or lacking understanding of what we are going through, when in most cases they genuinely think they are being helpful.

I see a lot of the mental health memes that go around this way. They have been created by well-meaning people or organisations. But so much of what is on them is down to personal objectivity.

If I’m honest I find a lot of it positive mumbo jumbo, and whilst I will share the occasional one on social media it is only when it is something that truly resonates with me, or I just find plain funny!

You only have to do an image search on Google or Pinterest to find thousands of these memes saying everything from famous persons quotes to really quite horrendous stigmatising things.

Some of them are middle of the ground and while some will find positivity and encouragement from them others will find disillusionment and offence from the same post.

This is a discussion I have recently been involved in when someone on my Twitter feed posted a meme about recovery being a choice (the image has now been removed so I can’t repost here).

There were a number of people who felt this was a positive thing, empowering people to take control of their illness. I respect this opinion but disagree, as did a few others.

On the other side of the debate were those who felt that it was saying if you don’t get well/recover its your fault. Now this ended with one person who is having a particularly rough time right now blocking the person who posted the image, and the image being removed. Then varound people talking about tolerance/intolerance and the rights and wrongs of blocking.

Now, I’m very free with the block button, I will protect my health and as nice as someone may be, if for any reason they post/say things that hamper my health or trigger me, I will block them. I think that may be what happened here.

I can only tell the “recovery” story from my side as it’s all I know but this is why I didn’t like that meme.

I have been under mental health services for almost 30 years now. That’s three decades of fighting the beaurocracy, fighting for treatment, medications, trying to get help when I relapse, and being made to feel like a failure when I do relapse.

I spent years trying for a “normal” life, thinking that I had to be like everyone else. That recovery was not being ill. It was not needing medication, not needing to see my GP every week, having to phone for help constantly, not self harming.

But, in the past few years I have learned to accept I have Bipolar. I have a mental illness which is never going away. Recovery isn’t an option for me, but I may be able to get to a form of OK, a place where I am coping OK, where I am taking my meds, where I don’t need so much support, where I can work again (maybe even restart my business).

Set backs are a reality and striving for recovery makes these feel like failure, it makes having to pick up the phone as I did a few days ago to say I’ve been having hallucinations again feel like I’ve failed, that everything I do everyday to combat this illness isn’t enough and never will be.

So I don’t strive for recovery, or think about recovery, and if I am overwhelmed by my illness and can’t look after myself then that is how I am until I get enough strength to start fighting again.

Recovery is achievable and possible for some people, some mental illnesses aren’t for life, I’ve seen people so depressed they are suicidal, come out the other side and never become depressed again after a lot of hard work. But this isn’t the case for everyone, some of us need to learn to live with the fight and striving for snippets of OK.

Ultimately, I find so many of these memes frustrate me or trigger some part of my psyche which is trying to protect me from harm. I often get angry and defensive and a few times have muted and/or blocked people/accounts who consistently post them because of how I react.

I do believe many of them come from a good intention, but there are often several sides to every story and as with all things people can still be affected by wee meaning words.

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