I have been wanting to discuss mental illness, and its complex nature, for a while now. So, I decided to give it a try. For this post, I’d like to take a look at mental illness from the perspective of a woman of color (like me).
Part of the issue that I faced early on in my illness was the lack of information. Essentially, there is no transparency when it comes to discussing these illnesses. No one talks about it at home. If anything, those who are mentally ill are presented as “scary” and “weird.”
So, I remember suppressing my depression, hiding my scars, and not sharing that I get manic episodes ever. In a way, I feel like mental illness is almost kept at arms’ length. Other people get mental illness. Not us.
Suppressing the Symptoms
I think part of the issue is that there is a lot of complications with the symptoms. You just don’t know what to look for, as a person, because there is no education in regards to these illnesses. No one at home talks about it, and no one at school talks about it. You undermine what’s going on.
Even worse is the suppressing of these symptoms. Like, I would go weeks eating normal, and then binge, then starve myself. And so on. Try as I may, I would keep trying to “grow up,” to be in control, to behave like a “normal” person. I’d be crying while manic, because I had no idea what was going on and how to stop it.
But it goes beyond this. In the middle east (In Egypt, at least), there is no school counselor. There is no doctor to refer you to a psychiatrist. You only go to a doctor when you’re sick. Even then, doctors are not trained to notice signs. Besides, patients are too scared to say anything. I never spoke about my issues to anyone while living in Egypt because I was afraid of what may be done to me. Because there is no dialogue regarding mental illness, the assumption is that the divergence in behavior simply results in exclusion.
Even if there is a psychiatrist, there is no bond of maintaining privacy. Basically, the more you talk about things with someone, the more likely you are to have a “scandal.” There is no such thing as health insurance there, so prices are way higher for psychiatrists and it is hard to maintain appointments.
To me, I felt trapped. I didn’t even know that therapy was an option until I was in grad school in California. That’s when my psychotic episodes would get me terrified to do the simplest things.
Unfortunately, because there’s very little representation (if any) in the media of brown people going to therapy, people assume that it’s a very privileged thing to do. Same thing with yoga and meditation.
Often, I get these weird reminders of my counterparts in other countries and how they suffer. The implied message being, how dare you be unhappy or uncomfortable, or downright miserable when you are lucky and privileged?
It often extends beyond this and even more into shaming, because, “you have so much help right now. Shouldn’t you get it together already?”
Five years of therapy and I still don’t know how to process this complicated nature of mental illness. But, I do think that we need to share dialogue: raw, honest, and open conversations regarding cultures other than the mainstream in relation to mental illness.
I don’t have any of the “answers.” In fact, I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer here.