CW: I will be leaning heavily into MDD and SI as point examples. Please proceed with caution for you own well-being.
We talk of Invisible Illnesses and how they can affect people’s lives. We sometimes maybe don’t really say very clearly what is meant by that.
It’s true we talk about invisible illnesses that leave people in pain. Or similar. And of late mental health is being included into the discussion.
What does not get much mentioned, partly I think because there’s a tendency to want to believe there is a particular wellspring for this which just isn’t really necessarily there, is how mental illness can be a cause of injury, even death.
Now, it’s not common to conflate a discussion of mental illness and neurodivergencies, but in the case of chronic mental health problems … what, pray, is the difference? There isn’t. There’s even frequently overlapping root causes leading to comorbidities (I really hate that word). For example some chronic depression is tied up in dopamine, so is ADHD.
So, I have ADHD (and several attendant disorders such as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria), Dyslexia & Dyscalculia, Major Depressive Disorder, and – yes – Suicidal Ideation, and Gender Dysphoria (listed after the depression simply because that’s when I remembered it … see: ADHD).
I will use these as illustrative of my point, but similar examples could be made of, say, anxiety.
So ADHD, depending how/if you’re medicated (caffeine counts!), and what coping mechanisms you have can be pretty invisible. Too it is prone to being overlooked , how many of us 30+ year olds are victims of the long held idiocy that someone can’t be “twice exceptional” so couldn’t be a “gifted & talented” student while also possessed of ADHD, or Dyslexia?
Now, ADHD & Dyslexia aren’t generally very dangerous, are they? Well … yes, yes they can be. They can interfere with one’s housing, one’s employment, one’s income level. They affect, after all, perhaps, how we did in school and later in university. By running a higher risk of economic hardships it in turns shortens life expectancy. Too some of the coping strategies adopted aren’t healthy: cigarettes, alcohol, severe anxiety disorders (can we say “aneurysm”?).
But it’s more than that. They can directly harm.
Dyslexia? How about misreading of labels creating a harmful situation? Seems far fetched? Sweetheart, I don’t even have very bad dyslexia but I can’t always tell the words Haydenville & Holyoke apart. Maybe you’ve noticed they’re not even the same length? And dyslexia does impact more than literacy. Trust me, a meds or cleaning products disaster isn’t impossible.
ADHD? Well, true story, my wife took a pan out of a 425°F/218°C oven. They set it down, took off the oven mitt, then proceeded to touch the hot pan! Why? “Because it didn’t look hot”.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Thing is, this kind of absent-minded injury is common. Ot because we’re “careless”, but because our brains just don’t really internalise certain pieces of data correctly. He’s okay, it wasn’t a very bad burn, but it could have been. And sometimes, people do get seriously injured by the ADHD glitches.
But how about Depression?
Depression is less noticeable than ADHD. We can mask it from ourselves, never you mind the rest of the world. We tell ourselves stories. What’s worse is that the depression tells us stories, too; and they’re not nice stories.
Have you ever listened to the song by girl in red, Serotonin? Here, just for clarity:
Now, yes, it’s about Ideation, not Depression, per se. Humour me.
Now, thing to understand is that, as I said, depression tells stories. Sometimes these stories are what’s known as Intrusive Thoughts, which are kind of a Suicidal Ideation manifestation … look the psychiatry of it is beyond the scope of my freaking blog, just trust me it’s rare to have any one of the three without the other two unless it’s a side-effect of like a medication.
Anyone want to take a guess how many times before I was 18 years old I’d attempted? No, me neither. Have I attempted since 18? Couple times? Maybe? I’m not sure anymore.
So first off, I could have died of undiagnosed, untreated depression (and exacerbated by gender dysphoria, but while they feed one another they are, in fact, quite distinct & separate).
But, Jaye, aren’t you medicated?
Yes, very good, either we’re great friends or you stalk me, either way, you’ve won the Daily Double, isn’t that swell?
I am, indeed, medicated for depression. Effective medication. I am generally in far better moods than I’ve possibly ever been in in my whole life. There’s a line in the song:
There’s no death to these feelings
Even medicated it’s there. It can maybe be held st arm’s length, locked away even. But it is there. The thing is … medication, it’s a treatment, not a cure. And a significant enough edit of one’s brain to constitute a cure? Would that even be ethical? That’s some scary level tampering, for real. But more the point, it sort of becomes a waiting game. Do you run out of time, or do you blink at the wrong moment & the depression gremlins pounce?
Myself, for example, as it’s the only mind I’m sufficiently privy to, pre-meds I had no significant future plans, a large part of me didn’t actually believe I’d live as long as I have, never mind overlong past now. Medicated, in therapy … there’s a future. For the first time I look forward in time and see realistic things. I see watching my niblings grow old and possibly to have families. To adopt children of my own and for them to grow and have families.
It’s terrifying. I know a lot of people fear the future, but imagine going your whole life, 4 decades of one in my case, not able to really comprehend The Future™️! It’s alien, wholly. But here’s an odd detail: genetically speaking, I have to potential to reach and even exceed my 90s. Barring catastrophic health complications prior or violent/illness induced fatality. But … thing is, I have – from a certain point of view – a terminal illness. I cannot know with certainty that my main spring will wind down before I succumb to my depression.
Oh, no, I can’t see it being soon. And maybe it’s just residual Intent. A linger sense of I Will as opposed to the mitigated sense of I Could. It really might not happen, this is absolutely true. Hence I’m honestly not scared of it, or upset. I’m perfectly calm, looking at this whole business from a sort of clinical detachment; I’m fascinated & curious more than anything. What could be the final trigger, will there ever be one, what might I decide to do if it happens? It’s a morbid pastime, I do prefer video games or a nice book.
But it’s invisible. You could ask a certain nibling of mine, they too have very bad MDD + SI so they have insight. They read me easily, we’re using the same language, the same basecode. Could my wife? They who live with me? Apparently not, certain facts were rather a shock to them. And I try mot to upset their General Anxiety Disorder by being unnecessarily forthcoming about the inner workings of the darker corners of my brain.
So, back to the point at hand invisible or overlookable illnesses, chronically “disordered” brains, they are health hazards. They affect our physical well-being.
Other fun effects are distorted appetite, inability to keep down food, blood pressure, heart stress, let’s not even discuss the long term impacts of medication. Humans, too, are social animals. We need community. But we can find it difficult to form bonds and connections with those around us, including with our families of birth (assuming such family is sufficiently worthy of the word and anyone we’d want a connection with). By the time we find community among our own kind (thanks internet) often we are jaded, we have negative and harmful coping mechanisms that prevent us from readily accepting this newfound family.
It is very true, the notion that we really need to shift our thinking and understand that every part of the whole affects the rest. Just as better access to dental care in the US would improve the overall health of many, so too would both better access to and more acceptance of our brains’ troubles. That depression, anxiety, and such can be as disabling as a physical ailment and permanently or temporarily leave one unable to cope in a capitalist ideological workforce. Not to say we’re useless, but that we are better suited to art, handcrafting, coding, data entry … things we maybe can do away from our coworkers or utterly divorced from the concept of coworkers and supervisors. In that supportive, affirmative, accommodated environment we could ostensibly thrive; instead, all too often, we drudge away at jobs and careers we honestly haven’t the spoons for and the grindstone becomes a sinisterly apt metaphor.
More the point, remember to be kind, always. They say you don’t know the battles someone is facing. And, yeah, sure, some people are assholes … maybe assholes because they need help? Sure. But, I mean, there’s folks who think Nazis & Stalin “weren’t so bad” and I mean that’s like the person who starts calling everyone slurs when drunk: the drink maybe helped you express it, but it didn’t put it there, that was all you, honey. But, like, if a coworker says “oops, sorry, dyslexic moment,” when you point out a mistake is maybe not a time to reply with “you need to pay more attention.”
Sweetheart, USD$20 says I was paying 10x more attention than you ever have in your life. Maybe instead think of things that are helpful. Maybe there aren’t any and you accept that sometimes mistakes will be made and you say simply sincere and supportive. But … maybe it’s a form and a conversation could be had about font choices and sizes, alternative wordings that avoid easily confused letter combinations.
I could go on. I could even fall down a tangential rabbit hole that makes Alice’s look like a divot. I’m, honestly, not entirely certain I haven’t. But anyone here for coherent points clearly has never been here before (spoiler alert, I’m bollox at them).