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The Ugly Side Of Mental Illness

Graphic of woman with head in her hands and chaotic thoughts
Woman stands in forest smiling
Supplied photo.

By Stephanie Swensrude
Assistant Entertainment Editor

My mental illness is ugly. It’s sinister.

It’s treating the people I love poorly because they can’t abandon me if I leave them first.

It’s lying and fabricating and embellishing for attention.

It’s the inability to handle basic tasks like laundry and bathing and booking doctor’s appointments.

Please don’t think I’m saying, “oh, I’m a victim, I do all these horrible things and I shouldn’t be held accountable for them!” That’s not at all what this is about.

I am trying to show that there is more to mental illness than a waifish beautiful anorexic girl crying while stepping on the scale, than a noble struggling police officer with PTSD, than Hannah Baker, a beautiful white girl, slitting her wrists to prove a point to bullies.

Mental illness is ugly.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder six months ago. In online circles, we laugh about how it’s one of the ugliest and least sympathetic mental illnesses. If you’ve never heard of it, the way I explain it to people is: “I’m basically just really crazy.”

The main symptoms of BPD that I experience totally gives someone the right to hate me. I am literally more moody than a person with bipolar disorder. (No seriously, my therapist told me that my mood changes too fast to be bipolar. Oof.)

Individuals with BPD struggle with black and white thinking. “Splitting” is when you have a “favourite person” who you obsess over and generally revere. However, one hint of negative attention from this person will cause me to flip out, and I end up hating that person. One positive action from the person will change everything and it’s back to obsession and love again.

A hideous part of my mental illness is my impulsiveness. I’ve quit jobs after the tiniest rude comment, broke up relationships on a whim and spent hundreds of dollars that I didn’t have on clothes and makeup. I’ve had unsafe sex and done drugs and drank to excess.

I have scars all over my body from self-harm. You don’t get much uglier than that.

There is starting to be less stigma towards those who struggle with “pretty” and “noble” mental illnesses. PTSD, depression, eating disorders – they suffer quietly and tend to mostly harm themselves.

I hurt people with my actions. I am loud, bitter, angry, sarcastic. My impulsive actions hurt other people. I have gross scars. But we don’t talk about how people with ugly mental illness also need sympathy and help.

Lots of people are quick to say, “Reach out! If you need someone to talk to, I’m always here.”

Well, what about when someone with BPD has a rough day so they break up with their partner, drink 15 beers, have unsafe sex, and then mutilate their body?
Would you have sympathy for someone who did that?

People will tweet #BellLetsTalk, then turn around and gawk at a person talking to themself on the train. If you are going to advocate for ending the stigma around mental health, you need to extend this to people who are scary and unhinged and inconvenient.

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