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Rules for Making Fun of Mental Illness

Wait I know what you’re thinking. You can’t make fun of mental illness. You’re right. YOU can’t. Unless you’ve been there. Stay with me.

By far, the most effective, accessible and economical health tool is our funny bone.

I’m not a big fan of country music. Though I have been known belt out a bad rendition of Dolly’s iconic ‘Jolene’ in the kitchen. That being said, I love Country Queen Reba McEntire’s quote: To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.

I couldn’t agree more. There are times when having a mental illness just begs for some levity. Recovering from any chronic illness, maintaining mental health, heck, just plain o’ living requires some kind of sense of humour.

Finding ‘the funny’ helps me put things in perspective. Humour helps me heal from the missteps that inevitably occur when I’ve been manic or euphorically psychotic.

  1. Only if You’ve Been There, Done That

If you’ve been there, done that – you can joke about it. If you haven’t you can’t. It’s that simple. Those of us who have tread this journey have the right to make (or NOT make for that matter) jokes about it. No one else does.

If you’re Scottish (which I am – in part), Jewish or from Wisconsin (or which I’m neither) – you’re free to make jokes about your experiences and your clan. Other wise be kind. Laughing at someone else’s expense doesn’t make you funny, it makes you an a**hole.

  1. Laugh with Us Not At Us

True, I don’t want you to make fun of me about being crazy. But I do want you to laugh with me when I make jokes. I know it’s counter-intuitive.

The humour I employ is meant to get you laughing. It’s meant to help loosen you up, so you feel more comfortable talking about mental illness. The humour I use is to help highlight the erroneous stereotypes and dispel the myths of mental illness. It’s meant to provoke reflection and spark discussion.

  1. Timing is Everything

They say timing is everything in comedy. It is. Using humour in the healing process, timing is everything too.

Laughing prematurely when I’ve yet to process a painful event, isn’t helpful. Cracking a joke before enough time has passed can make me feel worse.

There are very real losses, and often tragic experiences that comes along with living with a psychiatric disability or loving someone with one. Humour isn’t meant to minimize this. But humor, appropriately timed, well placed can go a long way to help heal.

Go by the old adage: “Comedy is tragedy plus time” (a quote attributed to Mark Twain, Carol Burnett, Steve Allen among others).

Allow yourself some time before finding the humour in your depression or psych ward stay. But be sure to find it. Or at least look for it.

To laugh WITH me, check out my video about all the crazy labels we get called.

Where to Turn When Mental Illness Enters Your Life

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I get heartbreaking messages every week. Parents email me because they desperately want to help their adult child who has a mental illness, but refuses help. A teacher who’s struggling with bipolar disorder but doesn’t know where to turn. A manager sees one of his employees grappling with anxiety and depression and wants to know how to best handle the situation.

This is all excellent. I don’t mean it’s good people are suffering. But it’s good people are reaching out for help more. The shame and stigma of mental illness is still present to be sure, but it is diminishing, if only because the pain people are no longer willing to endure.

I’m not a therapist or doctor, but I am an expert by experience. Over the course of the past 20 odd years (and trust me, some years were really odd), I’ve learned to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and recovered from disordered eating.

There are thousands of mental health websites and resources available. The ones I’ve put in this downloadable mental health resource and tips e-guide are the ones I trust most. They have been a crucial part of my wellness journey. It’s important to me that you have the same tools to lean on and have some next steps to follow to help you on YOUR way. You will also find it available on my resource page.

Some are region specific, many are not. Not all will be applicable to your particular situation, but many will be. Some are for loved ones searching for effective ways to support their family members. Others are for individuals living with a mental health issue who want to find guidance to build a better life. I encourage you to explore and then reach out to the organizations or people listed below that fit your needs.

In addition, you may want to read my post Psychology Today post “How to Find Help When the Person You Love has Mental Illness” to learn concrete strategies to navigate the confusing mental health system.

Things may feel heartbreaking, but it’s never hopeless. I know. I’ve been there.

18 Quotes to Get You Through Instead of Going Under

I am not so naïve as to believe a Pollyanna quote can perk me up when the dogs of depression are hounding me or the tremors of anxiety are shaking my foundation. What I do know is the act of reading a quote says even though I feel like crap I have a morsel of faith I might feel less crappy in the future.

And that says a lot. Taking any action when in the midst of a crisis, minor or major, is enormously significant. Reading a quote in a book, glancing at one on twitter or googling for inspiration on-line may be a small step, but it IS a step and one towards health.

As recently as a couple weeks ago, I sat with mild depression. An oxymoron at best; depression no matter how mild, feels really bad and extremely scary when you know what it can become. So before my head hit the pillow, I grabbed one of my favourite writers, flipped to ear marked pages and scoured for the underlined and the highlighted. I swallowed Pema Chodron’s (an American Buddhist nun) words whole: “we consciously train in gentleness…developing a nonjudgmental attitude. One of loving-kindness…an unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in our mind.” Difficult to imagine as I sat twisting uncomfortably in my heaviness. Friendliness is not the first quality that comes to mind when I feel depressed. But even so as I read the words, I felt ever so slightly less dead, slightly less alone. Still afraid, still rather lost and sad, but somehow more relaxed in my awkwardness of blue.

Quotes are odd things. What resonates with one person may not with another. But regardless, they can make us feel less alone. For me it’s because I see that somehow, somewhere, at some time, someone else felt similarly to me and got through it. It gives me permission to feel overwhelmed, but encourages me to go on. So I do. A quote may not save a life, but it can make suffering momentarily easier.

I also have to be careful though, because sometimes my self-talk is so malicious it turns these effervescent quotes into wet leaves with which I flog myself.  ‘Oh yeah, Victoria – you think you’ve got it so bad – what about that Viktor Frankl guy who lived through a concentration camp. Don’t be such a wimp. What are you complaining about, huh?’

I need to be cautious and kind when I read quotes, reminding myself that my suffering is as valid and that to deny how much I am hurting only perpetuates the self-violence I am wanting to move through. It is through the acceptance of my pain and the willingness to see how we all suffer (but for different reasons) is what brings me closer to feeling more at peace.

So it is with this hope I offer some of my other favourite ‘strings of life’ from some of my favorite players (and even one from yours truly). These are from those who managed to escape graggy rock faces and re-entered fields of, not happiness, but ‘human-ness’. When that frightening feeling of depression descends, I don’t want to feel happy, I want to feel myself. I want to feel part of humanity again. These warm words seem to point me to the place of hope (and at times, humor) and hold me there even if only a second.

1. Even from a dark night, songs of beauty can be born. – Mary Anne Radmacher

2. Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground. – Anonymous

3. Once we make our decision, all things will come to us. Auspicious signs are not a superstition, but a confirmation. They are a response.  – Deng Ming-Dao

4. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

5. We are not to blame for our illness, but we are responsible for our health.- Victoria Maxwell, BPP (Bipolar Princess)

6. Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’ – The Talmud

7. Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.  – Viktor E. Frankl

8. My only advice: stay aware, listen carefully, and yell for help if you need it. -Judy Blume

9. The Truth shall set you free…but first it’ll piss you off. – Gloria Steinem

10. Even if you’re on the right track…if you just sit there, you’ll still get hit. – Will Rogers

11. Action is the antidote to despair. – Joan Baez

12. Try to love and live the question itself. Don’t search for the answer. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. – Rainer Maria Rilke

13. When you follow your bliss… doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else. – Joseph Campbell

14. Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.      – Kahlil Gibran

15. I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes, several attack me all at once. -Ashleigh Brilliant

16. Life is the art of living with uncertainty, without being paralyzed by fear. – Dr. W. Dillon

17. Oh great, here comes AFPGO: Another Freaking (or f#!king) Personal Growth Opportunity. – Unknown

18. Never underestimate a person’s potential for recovery – Victoria Maxwell, BPP

What are quotes that help you get through when you feel like you’re going under? Email me or leave a comment here or on Facebook. I can always use more. Like great (well-fitting, comfortable and snappy) shoes, you can never have enough great quotes!

Families Falling Apart: When Adult Children With Mental Illness Don’t Want Help

How do you help your child without hurting yourself?

One of the most painful experiences can be watching your adult child reject the help you know they need. What can you do when your son or daughter refuses to accept they have a mental illness or need medication? I asked my dad about it because I was one of those adult children.

It was a spring afternoon and my dad and I were listening to one of his favourite classical CDs. I asked him what advice he would give to other parents of adult children who have mental illness. He prefaced his thoughts with this: it probably isn’t what parents want to hear, but it’s what we went through and what helped.

1. It’s going to be a long difficult journey, so hang on. If you’re prepared for an arduous lengthy process it helps to manage unrealistic expectations. Paradoxically it will be a little easier to endure the trek. Don’t be discouraged. Just because it’s taking a long time, doesn’t mean recovery won’t happen.

2. Stay in contact with your adult child no matter what, even if they don’t want to be in contact with you. My parents tried to stay in contact with me by phone. When I wouldn’t return their calls (which was usually the case), they would drive by my house to see if a light was on. When they didn’t know where I was living (because couch surfing was common for me), they attempted to keep in touch through my friends. This might seem extreme, even invasive. But my behavior had been so erratic and perilous it was crucial to have some communication, to have some way to intervene if a crisis occurred.

Reflections on what my father said and what my parents did:

3. The more my parents offered help, the more I pushed them away. But having them stay in touch with me, no matter how intrusive it felt, kept me safe (or as safe as possible at the time). Even when our encounters were filled with yelling, swearing, the slamming of car doors, it didn’t matter. What was pivotal was that they had contact with me.

4. Although I fought the support my parents extended to me for over 5 years, their unconditional love always reached me, even when we were arguing. When the time came and I finally realized I needed help, the unwavering acceptance they had shown allowed me to reach out to them for that help. I knew they were my safe place to fall even though I had pushed and pushed and pushed them away so many times.

5. My parents were clear: they were open and accepting of my diagnosis. They didn’t have any judgement about mental illness. So if I chose to reach out for help, they would be there with open arms. This approach provided fertile ground for my own acceptance.

The timetable for recovery is different for everyone. And the definition of recovery needs to be flexible and fluid. If you, as a parent, are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and frightened, this is natural. This IS an overwhelming, scary and tiring experience.

Get support from other family members going through the same ordeal. Contact your local mental health group* for family support groups. Knowing that you are not alone in this journey can be life saving. And you may find you are more on track that you realize.

What are suggestions you would tell to families trying to support a loved one with a mental illness?

© Victoria Maxwell