Okay, I’m a little late getting saddled up this morning, but this is the pet peeve that’s stuck in my head and needs to find its way out today.
Just because you have a mental illness, you don’t get a free pass when you make bad choices and get yourself into trouble. (Yes, of course there’s a story or two or three or five that have spurred this thought in my brain today, but you know I can’t share those with you, so don’t ask, okay? Thanks) You don’t get a Get Out of Jail Free card.
I’m sorry if this is news to you.
Get over it.
This is how it goes down, among other ways. These are just the ones I can remember on 1 1/2 cups of coffee.
Mom brings little Johnny in. Little Johnny has been dancing on desktops and throwing books at his teachers and giving other little Johnnies and Jillies wedgies on the playground. He is a hellion. He can turn this behavior on and off at will. He is not psychotic. He does not have a brain tumor. He is, at seven years old, not under the influence of alcohol or street drugs. (Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that even at six years old. Another story for another day) He sits in my office as mother goes on and on and on about her frustrations, smiling a little sly smile as he listens to her and shoots me that see, what would you have me do? look that kids can shoot you.
Mom wants me to declare him terminally attention-deficit-ed, conduct disordered, defiant, learning disordered. Impaired. Damaged. Unable to conform to playground or classroom rules, much less the extreme sport of being a productive and cooperative family member in a loving home. She wants a pass. So, at the tender young age of seven, does the kid. He may have a conduct problem, but he is certainly not stupid.
The other one that sticks in my craw (I don’t actually have a craw, which is the crop of a bird or an insect, but I have always really loved the graphics that term conjures up in one’s mind) is the thirty-something lady who comes crying into clinic and demands that I release her from the clutches of a policing and legal system that found her shoplifting at Walmart or some such. Why? Because she is bipolar, by God, and bipolar people are not responsible for their actions. Especially when it involves pilfering nail polish, packages of glitter, and small cartons of half and half. Really?
(Wait. Brb. Checking DSM V.)
I can’t find it anywhere. I don’t see it. I don’t see the out that you earn by wearing the Red Badge of Moodage. The invisibility cloak imparted by your mental illness that allows you to run red lights, drink and drive, and steal at will until caught, immediately followed by an outraged cry that you are Sick, sick, sick I tell you all!, sick to the point of not knowing what you are doing.
I am not responsible for my actions! I cannot be trusted to make decisions. I cannot be faulted for lying, cheating, stealing, pilfering, pandering, and jaywalking. You cannot touch me, because I am ill!
So sorry, but come on, people, there is no other word that gets the point across better, is there?
As you start your day, remember these things.
People with mental illness, legitimate mental illness, deserve the very best evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.
People with mental illness sometimes do things that are outside of the expected social dance. They can be forgiven for these faux pas, if they are actively engaged in trying to get treatment for their symptoms and make their way through life the best way they can given their skill set, talents, and limitations.
People with mental illness who break social rules, commit crimes, abuse others, steal things, disregard the normal boundaries and dignity of others, and trample the system do NOT get a free pass just because they have an Adjustment Disorder or PTSD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Last time I checked, most of my patients with schizophrenia had never heard voices that told them to hot wire a candy apple red Mustang, steal it, and drive it at a high rate of speed across state lines and show it off to their friends (true story). Come to think of it, none of my patients with schizophrenia. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Come up with a better story for me, Skippy. Try again.
Mental illness is bad.
It is sickness, just like diabetes and migraine and hypertension.
It impairs ability to live a normal, happy life.
It does NOT act as a universal excuse for bad behavior.
As we say in the South, that dog just won’t hunt.