Last night I watched an episode of the television show, Drop Dead Diva, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it addressed bipolar disorder without stigmatizing it. Score! In it, the main character's mom is in denial about her mental illness for fifteen years and she does not receive help until she goes to jail. I wish that this was another case of TV sensationalism, but it is not. Our jails are where much of the care for mentally ill folk take place and that is not right. It is also not right that it often does take many years for a person to accept having a mental illness. Why? Because becoming diagnosed with a mental illness is a traumatic experience-a fact that NAMI recognizes.
Unfortunately, when people are diagnosed, they are often also stigmatized. They do not receive the message that they can still lead a productive life, but that their life is ruined and they should not talk about what they are going through with most people. They do not want to be known as the "crazy" person, so often people live in denial for years. I, myself, took years to fully accept my illness. And like the mother in the TV show, I have also really struggled with taking my medicine. Our society is one that emphasizes pulling ourselves "up by our bootstraps" and to take medicine for many seems to imply that there is something extremely wrong with them-that they are out of control. Acceptance was for me a very long process and I went through many periods where I would go off of my medication. The last time I went off of my medication, I was so proud of myself-I thought I had my life under control. I was proud that I was not in the hospital without my medication, but some friends helped me realize that there is more to life than just being off my medication. There is happiness, joy, peace, and love and to be able to feel and be these things I have to take my medicine. Like the mother in the show, I finally had to surrender to doing all that is required in order to live life fully.
BUT, womyn cannot live on medication alone! I was left after the show feeling like there was too much emphasis on medication. Unfortunately, I suppose, there is no medical cure for mental illness. Some people do not even respond well to any medication at all. Recovery takes hard work. It takes a wide support network of people to lean on, and many types of coping skills. It takes insight and the ability to learn about our feelings. Most people do not take a pill and magically are cured. It was nice to see in Drop Dead Diva that the mother had a supportive family. I cannot stress how important that is. There was a part in the show, when the husband said to his wife (the mother), "I'll come back if you're willing to get back on your medicine" and I thought to myself, "Oh, it's not that easy..." It is not that easy, but many times that's the place where you have got to start. Medicine is often like the kickstart that helps clear the mind, so that one can more fully embrace the other coping skills one needs to recover.
I must say, it was also great watching a show where the main female is not stick-thin. When we watch show after show only containing extremely thin womyn, then we begin to normalize extremely thin bodies and pathologize fat ones. We start to hate our own bodies for not looking like the ones on television and we start to believe the lie that all fat people are dirty, lazy, and smelly. We need positive role models and characters in all sizes. We need to surround ourselves with all kinds of bodies. We need positive images of bodies that remind us of us. Thank you, Drop Dead Diva!