As Halloween approaches, monsters, cobwebs, and black crepe streamers line our streets and stores. We stock up on horror films and scary stories, and ready ourselves for a night of fun and fright. It is my favorite holiday–the single one that still leaves me with a glimmer of excitement, even though as a low-income mother I don’t have the means to wear an extravagant costume or celebrate among adults. Even if I can’t go to a dance party or flamboyant costume party, I still get to dress weirdly without being judged for it, and watch all the kiddos run around in their silly costumes while traipsing my kids from creepy house to creepy house.
Among the fun and excitement of Halloween, however, I can’t help but think about the real monsters that walk among us all throughout the year. Monsters who, by their very existence, make this world a sadder and more fearsome place. These monsters come in all types and shapes. Some of them are sociopaths, like my ex, who care only about themselves. Some of them are narcissists, like Donald Trump–even my daughters call him “bad scary monster”–who are so infatuated with themselves they can’t see past the length of their own shadow. Monsters can be bullies, or rapists. They can be wanton cheaters or jealous manipulators. Or, they can be a “mental illness monster,” and walk alongside us within our community.
I was a mental illness monster for years. I still have some lingering attitudes and habits. When someone hurts me, I became enraged. I don’t take kindly to being abused (who does?) and I lash out. I am working on these things, if slowly. For that reason, I don’t consider myself a “mental illness monster” anymore. Because I am working toward change–but there are those among us who refuse to even try to change. And that is what makes a monster.
Mental illness monsters are more common than you may think. I believe that most of us with mental illnesses play the monster role at some point in our lives. I know for a fact that I have. So let’s take a look and examine, what exactly is a mental illness monster?
What Is A Mental Illness Monster?
For those of us with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or another heavily stigmatized mental illness, behaving well can be hard. I get it: it is beyond difficult to believe that we deserve to be heard without over-qualifying our experience with a sob story. We share our woe across every medium and every opportunity we get. I don’t mean reaching out for help, which is important, or sharing a painful story or experience that may help others. I mean constantly bemoaning existence, or writing a book that blames everyone in the author’s life her for problems. I mean flooding social media with depressive vagueposts day in and day out but never trying to help yourself–something I was once very guilty of. I mean sabotaging the pursuits of others for your own gain. I mean making enemies of other members of the same community just because, or picking fights with people who are also hurting in order to cure your want for attention.
A mental illness monster is someone who wallows in self pity. She spews excuse after excuse, but does not accept even a smidgen of personal responsibility. As I mentioned, I served my time as a mental illness monster, so I understand the place of abysmal pain that drives someone to behave this way. Mental illness monsters sabotage every relationship in their life. They complain about the lack of accolades received for their work without actually trying to better themselves. It’s clear that they don’t really want to get better, because negativity has become so comfortable for them. It’s an excruciating place to be. That doesn’t make it okay–but it does give us a possible new platform to understand and relate to a mental illness monster.
How To Advocate For Mental Illness While Monsters Walk Among Us
It can be difficult to advocate for mental illness when some of our peers seem hell bent on giving our community the worst possible name. Ever since I began this blog, I have encountered mental illness monsters; I even had a squabble with a somewhat prominent one last week. She in particular stunned me with her lack of professional courtesy and self-involved disregard for the pursuits of others, but my point isn’t to go on a personal diatribe. Instead, I want to explain how and why I still advocate even with mental illness monsters among us–and why you should too.
Mental illness monsters–so called because they behave in ways that are monstrously self-involved and clueless to the needs of others–are people in immense pain. They are usually the ones who have been abandoned by their friends and family. Perhaps their struggles with mental illness were exceptionally acute, or their support system exceptionally flawed. Maybe their family was the cause of their trauma. Maybe their pain was just so raw no one wanted to touch it. Or maybe they received support but their pain was too immense that they could not accept it. For whatever reason, they did not feel the love and compassion required to heal from trauma, addiction, or mental illness.
We create mental illness monsters by ignoring them as much as they create themselves by not seeking help. So, when I come across one who attacks my efforts to reach out to parents for my feature interview as “self-promotion,” I move on. When I encounter one who responds to me setting a professional boundary by canceling my guest spot on her podcast, I keep fighting. Every time a mental illness monster crosses my path, I am strengthened in my resolve to continue combating mental illness stigma. I know that stigma and a poor mental healthcare system created these people, which means I understand that continuing to fight is the only way to defeat their inner monsters.
What To Do If You Encounter A Mental Illness Monster
I don’t believe in “detoxing” people. I think that ending a friendship or cutting off a loved one when she needs you most is cruel beyond belief. At the same time, I recognize that we have different social roles. It’s not your responsibility to take on your acquaintance’s break-down, nor should you feel compelled to continue a professional relationship with someone who has intentionally done harm to your career. It is the responsibility of our close friends and family to help lift us when we fall, but that same responsibility does not exist for people we barely know. So when it comes to detoxing an acquaintance who has proven to be a mental illness monster, you have my blessing. I hope that you’ll be able to do it with grace, even if they’ve hurt you (something I still struggle with).
If someone close to you has become a mental illness monster, your responsibility is greater. How would you feel if your closest friends abandoned you when you needed them most? If that’s how all friends and families functioned, then no one could trust anyone at all. We have to be able to know that there are some people who will stick by us even when we act terribly, or else there is truly no hope.
Sticking by someone, however, does not mean agreeing with her. If your friend or lover is behaving like a mental illness monster, don’t pat her on the back when she severs yet another friendship or professional relationship. When she overreacts, don’t tell her she’s in the right. That is enabling behavior. Unfortunately, in my observations, mental illness monsters tend to be abandoned by all but one or two close friends or lovers, and those people usually enable the hell out of them. Hence why so many mental illness monsters never change. They have no motivation if no one ever gives it to them.
We Are All Capable Of Becoming Monsters
If there is one thing I have learned, it is that we are all capable of becoming the monsters we most fear. Any of us with a mental health condition can become a mental illness monster under the right circumstances. Many of us go through a self-pitying phase, or have flashes of monster-like behavior. I think we all owe ourselves understanding and compassion when those things happen. We owe it to each other too. Even if you feel the need to cut someone out because her behavior has affected you more than your relationship merits, try to remember she likely has a legacy of pain in her background. Don’t take her behavior personally. And most of all, don’t let her turn you into a mental illness monster too.
If you recognize your behaviors here, it’s okay. I had to go through a stage of admitting I was behaving like a monster too. It hurts, but it hurts less than being rejected by everyone you know and care about. Changing your ways is a slow journey–one I’m still taking, too. Begin by identifying whether you’re sharing a negative feeling or experience because a: you are acutely in need of help, b: you’re trying to help someone, or c: you’re trying to manipulate others into feeling sorry for you. If it’s a or b, go ahead and share. If it’s c, don’t.
Healing from being a monster requires a good dose of honesty. It won’t happen easily, but it will be worth it if you give it a try.