People sometimes tell those with mental illness that it’s “all in their head.” Would it surprise you to learn, then, that sometimes people with mental illness think the same thing? Sometimes people with mental illness wonder if they’re making it all up. I’ve had these thoughts. I’ve wondered if I was making up my mental illness. I’ve wondered if my bipolar was all in my head. Weird, for an advocate, I know, but let’s look a little deeper at it.
Making Up a Mental Illness, Mental Illness Being All in Your Head
First off, no one wants to have a mental illness, and with very few exceptions, I highly doubt people are running around making up mental illnesses. (And if you did, that would be a mental illness in and of itself.) Let’s get that clear.
That said, when someone gets diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s pretty normal to wonder if they made it all up. Mental illness is essentially in your head (brain). Mental illness like bipolar tends to be invisible — no lesions, no broken bones, no positive blood tests — and so it has this sneaky way of convincing you it isn’t real. And, of course, there are plenty of people who will confirm that for you — they are called antipsychiatrists — and it’s at this time that people often fall victim to their false messaging.
These parasites will tell you that mental illness is “all in your head” and that it isn’t real. They might tell you that therapy will help, but never medications. Then again, depending on how ardent they are, they might tell you to stay away from psychiatry and psychology altogether. And if you’re really unlucky, they’ll tell you harrowing tales of how psychologists and psychiatrists rape their victims (yes, a real thing some of them claim).
“Thank goodness my bipolar disorder is all in my head; I’d hate to deal with all of that,” you might (quite understandably) think.
But just because people with their own delusions try to convince you that mental illness isn’t real, that doesn’t change the actual reality of mental illness being very real and often very serious indeed.
Why People Make Up a Mental Illness or Think It’s All in Their Head
I think people worry about making up a mental illness for so many reasons (antipsychiatry’s influence aside). People think mental illness is all in their head because:
- Others tell them this is the case. (Often these people are well-meaning and just haven’t trouble with acceptance themselves.)
- They want physical proof of some sort and there is none.
- They can’t identify with being a “sick person.”
- Self-stigma (The stigma against mental illness felt in society turned inward.)
- They would prefer that to be true over the reality of having an illness that can be serious and lifelong.
In other words, people really, really want to believe that they’re making up their mental illness because it’s much better than the alternative. If they’re making it up, they can just stop. No illness. Nothing. All better. If it’s real, then they have to deal with it, and that’s overwhelming, hard, and (ironically) often depressing.
For me, it was years of pain and sadness that led to me realizing I was sick. This didn’t stop the seductive bipolar disorder from trying to convince me that it didn’t exist, however. Bipolar is like that. For example, I thought, “I can’t have bipolar disorder; I go to school and have a job.” This is totally faulty thinking, of course, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time, I was looking for any tiny piece of evidence suggesting that I was normal. (Don’t bother getting into it with me that I am normal with bipolar disorder.)
Of course, the crumbs of evidence simply didn’t override the reality of my illness. However, it did take me years to accept my bipolar disorder diagnosis, and during that time, thinking it was “all in my head” happened from time to time.
If You Think You’re Making Up a Mental Illness
First of all, I’m assuming you have an actual diagnosis here. If you don’t, you should investigate getting one as soon as possible from a qualified professional like a psychiatrist.
Secondly, there are so many things you can do once you have a diagnosis to remind yourself that it isn’t all in your head:
- Remind yourself why you sought help in the first place. Mentally well people don’t seek help.
- Remind yourself of all the symptoms you experience and how they align with a diagnosis.
- Talk to your doctor about your concerns — they can address them. You aren’t the first person to have them, really.
- Ask your doctor to lay our exactly how your diagnosis was made. While the diagnosis will be made based on your experience, that is still evidence. (Remember, migraines are only diagnosed by reports of experience and they are definitiely real too.)
- Talk to a psychologist about your concerns. They can help also.
- Don’t gloss over the pain of your past. That was real. That may be the information needed to convince you just how real your mental illness is.
- Get a second opinion if you feel it’s needed.
- Join a support group. You’ll see people there who are just like you and are dealing with the same unsettling reality.
All of those things have worked for me in the past. They have helped convince my sick brain that it really is sick. It’s tricky; it really is. Mental illness is slippery. It doesn’t want to be seen. But you need to see it clearly so you can battle it. You need to believe in the monster before you can defeat it.
Remember, mental illness can take your life. Nothing is more real than that.
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