I am nervous of writing this post because I never experienced it first hand and afraid that I’ll end up offending someone out there. I try being as sensitive and objective as possible but if any of you find anything I say offensive or condescending in any way, I am so sorry and please let me know where I do wrong 🙂
A few years ago, I would’ve felt uncomfortable reading books about mental illness. I used to feel… uneasy. I couldn’t pin point my exact reasons, but one of them was probably because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. I never experienced it first hand. No, not even second or third hand or anything. I didn’t know anyone with mental illness in real life.
The closest to it was probably this homeless person who used to walk around in his underwear around my grandma’s neighborhood. People in the neighborhood called him crazy. Words on the street said that his wife left him for other guy and he’s been ‘crazy’ ever since. For a long time, that’s the only thing I knew about mental illness, that people with mental illness were crazy and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them. But it was over 10 years ago and throughout these years I’ve learned a lot of important lessons that have changed my perspective about that person and people with MI in general.
After high school, I planned to study journalism because I love writing and wanted to make a career out of it. My guidance counselor didn’t approve of my choice because she said it’d be harder for a science student to get accepted into social program. Call it fate or destiny or anything you want, but I ended up studying psychology 😂 At first I resented it so much, but then I started falling in love with the subjects and it ended up being one of the best decision I’ve ever made in my life ♥
I learned A LOT as a psychology student. I’m not gonna go into details because it would be a hell of a long post if I started explaining 4-years worth of study, but I’m gonna tell you this. I learned so hard to disarm my prejudice towards mental illness. I knew at some points, I’m gonna have to deal with it and I didn’t want my judgement to be clouded by some misguided stereotypes. So I learned everything on the books. The symptoms, the cases, the treatments, we even watched some movies about it and I think I still memorized most of them.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably remember that a few months ago I wrote a discussion about mental health issue in young adult fiction and I’ve been making conscious effort to read books with mental illness ever since. Funny thing is, I learned more about mental illness through fiction books than I ever could from my psychology textbooks 😂 I mean, not the symptoms or anything, but mental illness in real life.
Let’s get to it!
Mental Health is A Continuum
The first lesson I learned on my abnormal psychology class was that there are gray areas in the determination of mental health problems. There’s no clear line between normal and abnormal and all psychological problems fall along a continuum. But somewhere along the way, I seemed to forget this first and most important lesson. I began looking at mental illness as a series of symptoms. I’m not sure why but all I remember was extreme cases. I learned about people with extreme case of mental disorder who couldn’t function properly and need assistance and I forgot that there is a continuum.
Books with mental illness remind me of this. They remind me that it’s not all black and white and mental illness is all around us. It’s not that rare and extreme. I mean, yes, there are a lot of extreme cases, but most people with mental illness aren’t as far from ‘normal’ as I used to think… whatever does normal mean. They’re probably slightly different, but different doesn’t always mean a bad thing.
Looking Beyond the Symptoms
When I was in school, we looked at people with mental illness by looking at their symptoms and comparing them to the symptoms listed by the DSM. I didn’t realize how confining it was until I started reading books dealing with mental illness. When I read books from their perspectives, I am in their head. I see the world from their point of view and I learned to understand that a person shouldn’t be defined only by his/her mental condition. I learned that there’s always more to a person than mental health, a simple fact that is often overlooked by many people.
That being said, I started to see people as they are. I see them as a teenager, as a student, a part of a family, and a… person. I broke down this invisible wall I built in my head that used to separate people with mental illness from those without. I realized that the gray area is so much bigger than I thought and finally started seeing people as people.
I Might Want to be A Clinical Psychologist
Pretty much everyone who went to school with me know that I had no intention whatsoever to become a psychologist. This is partly because I don’t want to work on extreme cases and partly because I’m not really good at individual counseling session. I’d rather facilitate a group of 20 than be on a one-on-one session 😂 I’ve done this a lot and it was awkward. All I wanted to do was to work office hour as an HR officer or something.
For the first time in my life, I started to reconsider my plan. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually–sort of, want to be a clinical psychologist. I want to help people and I think this is one way I could actually do it. I’m not making any decision right now, I still have a few years to figure out what I want to study in grad school but I’m seriously taking this into consideration
As I said above, I’ve been making effort to read as many books dealing with mental illness as possible for a while. During my reading journey, I’ve found A LOT of great books and some of the not-so-great ones that being said, I’m confident enough to make a recommendation post based on the type of illness! Make sure you stay tuned for the post around the next few weeks ♥
LET’S TALK! Do you like to read books about mental illness? Or do you feel uneasy like I used to? If you like to, what have you learned from it? Also, I’m looking for more books dealing with 1) dissociative disorders (i.e. multiple personality disorder) and 2) personality disorders, so shoot me your favorite books! Preferably YA but I’m open to anything 😀
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