I have epilepsy, I have OCD, I have an eating disorder…and I’m cool with talking about that.
I wasn’t sure what cover photo to use for this blog, so you get a small turtle. Congratulations. So, I am not the greatest at vulnerability and I will likely regret publishing this for a day or two, but the issue at hand is more important than my fear. There’s this definite stigma around chronic illness. It’s easy to create the mental model of disabled and chronically ill people as very other. I’m no expert, but in my opinion, it’s hard to understand someone else’s experience. But, it’s so important. Empathy is deeply necessary. People are people, all of us, and this weird judgment of chronically ill people is just a bit odd to me? I mean, one time I injured my wrist and had to wear a brace, it was a pretty normal deal, people just asked me what happened. And then it went away. But I feel like if I had been born with some issue with my wrist and always had to wear this brace people would do the weird “othering” thing. Like, be uncomfortable with what to do and say, how to behave around me. I have never had a visible chronic illness, so I can’t say for sure, instead I’m going to focus on invisible illnesses, especially mental illnesses. So, like I said before, I have epilepsy, OCD, and eating disorder, and just general anxiety issues. I’ve never not had anxiety. I don’t know what that experience would be like. I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was eleven. The eating disorder is more of a recent thing and it sucks. There’s no need to feel bad for me, it’s just the facts friends. I’m Olivia Allen and now you know all of those things about me and they will be on the internet (*ominous voice*) foreveeeeer, until it inevitably ends, as everything does. But whatever, now the internet knows that about me. And that’s not a problem. Congratulations internet, you have been graced with an insight into my fascinating life. Still interested? Follow me on Twitter, @TwitterIsTheWorstDon’tFollowMe.
Right, so the point, that thing. My big goal here and in my day to day life, is to be open about my chronic illnesses. If we are open about this stuff, we can all learn from each other. People outside of the experience may learn how to navigate situations that maybe they found uncomfortable or learn about something new, and we can all treat each other like people. And, we can all stop being ashamed of things that aren’t our fault! A lot of people with mental illness will blame themselves for their illness, or blame themselves for their child inheriting the illness. Your genetics are not your fault.
Many, many, many people have a worse time than me, but I’ve had epilepsy since middle school, or known I had it since middle school, and it shaped me a lot. I spent a lot of time in my childhood having epilepsy, and I really wish didn’t have it, but who knows who I’d have turned out to be otherwise. I don’t want to put a silver lining on my illness, because really, it’s not what I would have picked, but every experience I had has shaped me, and growing up getting tested and inspected all while having anxiety problems and finding a passion for theatre and navigating middle school made me a pretty tough kid. Honestly, I don’t give myself enough credit. I think most of us don’t. I’ve always been kind of casual about my epilepsy, it happened organically. Because, with physical illness, sometimes you’ve gotta tell people stuff. Especially invisible illness. I’ve gotta tell my roommates, in case something ever happened to me. I think this is why it’s easier for me to talk about my mental illnesses. I see nothing wrong with saying, “Yeah, sorry I’ve been sitting in our kitchen opening and closing cabinets for two hours, sometimes my eating disorder wants me to do weird things and today’s not great”.
I’m an artist, so I’m supposed to be eccentric, and I’ve always been weird, but that’s not because of my mental illnesses, those are just things that happen to be in my brain. It’s cause I’m an oddball and it’s more fun that way. I mean, the night is young and I’ve already eaten 7 kiwis, painted my face gold, and purchased a small sheep. I lead a wild life my friends. Not being afraid to talk about mental illness gives it less power over you. “I have OCD and I know this is irrational but that’s part of the disorder and there are steps I can take to get help” is different from “I have to check my social media accounts every time before I go to sleep in case I somehow blacked out and posted something without remember because I have to know what it is and oh my god what if I posted the entirety of the book I’ve been writing for the past three years and now THEY ALL KNOW”. It doesn’t make it all go away. In my experience, nothing makes it go away completely (BUT there are lots of things you can do to get help with mental illness, therapists are wonderful people and you shouldn’t be scared of them), but the more we talk openly and comfortably about mental illness the less fear there will be, on all sides.
I read a book one time called Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green. You may have heard of it. It was one of the most powerful pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. The protagonist is a girl with OCD. Most OCD in fiction is inaccurate or incompletely portrayed, but John Green got it right. This was like reading the inside of my brain. Someone actually told me that after they’d read that, they had a better understanding of me. Another person I know figured out that what she’d been experiencing her whole life was OCD and we actually bonded over this thing we had in common. This is such a powerful book, and I can and have talked about it for long time, but here’s the point. This openness about mental illness in fiction was so impactful. I really admire John Green for writing it. If I can live in a way that normalizes mental illness, maybe that’s using these things that I really don’t want to do something that might help people be kind to each other. And that’s basically the whole thing, right? Being kind to each other. I don’t know if we can last without it.