People are afraid of mental illness. They see the mentally ill in every deranged killer on the screen, every act of violence on the news they can’t explain, every action whose logic is not immediately apparent. When we make no effort to understand mental illness, all people who are mentally ill are unknowns. And we fear the unknown.
Stigmatization of mental illness and the people who have it has led to sufferers being ostracized, demonized, attacked and even killed– and consequently, those who do suffer from mental illness are often reluctant to acknowledge it or seek the help they need for fear of the consequences.
And yes, mental illness is scary. It doesn’t turn you into a monster– more often, it’s like a monster living inside your own head. It’s like a vampire that looks normal to everybody else, except you’ve noticed that it doesn’t have a reflection, and you try to keep it out but it’s too late—without even thinking, you’ve already invited it in.
And you try to tell people, but too often they don’t understand. For every one who believes you, there are ten more who say
“A vampire? Oh, how romantic!” or
“No, I’ve seen vampires, and that doesn’t look anything like Nosferatu,” or
“You’re obviously just doing this for attention. Everyone knows vampires aren’t real.”
None of which changes the fact that he’s still in your head, whispering lies that are absurd in the light of day, but feel like gospel truth when you’re caught in his hypnotic eyes.
You fight, of course. You hang up your garlic and lay down salt lines at every window and door (and that’s what they are, even though yours may look less like garlic and salt and more like exercise or art or religion or your cat). And sometimes your defenses are so expertly laid that you almost forget that the vampire was ever there to begin with. But vampires are patient and they are sly, and sometimes they’ll find the little cracks in your defenses and sneak in anyway.
And people see the defenses you put up against this monster that is trying to kill you, and they give you that look like you’re crazy. And you try to tell them that you’re not, that this is what you have to do to keep safe, that just because they can’t see this thing that’s living in your head doesn’t make it any less deadly, and all you want to do is live. But you never get that far, because as soon as you say “fighting for your life against invisible monsters” they say “yup, crazy”, before you can explain that those monsters are called “depression” and “anxiety” and “schizophrenia” and “dysphoria” and a hundred other names and all of them are invisible and all of them are real.
Sometimes your friends will roll their eyes and tell you that you’re overreacting and nothing is going to get you, so come on out already. But all the while you’re looking through the window at a pale face that’s grinning back at you on the other side of garlic and salt lines, and you know he’s waiting for you to come out and play.
So you tell them “no thanks” and “I’m not feeling well. Maybe next time?” And hope that next time he isn’t out there waiting for you.
Sometimes the vampire gets close. Sometimes he draws blood.
Sometimes you turn off all the lights. Hide in a closet. Try not to breathe. Pray he doesn’t find you.
Sometimes you crawl away into a crowd, crying and screaming for somebody, anybody, to please help, don’t you see he’s trying to kill me?
Sometimes when you’re calling for help, you get through to a friend who picks up the phone and believes you’re in danger, and they come over with a shotgun and a hawthorn stake because the two of you might not be able to kill this bloodsucker, but like hell will they let you face him alone. And sometimes you can stake him or dust him or blow his head off, and he’ll be gone. Maybe for an hour, maybe for a year, maybe forever.
And sometimes you can’t.
Sometimes, no matter how fast you run or how hard you fight, no matter how cleverly you hide, no matter how many people guard your house with wooden stakes in hand, the vampire gets you anyway.
And sometimes there is a chance that when he does, he’ll kill you.
But vampires are clever, and they never take credit for their own kills. And the vampire will put the murder weapon in your hand and stand over the body and say “see? They were the monster all along. After all, everybody knows vampires aren’t real.”
((Note: This is reflective of my experiences with my own mental illness, and conversations I’ve had with others. It won’t be an accurate representation of everyone’s experiences. People are not mental illnesses.))