Mental Illness Is Not a Weakness

When The Sopranos had its main character, mob boss and tough guy Tony Soprano, go to therapy, it brought more men into therapy, although the character started off with: 

"Let me tell ya something. Nowadays, everybody’s gotta go to shrinks, and counselors, and go on Sally Jessy Raphael and talk about their problems. What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do."

Tony had to convince himself of the value of therapy. He was taking a chance. His mob colleagues and rivals had that exact attitude, and they weren’t convincing themselves otherwise.

A more humorous but no less enlightening television quote came from “30 Rock” character, Jack Donaghy:

"I believe that when you have a problem, you talk it over with your priest, or your tailor, or the mute elevator porter at your men's club. Then you take that problem and you crush it with your mind vice. But for lesser beings, like curly haired men and people who need glasses, therapy can help."

Sorry.  You can’t outsmart mental illness, and you can’t outwill it. You certainly can’t crush it.

My friends and colleagues, who looked down at me when I had the manic episode that led to my bipolar diagnosis, all thought mental illness was a weakness and something that couldn’t happen to them.

Mental illness, in my case bipolar disorder, washes over you like a wave. It sneaks up on you, and while your friends may be able to detect it in you, you can’t. How can you fight off what you can’t detect? If I have a fever and cough, I’ll take a covid test. If positive, I’ll stay away from people. I’ll seek treatment. Bipolar disorder doesn’t work that way.

Nobody chooses diabetes. It’s not a weakness. Nobody chooses cancer. It’s not a weakness. There are more than 60 million Americans who have mental illnesses, and not one of them has chosen.

Let’s actually go beyond the idea that mental illness is not a weakness. Surviving mental illness is a strength. People who have never had to do it have no idea.