Physical Illness versus Mental Illness

Over the summer, I spent several weeks sick with pneumonia.  Not walking pneumonia, but real, doctor’s orders to lie on the couch for two weeks kind of pneumonia.  What struck me was how concerned people were with how ill I was at the time.  I hadn’t been this physically sick in a long time, but the way friends reacted was with more alarm than when I told them I had been hospitalized for a week with a mental illness.  When coworkers and neighbors found out I had pneumonia, they offered to drive me to the doctor or drop by with food or medicine.  The only thing I could think about was that I had been just as sick, a few years ago when I had spent several days in the mental ward of a hospital, but I had not felt the same level of concern from friends and family.  When I had mental illness episodes in the past, friends and family avoided talking about it and I felt ambivalent about them even knowing.  It didn’t seem like any of them understood that I was sick – just as sick as having pneumonia.

After I had been in the mental hospital, I did secretly want cards and casseroles, but I also didn’t want anyone to know what had happened.  I could only tell my family and closest friends where I had been for the past week, and they weren’t sure how to react.  They asked me if I wanted to take a walk or meet for coffee.  I could physically get up off the couch.  It just wasn’t easy to do so.  I could physically prepare meals for myself.  I just didn’t have the energy or desire to do it.  Maybe in those weeks and months when I was recovering from being in the mental hospital, my friends and I weren’t really sure what I needed, but I did know that I was learning to cope with a serious illness.  During that time, I took part-time medical leave from my job.  A colleague also took medical leave, but his was for a knee replacement.  At a meeting when we had both returned to work, he got up to speak and joked to his colleagues not to worry, that his medical leave had been for physical reasons. 

I wish that when I have a psychotic episode I can tell my friends, and they would know I was sick, really sick – that cards and soup and phone calls of support – while they might not make me better, let me know there is a community out there rooting for me, telling me they will do everything in their power to support me on my way to feeling better.