Don’t treat me different

It’s a common phrase around mental illness, something I’ve said and subscribed to, something people both with and without mental illness say in varying forms; “don’t treat me differently because of my mental illness.”

We say it because we don’t want to be different. We don’t want to be a burden. We don’t want to cause a faff. We say it because we think acknowledging difference is bad, that it somehow encourages or worsens the mental illness. We say it because we’ve always said it and that’s the thing you say.

But isn’t it just a part of interacting with other humans? Of friendships? Of relationships? Learning what we like, don’t like, what upsets us, how we learn, how we communicate and all making little changes with every interaction.

My needing you to be honest and straight-forward, or to understand when I need to leave early or not come at all, is not a burden or a faff. It is no different to the way I avoid certain topics with friends and acquaintances who are dealing with something rough, maybe the way you avoid religion and politics with your family. It is no different to the times you avoid that restaurant because your parent is allergic to fish, or you email one colleague but phone the other, or you don’t do that thing you like with your partner because it makes them uncomfortable.

Every day we all make and need tiny adjustments because we are all different and, to a greater or lesser degree, we understand that. We understand that for society to work we all have to make these little compromises, changes, a little give and take, and yet when someone needs those changes because of a mental (or indeed physical) illness suddenly “you don’t expect me to treat you differently, do you?”

Yes. Actually, I do. I expect you to extend me the same courtesy that I extend to you and every other human I interact with. I expect you to consider how I experience life when you interact with me because that’s what people who interact with each other do. If you tell me that you can’t deal with me offloading my emotions onto you or talking about veganism, I will do my very best not to do that. In turn I expect that you do your best to be completely clear with me in your communication & not get angry when I ask for reassurance.

I even wrote a little poem to help you understand why treating me differently is no different to any other healthy relationship you have.

Don’t treat me different

Don’t treat me different like I treat you different
When I avoid subjects I love because you don’t
Understand, appreciate, or enjoy
Because it’s too close to the bone or bores you.

Don’t treat me different like I treat you different
When I leave out oranges from recipes that make others
Drool, praise, or devour
Because you really don’t like oranges.

Don’t treat me different like I treat you different
When I phrase things a certain way so you don’t feel
Attacked, exploited, or hurt
Because I know that others make you feel that way.

Don’t treat me different like I treat you different
When I adapt my explanations to be more
Gentle, detailed, or methodical
Because I know how you take information in best.

Don’t treat me different like I treat you different
When in a million little ways I adjust to make your life
Easier, happier, or calmer
Even though you won’t do the same.

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