Everyone knows that if you've fought depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, you'll be much more patient and compassionate with others who suffer, right?
Well, no. Not necessarily.
I've heard that nobody has more contempt for junkies than another junkie, that nobody despises drunks like a drunk. This doesn't surprise me. Compassion and empathy are beautiful, but they are products of conscious effort, not of nature. Our minds often run the other way. Even if you've had a searing experience with mental illness, your reaction to others might not be saintly. It might be a visceral, angry snarl of "why the fuck can't you just be normal?" It doesn't take an advanced degree in psychology to figure out who the you in that question really is, friends and neighbors.
I, for one, am not more patient with mental illness than I was before I learned to manage it. In my gut I'm less patient. It rustles my jimmies something fierce. I know perfectly well why: I'm pissed off about how depression and anxiety have impacted my life, I'm pissed off about how it's impacted the lives of those I love, and I resent the hell out of having to deal with it. So I fight the urge to shout the questions at others that I can't shout at myself: why can't you just walk it off? Why can't you seek help when you ought to? Why can't you stay on your meds? Why won't you take a methodical approach to this? Why the hell can't you manage this better? I don't actually ask these things, and most of the time I think I achieve decency and compassion to fellow sufferers through deliberate effort. But it's a damned uncomfortable feeling.
So: if I see someone go off on the depressed or the anxious or the suicidal, I'm not inclined to assume that they're just a horrible unfeeling person. Rather, I suspect they may have been there themselves.
Brandon Nance is a Twitch Streamer — that is to say, people watch him play games online. This bit of modern culture is inscrutable to me, but my kids claim it's fun. Whatever. Recently, when one of Nance's viewers messaged him during a session that Nance's videos had helped him recover during a period when he was suicidal. Nance didn't react well. He ranted brutally and bitterly at the viewer, characterizing depressed people as lazy and helpless and suicide as selfish and weak. Controversy ensued, and Nance resigned.
When I heard this story I assumed that we'd learn that Nance himself had lived a life touched by mental illness, and indeed he has — he wrote honestly and bravely about fighting serious depression and about the experience with a family member whose life was ravaged by addiction. That shit's not easy. It might even make you lash out in an angry, bitter rant about suicide and depression.
Many people were very angry at Nance, and expressed that anger in various popular Internet ways. Some were just venting themselves. But I'm sure some thought that they were fighting for empathy and compassion by condemning Brandon Nance. But they weren't, really, were they?
h/t Stephen Combs