I lived for 25 years trying to hide the fact that I am unique. Different. Broken. Etc. Let me tell you, it’s exhausting to run from yourself for so long. Only my closest family members and friends had been clued in on the details of my mental illness(es).
However, over the past 6 months, I have decided that it’s okay to stop pretending and stop hiding. It’s okay that I’m not perfect. It’s okay to love myself. It’s okay. As a result, I receive many weird looks and questions from people around me.
I really encourage you to ask questions if you love someone who is struggling with mental illness. Take some time and try to get into their world. We all experience it differently. It means something different to each of us.
It means so much to me that people ask me questions, even though some of them are a little offensive. These are the 7 questions that I am asked the most.
1. Are you sick?
Well, yes? I guess it depends on what you mean by “sick.” Obviously, I’m not contagious- I don’t have an infectious disease. Afflicted? Yes. Mentally ill? Yes. You see, mental health is a continuum. We are all functioning at different points on the continuum. The condition of our relationships, coping strategies, resiliency (and a few other things) determines where we sit on that scale. We all fluctuate between functional and dysfunctional. It doesn’t take very much to push certain people to the darker side of things. Some people can go to hell and back again and still cope effectively. Not me.
2. Are you sure that you are not just looking for attention?
Yes, I’m certain. I don’t want any attention. In fact, that’s one of the most debilitating characteristics of my mental illness(es)- I would rather hide in my bed all day to let reality pass me by. To let everyone forget that I exist. If you truly understood mental illness, you would never wonder if someone is just asking for “attention.” (Although they could probably use some company.)
Please don’t think that someone’s reality means anything less than yours just because you cannot put yourself in their shoes. For example, I have never had any schizo experiences. I read blogs and journals from people who suffer from it and I just cannot imagine suffering what they experience. I literally cannot wrap my head around it. But that doesn’t make it any less real. That doesn’t mean that these people are looking for attention.
3. Well, have you done anything for it?
Yes, I have done something about it. I have been in and out of therapy for more than ten years. I have tried many different medications and diets. I have changed religions, moved out of the state, tried art therapy, music therapy, light therapy, meditation, yoga, crystals, herbs and oils. I have ignored it, denied it, but now I am accepting it. This is just what I get to deal with. It is a fair question though. Some people cannot help themselves. Some people choose not to help themselves.
4. Then why isn’t all of that working?
I don’t bloody know. My brain is just imbalanced somehow. I haven’t figured out what works best for me, but I’m definitely working on it. We are all unique and there is no cure-all for these problems. Things that work for me may not work for you and vice versa. Science is always learning and changing its mind on what we thought we knew. Hopefully, in the future, something will be discovered which will be able to get more of us functioning and on our feet.
5. Can’t you just choose to be happy?
Because I can’t. My brain doesn’t make that happy stuff right now. It doesn’t matter what I do, I just don’t feel happiness or joy. Nothing helps me feel better. Not shopping, not eating, not Netflixing, not sleeping. Nothing.
Last year, before I took a nose-dive into the worst depressive episode I have experienced in my adult life, I was speaking with one of my brothers. I remember telling him that he could be happy “if he really wanted to.” Man was I wrong. I ate my words so fast and so hard that I am still in shock. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just “push through it” or maybe even “stop thinking about it” for a few minutes. At that point in my life, I was being tossed back and forth between manic and depressive episodes. I would switch back to manic before my depression would drag me totally under. I was wrong to discount his reality, just because it wasn’t mine. Now I know better.
6. What is so wrong with your life that you need to feel this way?
Nothing is wrong with my life. That’s kind of the issue. I have everything that I could ever ask for in my life right now and it still doesn’t change the way my brain functions. Can you believe that? It does make a huge difference for me to have an incredible support system in my home, at school, and around town, but it doesn’t make the depression or the anxiety or the insomnia go away. It is really saddening and shameful to have such a beautiful life and not be able to just enjoy it with my loved ones. Yes, life is so great right now, but it wasn’t always that way.
To expand on this a little bit, I will mention “trauma informed care,” which is taking precedence in the health field right now. Instead of asking “what is wrong with you,” we ask, “what has happened to you?” I want to do a better job of looking at others through this filter. We are all products of our environment in one way or another, so let’s offer one another a little grace.
7. What can I do for you?
Just be here for me. You can’t fix this for me, but you can show empathy and walk through this with me. That’s all I need.
What questions do people ask you questions about your mental health/illness?
What do you wish people understood about your illness?