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By Jennifer Reeves
When you think of the warning signs on the pamphlets you were given as a kid, the things you should look for when someone you love is mentally unwell are simple: sleeping too much or too little, pulling away from people, losing interest in hobbies, worrying all the time, and so on. They make mental disorders seem so effortlessly categorical. As though they’re as easy to identify as a common cold.
The thing about being mentally ill – but well enough that you can function, and ultimately pass as healthy – is that it plays a game with your psyche. You become disillusioned by how the world probably sees you and how you know you are in reality.
A person with a physical ailment of some sort usually designs their lives around what they know their limitations are: they save extra time to get ready in the morning, make their to-do lists as long as they know they are physically capable of completing. They tend to their issues (ideally) and the people in their lives respect their limitations, because they can see them.
When you’re not sick enough to be obviously ill, you don’t give yourself that space. You try to plow through and keep up with everyone else, wondering why you constantly feel like you’re falling behind, not doing enough, always making mistakes, or not enjoying what everyone else seems to.
You don’t account for the fact that even just making sure you’re bathed and fed and well-slept each and every day is a huge hurdle for some people. You don’t account for the fact that just doing these things on top of your social and work/school obligations is an enormous feat. Instead, you consider these things to be standard, and yourself to be a failure for not keeping up.
Of course, you’re also the only person who will ever really experience that self-hate. The people in your life will just see repeatedly cancelled plans, rants and concerns over non-issues you’ve rehashed time and time again, yet another Saturday you “need to yourself” because you’re beyond exhausted from the week, compounded stress from gossiping and judging and treating you as though nothing’s wrong.
Because you’re treating yourself like nothing’s wrong.
The person who this fools the most is you. The person who this hurts the most is you.
And a lot of the time, the denial stems from the disbelief. “You don’t seem depressed,” or “you’re so outgoing, how could you be anxious?” This kind of questioning makes you want to hide away and present as “healthy,” because it makes you feel guilty or as though you’re lying about what you feel.
The thing about mental illness is that you can’t see it. You can only see it’s symptoms. And it’s symptoms are easily passible for many other things. It’s symptoms don’t always present in ways that are easily understandable for people, not unless they are so extreme that you’re rendered incapable of living.
The world was not built for people who are sick, but functional. It can almost seem easier to have a full-blown disorder wherein you’re rendered incapable of living, because people hold you to a different standard. Your idea of success is just to “make it.”
You hear this all of the time: people who are clearly ill are commended for being able to hold a job or have a few friends. People who seem healthy aren’t. They’re considered underachievers. They’re considered to be wasting away their potential.
The point is that we need to be a lot more forgiving of ourselves, and a lot more understanding of others. You know how they say everyone’s fighting a battle you don’t know about? They are. But sometimes you’re fighting a harder battle than you care to realize.
Mental illness is something you can heal from. It is something you can even learn to live with if healing is not an option. But getting to either of those places does not ever begin with trying to slide by as “normal,” because it’s less scary than admitting to where you really are. That is the formula for an eventual breakdown.
Nobody else can give this to you. You teach people how to treat you, after all. Do it by giving yourself the time, space and self-care you need to truly be well. Denying your needs won’t help you fit in with a better mold, it will just make you sicker in the end.
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