Practicalities of Living With Mental Illness
When you live with a psychiatric diagnosis day in and day out, there are things that you wish the people around you would understand. But how can they? How can anyone understand who hasn't lived this?
It is even worse when you have multiple diagnoses. Then, you are living with all these symptoms. Some days are worse than others. Some days are better. Some days you can even pretend enough so that you look fine.
But looking fine is different than being fine. You paint on a plastic smile so that people don't see that you are hurting inside. You pretend enough to be normal. You smile at the right times. You almost laugh at jokes. But you can't be the life of the party anymore. Not like you used to be. Not really charismatic, just pretending.
That is how it feels when you life in this constant fog of unpleasant emotions. Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Bipolar, Autism, ADHD... whatever the case may be for you. I know there are more diagnoses out there too, those are the common ones that many of us live with every day.
How do you get other people to understand how you feel? How do you get them to care? To show empathy and compassion? Sometimes you just feel like a basket case. You don't want to show your face to anyone. Better just to stay in bed.
But you get up anyway. You keep doing. You do all the things that you 'should' do, even if you have to force yourself.
You go to work, take care of the kids, clean the house, and fight against the exhaustion, the panic, the constant fear.
Fear of what? Fear of everything. Of not being enough most of all. Fear that you will mess up. Fear that the mask will slip. Fear that they will see your true self and find you wanting.
Why do we have to wear a mask? Why do we have to pretend? Why can't we be accepted the way that we are? Society isn't ready for that. They don't want to see us the way that we really are, all balled up on the floor and crying. They don't want to deal with the bad days.
So we pretend. We get up every day and put on the mask like some kind of make-up. We try to look and appear normal so that people will give us some kind of love and acceptance. But it is hard. So hard. Just pretending to be normal takes up so much energy.
Some of us are 'out' about our mental illness. We are honest about it so that people will understand when we crack. But still, they don't really understand the bad days. They don't understand why you can't stop crying and lie in bed for days.
I know that some of them want to understand. They try to understand. But they can't. They haven't been here. They don't know how awful that it feels for us on those bad days. They don't understand how hard it is to pretend, even on the good days.
We need to raise awareness about mental illness in society.
The more of us that speak up, that tell our stories, that explain what it feels like, the more traction that we will gain. The more we can make an impact and help others like ourselves. Maybe someday society will have acceptance or understanding of our plight.
For those of you who are allies, we appreciate you. We really do.
The people who try to understand and stay by our side mean the world. It means so much to know that someone isn't going to let you go even if you have this 'crazy' side that you try to hide from most people. It is good to have someone who gets you. And forgive us if we cling. Acceptance is rare.
We really want to be understood. We want to be loved for who we are, not who we could be. We want someone to tell us that we are good enough as we are, not someone who says we are loveable only if we can get well.
What if we can't get well enough to please you? What if our forced smile isn't bright enough?
We are more than a diagnosis. But the diagnosis consumes so much of our lives. It makes us less than what we want to be. Of course we want to get better. But even therapists have told me I can only get better up to a point. I don't know where that point is. I'm not going to ever be 'normal.' I have to accept that, and so do you if you want to be in my life.
Otherwise, I won't give you my truth anymore. Just the plastic smile that I give to strangers when I go to the market. I can pretend to be fine. I have gotten good at it over the years. But it isn't real. And some days I still cry.
If you want to be in my inner circle, you might get to see the real me. I might be honest with you and let down my guard. I might tell you how hard things are for me sometimes, especially if I go off my meds.
That's the other thing. Many of us need to be heavily medicated just to act the way we do. This sub-normal level of functioning that we accustom ourselves to. We try to get better, we really do. We aren't chemically dependent in the sense that it is an addiction. It is a need. We need the meds so that we can fit. We need them so we can appear to be more like you.
Some of us deal with horrible side-effects for that normalcy. We put up with tremors, upset stomach, migraines and more. Just so that we can look the way that we are supposed to. So that we can function and do things during the day.
Do you know how hard it is to get up in the morning sometimes? So devastatingly hard. Yet we do it. The medication helps with that. Coffee helps with that. CBD or THC or Alcohol that some of us use to self-medicate when we don't have our meds. I'm sorry. Our brains aren't normal brains like yours.
We do what we have to do to cope with being abnormal. With always being the piece that doesn't fit. We try to pretend to be happy, we try to please you. Maybe someday we will be 'good enough' as we are, and we will have acceptance. Until then, perhaps you can give us a little grace, empathy and kindness.