When you suffer from mental issues, explaining to people there’s a problem can often be, like it or not, largely pointless. Sometimes, it’s also utterly unnecessary: going up to random strangers and explaining you have depression is not *exactly* the means by which you’ll make a good first impression, and many people may consider it information they simply didn’t need. Because when only one in three individuals ever suffer from mental illness? That means the other 66% of the population won’t necessarily ever grasp your problem. That doesn’t mean they can’t, it’s just that you need to educate them in your own, unique slant on the situation. Of course, this is where the whole ‘stigma’ label stems from to begin with: often you are damned if you do and more if you don’t, because in the interests of Full Disclosure, at some point, everybody has to know. Except that’s not true either. You don’t need to accurately recall how many times someone uses the bathroom in a day, whether they pick their nose or not. Some information is yours alone to covet, and that’s probably the way it should be regardless of your mental state. When you deal with new people, finding a coping strategy that works for you and conversely which doesn’t isolate every new person you ever come in contact with is a good idea for everybody concerned.
This is not easy, and over time makes you a lot stronger than you probably realise.
This morning I wanted to use this article as the basis for discussion: more and more, especially on social media, I see people playing the ‘I’m sorry I have X so please forgive me if I’m rude to you’ and you know what? NO. Just absolutely, positively NO. If you’re able to explain what your problem is, you’re also at least in some way capable of managing how you interact with others. Using your issues to draw attention to yourself, or to attack others because they clearly don’t grasp how significant YOUR PROBLEMS ARE is also a massive no-no. I’ve spent a long time considering this, and I find myself thinking that actually, using your Twitter profile to make sure everyone knows you have a mental illness is noble, but maybe a step too far. As that article states: ‘There are unobtrusive ways to bring up the fact that you found something offensive because of the illness you’re struggling with.’ Using your issues as a banner to stick in the ground the first time you interact with someone? Things are not likely to end well with those who stick other things in their profiles. In fact, it is often tantamount to inviting certain people to fight you, just on the basis that they initially refuse to treat you purely on your terms.
It might seem a great way to keep your personal space intact, but there are consequences.
Like it or not, with a mental illness you exist in a world where the majority hold sway. If that makes you a minority then, by default, you’ll always be playing catch up. Of course, some minorities are better placed, others learn to hide, or pretend they are something they’re not, and the consequences of that can be dangerous. Mostly, you face a damning choice: do I try and exist in this world or not? If you want to then that’s fine, and on the days when you don’t it’s about finding that neutral ground to walk. However, what happens with depression (at least in my case) isn’t just about coping, it is about choices where for other people there are none. If you’ve never woken up and just wanted to ignore the existence of everything else? If you’re the type of person who’ll always find the positive in a situation? You just won’t get the utter empty terror of realising that today could be the day when you just give up. You don’t have the energy, there isn’t anything to brighten the morning, you just wish you could wink out of existence. You can try and blame other people for not helping you if you wish, but ultimately, the choice to move forward is yours alone. If you cannot find the strength to carry on? However hard other people try? It doesn’t matter.
More significantly you need to grasp the days when you’re just tired and the ones where its a bigger deal, and not allow them to run together. Building a routine is vital, and letting that repetition slip actually has a detrimental effect. That’s why I understand how significant writing has become, that exercise gives a beneficial and utterly natural chemical boost to my body on days when I’m emotionally low. Having a routine matters more than I ever grasped, that when you have things to look forward to and places to aim for it makes the journey far less painful and wearing. Nothing however will prepare you for those crucial moments when your journey hits a fork: then, you have to make a choice based on the best possible data available. You have to believe you’re doing the right thing, and although it would be wonderful to think there’s never a wrong turn, you often make them regardless. Being wrong is okay. Making mistakes is normal. Expecting people to provide you with all the answers isn’t just unfair, its also highly unreasonable. In the end, like it or not, you are your own final arbiter.
I can’t offer anyone else solutions to their own mental health problems, and finally after nearly 50 years I’m beginning to cope satisfactorily with my own. If you decide to use your mental illness as a stick to beat me with you can expect short shrift as a result, because that’s not how this works. You have a responsibility to yourself to be better, and to society to educate others. Don’t mistake a mental illness as a badge of honour, because it isn’t, it is a failing, often not even of your own creation, that needs your effort and hard work to both manage and correct. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it but ultimately, at some point, you will be alone with the problem, and you need to learn eventually how that works.
If you want to make the most of your life, stop using that life as an excuse.