I keep hearing how empowering it is to admit you have a mental illness. Supposedly, it is brave. Supposedly, it is the first step you take to “getting better”- whatever that may look like.
So why don’t I feel empowered?
For a split second, I did feel strong. Despite not wanting to admit it and despite trying to hide it for years- both of which have clearly worked out swimmingly– I felt momentarily relieved. I finally started to say it out loud, slowly at first and in a bit of a roundabout way but eventually…
I have depression.
I’m definitely not singing it from the rooftops just yet but I have at least admitted it to myself, independent of my eating disorder and not because.
For me it meant two things; Firstly, ok, I know what this is now and can take steps to combat it in addition to the eating stuff. Two: I’m admitting it and squaring up to it- ready to take it on this time and box.
But that didn’t last nearly as long as I’d have liked. Even though, thankfully, the mental health climate is changing, there is still stigma. Even among those who are insistent there isn’t. Hell, even among people who have it– I haven’t the first clue how to go about this and the idea of telling friends makes me feel nauseous. I’ll probably do what I do best, make a joke out of it and move swiftly on. That’s if I do even tell them, which to be honest is not very high on my to do list.
Once you admit to having a mental illness you can’t help but think you have changed everything. Inadvertently, when you admit you have something like this, you also empower other people. They are bestowed with the responsibility to remind you what was said because you “may not have remembered correctly.” All of a sudden, you “misinterpreting” what was said becomes the end of a discussion because, of course, your illness means you “may not be thinking straight.” There is no possibility that you may now be thinking clearer than ever and have that much going on in your brain that you just cannot be bothered to make it sound fluffy. No, now the illness is “making you defensive.”
It doesn’t empower you because you have family, friends of family, bloody neighbours, all rallying around you, stepping on egg-shells and second guessing your every move. If you’re not smiling they’re wondering if that means you’re quite literally plotting your own demise. If you are smiling then “hooray, pom-poms at the ready- she’s on the up!” Nope.
You have to forgive them for erring on the dangerous side of caution after what you’ve put them through but it doesn’t help, other than to add to the guilt you already feel for existing.
It doesn’t encourage honesty either quite frankly, when you know that what you say in your darkest moments can be used against you at the speaker’s discretion: “Oh well, you’ve booked up now X is here so clearly it’s not that bad…” No, you ignoramus, it is not a feature of me but an illness that comes and goes– so think more migraine and less nose.
“Of course Y wasn’t looking at you funny or being short with you, your illness is just making you oversensitive and insecure.” No, Y is just a bitch and I wanted to laugh with you about it.
“You need to relax and breathe, be more mindful and let it go.” No, there was just a traffic jam on the way here and I want to swear about it like a NORMAL PERSON WITH A PATIENCE DEFICIENCY but that doesn’t mean you have to follow me to the bathroom!
It also doesn’t feel very empowering to have admitted this when you know you, or more accurately what you have, is the cause of arguments that wouldn’t be happening if you were ok. When you’re forced into thoughts that simply wouldn’t exist if this wasn’t happening…
Will we make it through this? Am I going to frighten him away and ruin something that, otherwise, would have been pretty solid? Hang on, am I not even going to have an opinion about this and whether it’s good enough for me?! Doesn’t “love” mean you try get through anything- warts and all? Well, I thought so, so maybe it’s not right then..? All questions I would rather not have the answers for just yet but, due to my “illness” I have no choice…
You didn’t want this, yet the sick joke is only you can hoist yourself up out of it- even though it feels like the entire world is sat, bare assed, on your face. That’s not empowering, its exhausting. The expectant looks when people are trying a little too hard to “cheer you up”- forging a smile and laughing along with them may take away their guilt but that certainly doesn’t empower you, just isolates you even more.
I know I don’t have a choice here but to just muddle along and hope for the best. However, other people do.
I have to choose every morning to get up and try and spread some jam on this totally shit sandwich, but I have no say in whether the people around me pass me the butter knife on occasions when I can’t reach it. Just when my own brain is waging a 3-pronged attack on me (in the dark, might I add) I have to worry if they’re going to stick around and be my back up. Enter anxiety to my little selection box of fun. I suppose it means people are right when they say “it will get worse before it gets better.” Again though, they aren’t being entirely truthful: it will get worse before it gets worse before it gets even worse than that and just on the off chance you survive all that then, it might get better.” But that doesn’t look as good on a t-shirt.
Again, “might” is not as powerful a word as I would like. I’m putting all my efforts into something that actually isn’t guaranteed, something I have no control over. Anyone around me who can’t cope with that ambiguity has a choice; I do not.
So, in summary, no I do not feel empowered. I feel enslaved.