Mental illness. Why do they call it that?
Mental. It’s in the mind. It’s an illness that acts on the brain. The brain is the center of all of human activity, so anything that affects the brain is going to subsequently affect speech and action, because thoughts drive those things and if the thinking machine is going haywire, everything else is going to go a little loopy, too.
It’s also tricky in that as “a broken mind can’t fix a broken mind,” people who are suffering from mental illness either 1. don’t know they are having an issue because the internal view is or has always been “normal” to them or 2. they have been able to identify the signs and symptoms of how the illness manifests, but they are still pretty powerless to do anything about it. Or, they have to work much harder to get to the actions that will bring them relief.
Speaking of … Illness. It means that it’s something pathological that is not a choice of the person who has it. You don’t choose to get diabetes and you don’t choose to get the flu. It’s an outside influence that wreaks havoc on your body, and while there are steps you can take to mitigate the illness, it isn’t within your power to decide that you don’t have it. With some illnesses, there are even ways to prevent an oncoming attack, but when your body does succumb, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
I’ve been unmedicated for a couple months. My own ADD/can’t get shit done combined with working on the low-income side of a psychiatric clinic means my patient assistance ran out. I’m getting a decent amount of sleep, so I’ve been rolling with it. But, despite my best efforts, I’m shorting out a little. Everything has started to become black and white, everyone has started to become hard to deal with, no one understands.
I understand this mindset. It’s a “mixed episode.” It means that I’m depressed and my brain can only think of terrible things, the most negative outcome, the spiral of fear and shame and hopelessness that leads to nothing good. But, I’m also slightly revved up — I have energy and my body tingles with a compulsion to be, do, exist outside the normal routine of being a regular person with normal emotions and some impulse control.
Instead, I have dark thoughts and no filter. So, I’m prone to starting (or finishing) fights and inserting my opinion places and being a shitstarter. Thing is, even as it’s happening, I feel like I’m slightly inside my body, enjoying the rush (normally, I care WAY too much about what people think of me and want everyone to like me SO much) and slightly outside my body, watching the trainwreck disaster roll down the tracks toward the cliff. Like I can’t really do a thing about it, so I might as well enjoy the ride.*
Needless to say, I find myself more alone and isolated than normal (which is a fair amount). People are not happy to try and hold a conversation with me in this mode. They become infinitely frustrated and don’t know what to do. I offend them directly, or indirectly, when I don’t want the solutions they’re offering or suggest that nothing will work anyway.
But, the thing is … as I drive these people away, there is also a portion of my brain that is indignant about it all. I am not DOING THIS ON PURPOSE. If they are annoyed, they can only begin to understand what it’s like to be INSIDE this mess. I start to become more angry and hopeless as I realize no one can get this and no one is wiling to try. To sit there and be, “Hey. You’re kind of acting like an asshole right now, but that is NOT HOW YOU NORMALLY ARE, SOOOO … I’m going to try and just ride this out with you. I know nothing you say is personal and the way you are feeling is clouding your judgment and making you react to life in a minorly irrational way and that you don’t mean to be so fucking out of sync.”
It’s a spiral of spirals, to be sure. What makes it worse is that a lot of these people are alcoholic, and I wish that they would get it. It’s the same thing … it’s a disease. Just because you tell me to do something, doesn’t mean I’m going to want to do it or see how it might help me … because MY BRAIN IS BROKEN. It doesn’t think anything will work or that anyone cares. It’s got the *wrong* filter on, and I am only seeing out through apocalyptic-colored glasses.
If I’m honest, I’ll sometimes say or think that I don’t want to be here anymore. A permanent sleep would be nice. But you can’t say that to people. I’ve been on the other side of some pretty hairy conversations, and I know that when people start sounding like they might want to kill themselves, it’s very concerning. I want them to get help. So, I understand the sentiment, but I know that as much as my brain tells me that I’d be better off dead or drunk, I still have the core understanding that neither one of those is a solution. They wouldn’t work. I’m not heading down those roads. If you want to worry, don’t worry about a suicide, worry about weird misery.
You want to help me? Pray for me. Let me know that it’s going to be okay — in an essential way. Stay my friend even when it’s hard. Mental illness is a sickness of the brain. It sucks. But as I have come to see, “This, too, shall pass” works here as well.
*Kind of like the time I had really bad turbulence on a plane once. It was pretty rough, but also roller coaster feeling. Since being up in the air still seems fairly unnatural, I’m not going to say the possibility of death didn’t cross my mind. But even if we were going down, there wasn’t a damn bit I could do about it. So, I went roller coaster, and laughed my ass off the whole time. Other people contemplating their mortality did NOT find anything funny, and I got a bunch of dirty looks. If you’re going to die, why not go down laughing?