This afternoon I read a very real piece from Sista over at Phoenix Fights about anger. She writes very well about hiding her internal anger from her (annoyingly chirpy) therapy group and pretty much all of her friends, resigning herself to the fact that a recent outburst has probably led to the end of one such friendship. It was a post that really made me stop and think today.
How much time do we spend convincing others (and maybe also ourselves?) that we are experiencing socially acceptable emotions? How many “how are you’s” do we answer dishonestly with “oh great” or “much better thanks”. We may go as far as a little “getting there” or even a “one day at a time” but even these will be followed with a cheery smile. And then there’s the shoulder shrug or head bob that always follows such a statement, designed to relieve the other person of any awkward duty to reply, implying that it’s fine to leave it at that.
Why do I not admit that I’m not always okay? Why do I not answer a “how are you” with “not great actually, see that corner over there…well I’d really like to lie down in it, curled up in a ball, for about 14 straight hours”. Who I am I lying to? Who am I lying for? I’m not sure any more. Am I trying to protect my partner from the reality that I’m always going to be a little bit not-okay? Am I trying to pretend due to some unconscious fear that he would leave me if he suspected this was me, forever? Am I trying to convince myself that this slightly-less-than-okay existence is enough for me?
I’m not really sure why I do it, but today I realised that I’m not the only one who does. And I’m guessing Sista and I aren’t the only two! Which makes me wonder…what would happen if we all told the truth?
This post is for the reader who came to my blog using the search term “can a mental illness cause a man to cheat”. Don’t worry, I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know if you followed my blog once you got here. But I hope that this post will reach you.
I don’t know your story and I don’t know your partner’s but I do know this: mental illness or not, your partner does not have the right to hurt you. Mental illness is not a “free pass” to do as we please to those we love or to those who love us.
Perhaps you are searching for a way to explain away a recent betrayal. I can understand that only too well. Regardless of the situation please know that your partner is not more important than you. Your emotions and needs are just as important as his. And you need to take care of you.
Living with a mentally ill partner can be exhausting and emotionally demanding. It’s okay to admit that. It’s okay to need help. Its okay to need give-and-take. It’s okay to need. If you need to talk about you and how you can cope with your partner’s illness please seek out a counsellor or a support group. Please value yourself as equal to your partner. Never let another person devalue you or reduce you to a secondary character in your own life story.
I take antidepressants. Two of them actually. Every day. Morning and night. Do you want to know why? They get me out of bed and they get me into life. They are my flashlight and my high-vis jacket, my survival tools in my ongoing battle against the dense, grey fog that surrounds my brain. I use them to break free from the confusion and stride towards the road ahead, flagging a little from the exertion perhaps, but seeing the way forward and powering on without fear.
So tell me I’m the pharmaceutical industry’s bitch. Tell me I’m weak. Tell me your story about how you cured yourself using only glo-sticks and cucumbers. Go on….I dare you!
It seems to me that there is a counter-productive and dangerous trend emerging. A trend towards distancing oneself from the “weak ones”, i.e. those brainwashed by the pharma industry and too feeble-minded to even know it. Those who seek to medicate. Those who gladly hand over their hard-earned cash for the sweet relief of psychopharmaceutical intervention.
Depression survival has emerged from the shameful shadows of it’s past, to a time when it’s acceptable for it to be worn like a badge of honour. Honour being defined as having overcome “that nasty episode” by channeling your inner strength. And vegetables. And vitamin shakes. And jogging. And hypnosis. And whatever other bullshit you want to peddle as long as it doesn’t come in pill form. Or have to be dispensed by a person in a white coat.
It seems pretty clear to me that none of the following are acceptable responses to an article where somebody has BRAVELY publicly declared their mental health difficulties:
- The pharma industry makes a trillion bazillion dollars every year from people dependent on anti-depressants and it’s all a big ruse and you are just part of it you sad bastard
- My mother’s cousin’s sister had depression and then she went jogging every day and now she is fine and owns a ferrari
- I thought I was depressed but then I realised it was my lifestyle, so I cut out all gluten, sugar, alcohol and liquids and now, living on sunflower seeds alone, my life has never been better
And yet every day I read these inane comments. The discussion turns away from the bravery of the author, the stigma meaning we even need to label the author as such and the ways in which “normal” people can better understand and help those of us in difficulty. Instead, we turn in on ourselves and we ostracize those who medicate and we criticise their choices, with each person trying to outdo the other to tell the anecdote that *proves* the non-medicinal way is best. And we need to STOP. We need to stop right now. How can we expect the world to stop judging us when we can’t even stop judging ourselves?
I don’t think anybody else would consent to discussing their mental health on the street, surrounded by strangers. Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into these situations. I doubt “I apologise but I’m out shopping, could you possibly call me again later” would be the rudest, most awful thing my NHS mental health liason person could hear on the phone. And yet instead of those words, I found myself standing at the bus stop, agreeing to carry out an assessment, surrounded by both strangers and the strange!
It all started when I visited the GP office for a meds refill. My long term GP wasn’t listed on the surgery’s online booking system, so in true technological-age style, I booked in with a random GP rather than make a phone call to an actual human. For some reason this new GP was obsessed with decreasing my meds, with a view to their eventual cessation. Now, as any of you who rely on your meds to function in the real world will know, this is a terrifying prospect and it immediately brought me out in a cold sweat. I agreed with her, nodding and umm-ing in all the right places, while in my mind resolving not to see her again. I figured I would return to my own GP, who seems less inclined to withhold my shiny, sanity-inducing sweeties. During all of this agreeing though, I somehow found myself referred to the NHS mental health service. I walked out wondering what mind games this woman was trained in!
A couple of days later I received a phone call from a blocked number while walking down the aforementioned street. The gods are definitely in league with this GP against me, because in a very out-of-character move I answered the unknown caller. It was the mental health service: did I have time for a quick chat? Which is the story of I found myself standing beside a woman who I’m pretty sure was a man in a dress, spilling my emotional guts into my phone.
I think the caller expected a quick “tick-the-box” appointment scheduling call as she asked me why I needed CBT and why I would benefit from their service. Instead, she got every one of her questions right back at her. (Serves her right for the “private number” caller ID trick if you ask me!)
Caller: Why do you need CBT?
Me: I don’t know, do I need CBT?
Caller: Do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to you?
Me: I don’t know, do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to me?
You get the idea!
And so, I find myself with a screening call scheduled this month, the day after my holidays in fact, to discuss my options & figure out the answer to the question that’s been on my mind for several months now: do I need CBT?
For the first time in 3 months I have the luxury of time. Since my last post I have been working 7 day weeks, travelling non-stop for work or family events and trying to fit in those pesky little essentials: eating & sleeping. Two weeks ago I flew to Australia for a long-anticipated Xmas break. The first 2 weeks taken up with family events & social niceties but finally, this week, I checked into a beach side retreat for 2 days and, luxury of luxuries: I caught my breath! I’m not ashamed to admit that I “wasted” several hours playing on my iPad. Or that I spent a considerable portion of my first day sleeping away the beautiful sunlight. I’ll even admit that right now, instead of rushing out to explore Melbourne, I’m relaxing in my hotel lounge, drinking the free whiskey & waiting for them to bring out the free cake I’ve heard rumours of. I am well and truly “switched off”.
Unlike others who choose to disconnect from their work email when on holiday, I still have mine running on my phone. I check in every couple of days to see what’s happening & I delete the nonsense. (I like returning to a spam-free inbox.) Unlike other holidays though, I merely mark the important ones for follow up & then forget all about them. There have been several times I could have dropped a quick one-liner in reply, but I resisted by chanting the following rule: is this important enough to break the illusion that I’m uncontactable? We all know that as soon as we send that first fatal email we open the floodgates to a hundred “quick question”s and “just wanted to check”s. The web of invisibility I have successfully weaved was hard won and I won’t apologise for guarding it ferociously!
It all sounds good so far, right? There’s always a but…..now that I’m stripped bare of the emails and the “busy” and the oh-so-trivial-but-right-now-so-important things I fill my life with, I find that the real me has no where left to hide. The “new me” who practices disconnection and invisibility finally has the mental space to face up to emotions and decisions that have been buried under the flurry of my life. It hasn’t followed suit however, that the real me is ready for them. It’s easy to distract myself from inner turmoil when there’s grocery shopping to be done or a client meeting to be scheduled. Not so easy when I’m strolling along a beach listening to the crashing waves or snuggled up in bed with my beloved, eating Doritos and watching nonsense television. And so I find myself in a bittersweet and contemplative mood. This city is my oyster, promising delicious delicacies and enthralling experiences at every turn and yet my mind, and my heart, are demanding my attention. Who wins remains to be seen, although I suspect I already know the answer: if you ever find yourself in Melbourne let me know, because by this time tomorrow I’m sure I will have a detailed hour-by-hour itinerary I can send you…