Mental Illness is Gross Sometimes

With apologies for the timing of this, given the entire garbage fire that is the world. But hey, my blog, my blog. I’m giving myself a minute to be self involved.

Hi, hello. Welcome. I’ve written- give or take- forty seven billion blog posts here. All about the bad days, the good days…unrelated anythings, all that. I never meant this to be the second coming of Girl, Interrupted*, no matter how often the interruptions do seem to come along. In fact, I’ve been wanting to finish something I was writing about my dog. I have notes on scraps of paper napkins from the hospital, written with golf pencils that I want to put into something more organized than just “Linda shower midnight” and “Beyonce dance stretch” and “jail eyeliner?”. Which I guess is pretty Girl Interrupted, but shut up.

What I have wanted this place to be is somewhere that I feel like I can write anything about anything without having to worry about how it come across, specifically when it comes to mental illness. I know a few people will read it (there are TENS of us!), but I can ignore that when I just push it out onto the internet.

Those tens of people though…what I often forget is that sometimes, what I write and the way I write it unintentionally glosses over the real day to day of what it is to live in my brain. Let me start with a much easier version of this:

Stuttering. Talking about stuttering has similar pitfalls as does mental illness, but instead of defensiveness from the reader or listener, my experience is usually “huh, I didn’t realize.” So stuttering is where I’ll begin: saying “sometimes my words don’t come out” doesn’t describe the way my jaw can shake, or how my mouth can get caught in what looks like a silent movie whistle. It’s not just the brief pause or double repetition- a move that the more well-meaning of the listener has gone so far as to describe as “cute”, in that patronizing sort of way. It’s jarring, and uncomfortable. It’s reality.

So, mental illness. That’s a broad category, even for my own brain. Depression, Anxiety, OCD. They each come with their own tricks, but for these purposes I’m shoveling them all together. You’ve read Hyperbole and a Half? That last line from The Bell Jar? Whatever the fuck this was? If I may speak for my people, there is this need to make our mental illnesses palatable. To provide an ending that will let you close the book or leave the theater with hope that there’s a way out of the tangle that is our brain chemistry. There’s this pervasive need to make mental illness tragically beautiful. Hopeful. Fixable, or at the very least to make us savable. The uplifting final scene is rarely one that ends with the mentally ill putting away some of the clothes that have been on their floor for a month with a building, triumphant John Williams score. Even fewer of them walking back into therapy to make another baby step towards some approximation of wanting to live.

Here’s where it gets complicated for us. Relationships, whatever form they take, mean there’s another living, breathing, feeling person on the other side. There are only so many times I can expect to cancel on someone last minute before they stop asking me to lunch. My roommate can’t be expected to wash the dishes every time because I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. Forget another birthday? Of course you’re upset. And should be.

Starting with that caveat sets this whole thing up to be “burden vs burdened”- that’s how deep this guilt runs. What I’m trying to shine a light on is that anyone who loves- or even tolerates- someone with a mental illness needs to understand the reality of what that really truly looks like. Sometimes it’s not showering, and that’s gross. We know that, and we’re embarrassed by it. Sometimes it’s withdrawing for awhile. That’s not healthy, and a “hey, thinking of you, here when you’re ready” can be huge- even huger than suggesting a nice run. Or a day doing a bunch of stuff around Chicago.

Sometimes- recently for me- it means a hospital visit, which probably looks scary and rock-bottom-y from the outside, but is actually a good thing sometimes! My vote is: ask. Some of us want to talk about it. Normalize it. Some of us don’t, but you’ll never know unless you ask. Trust your friends and family to understand what particular sort of mental garbage they’re wading through, and go from there. Just please remember that we’re often a lot more self-aware than it looks.

And this goes double for those of us who also experience this stuff! Our own experience isn’t someone else’s, and vice versa and so on and so on.

I think this is a good place to stop. After all, I don’t want to steal any thunder from my blog post about the hospital. I think I have more to say about this, but I have to be awake very early to catch the sanitation folk: I got a new mattress! How about that for little victories?

*I 100% do not believe anything I write is the second coming of any huge hit book-turned-film. Trust.

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