Okay, so I have a mental illness; in the same way as I have 10 toes, superior taste in pink leopard print shoes, and stretch marks. Part is acquired, part I was born with and some I just consider myself lucky to have (pink leopard print shoes are blatantly pure luck!)
People who vaguely know me assume I have 10 toes (I’m assuming their assumption) The excellent taste in footwear they learn in their experiences of me. Yet the mental illness, I hope they don’t assume or learn I have.
Having a mental illness does not make me a bad person, or any less valuable or valued. For me it mainly means my personal experiences are different from other people, who don’t feel and see life as I do. But surely everyone’s experiences are individual, so that can’t be where the shame comes from.
I reached a point where I had to tell my boss, who had known me on and off for over 15 years, in a work capacity, she was truly surprised as she said she’d never heard or seen a glimmer of it. So something I was doing, I was doing right.
But is it right to go home from appearing sane for the day, and self harm so I can get calm enough to sleep, then sleep for a few days and wake up exhausted?
My fear of the world, or even those close to me, seeing my weaknesses, knowing my vulnerabilities, felt too much. I felt so responsibly for their inevitable worry and burdens they would attempt to carry for me, and in doing so, double the weight for me (guilt comes in many shapes but the weight of it suffocates)
So now when talking to people I may mention my mental illness, but brush it off like a post natal depression; PND is in parenting magazines, its hormonal. PND isn’t linked to mass murders by the media. Its just more ‘acceptable’ and ‘normal’ and non scary.
But all mental illness is terrifying, not just for the unlucky number, but the people around them and who care for them. And I’d prefer for my friends in the middle and outer circles of my life to be unaware of my vulnerabilities and pain, even when there are days that’s all I have.
Soon after my personality disorder diagnosis I was sat in a friends kitchen drinking coffee and eating homemade cake (she baked, not me… obviously) When I told her my diagnosis we laughed and laughed and laughed, until tears rolled down our cheeks and coffee came out my nose. Then we talked about our kids and how they were doing, the library opening times and my self harming. We took it head on.
That day I learnt that sometimes in the face of what seems a life/death sentence, I need to laugh with a friend who accepts me, disorders and all, until coffee comes out my nose.