I’ve been working on my mental health for 30 years, since I was maybe 12 and first heard of the concept of mental illness. I honestly can’t even remember what it was, that first reference that made me begin to question whether or not I had mental illness. See, in my family, none of that was talked about because it wasn’t real to them. They didn’t “believe” in it. Everything was so black and white, cut and dry, with my family. If it couldn’t be picked up on a test or an x-ray, it wasn’t real, the end.
In my early adult years, I still didn’t really know a whole lot about mental illness. I’d been told I was manic depressive at 16 but I didn’t even really know what that meant. I just know that everything always felt out of control to me, and awful, just awful. Even good things felt awful because I had no point of reference. I had no idea what love was supposed to feel like.
Through my 20s, I saw a couple of therapists and tried several medications, all for bipolar disorder. None of them ever questioned that and all of them confirmed the diagnosis. I had only just begun attempting to develop methods and tools for dealing with my out-of-control mind, and I was miserably unsuccessful. My early 30s saw more of the same.
During all of those years, I tried and tried, and I made the smallest amount of progress here and there. I mean, if you can define progress as learning to ignore symptoms and shoving them away into a box in my mind until they exploded in nuclear fashion and wiped out everything and everyone around me. Sure, progress.
During all of those years of not really making much progress despite how hard I tried, I was told by the people in my life, the men who were supposed to love and cherish me, family members, friends, that I wasn’t making enough progress. I wasn’t “getting better” fast enough. They liked to say things like, “It’s all in your head, you just need to learn self-control,” or “You’re so fucked up there is no fixing you.” Real nice stuff, you know?
In the last 10 years, I’ve made noticeable progress. Real progress. I am better, more in control, more mentally healthy than I’ve ever been, or could have hoped to be. I’ve achieved what feels like an astonishing level of self-awareness. Unfortunately, all that self-awareness includes being aware of aspects of myself that feel and look like the most terrible of flaws and all of my deepest, darkest fears.
Like not “getting better” fast enough. I have lived a life full of people who gave up on me eventually because I just wasn’t “getting better” fast enough or to their liking. Seems they had different ideas of what a “better” me looked like. Their idea of a better me is the exact opposite of how I actually am as I see myself now. I guess I have abandonment issues? Is that what this is? I’m constantly afraid that someone is going to decide that they just don’t like me anymore. That it’s going to be because of something I did or said that I had no idea would have such an impact because I’m a socially awkward moron and it’s going to be a deal-breaker that I wasn’t aware of and they’re just going to go away.
So, in a way, I am still following an outdated model of what “getting better” looks like. Am I really getting better if I’m still constantly censoring myself for the comfort of others out of fear that I will alienate them completely if I say the wrong thing at the wrong time? Am I still just trying to be what I think the best version of myself is based on what I think someone else expects of me rather that just being the best version of myself as I actually am?
Do I keep myself isolated from the world because it’s what is best for me or because I think it’s probably what’s best for everyone else? If I’m not around, I can’t make people uncomfortable and give them a reason to leave me. If I don’t express myself, I won’t alienate anyone, right? People are probably happier when I’m not around generally because I can only be handled in small doses. I’m too much. I talk too much, I say the wrong things, my opinions are too strongly-held, I’m too loud, I’m intimidating, I make people nervous… these are all things that have been said to me multiple times by multiple people throughout my life.
I thought maybe I’d finally reached an age where I don’t have to give a fuck anymore, where I don’t have to temper myself, where I would just be accepted and loved in all my weird, awkward, obnoxious glory. I always thought that maybe someday I’d find my tribe, you know? A place I fit, with people who accepted me as I am, where I wouldn’t have to “tone it down” or be quieter, less opinionated, less expressive.
I’m realizing now that no, I have not finally reached that age. I still have all of these barriers and insecurities and fears inside. I know who I am, I know I’m valuable, I recognize my self-worth. But I also know that it is still my first instinct, when I feel like I’ve put someone off in some way, to retreat, isolate, cut myself off from that person so as not to say another wrong thing. If I don’t say anything at all, it won’t be the wrong thing to say, right?
I struggle the most with never knowing what the right thing is. I don’t know how “normal” people do this thing, this life thing. I mean, do they sit around agonizing over a single sentence they spoke? Do they berate themselves? Do they feel awkward and weird and unsure of how to proceed?
Do they feel a not-constant-but-far-too-often desire for reassurance?
Do they think how ridiculous this all is and how it is not even an accurate reflection of reality and yet are still unable to stop or change the thoughts and behaviors that are only more detrimental to the situation at hand?
I wish my brain worked in a rational manner.
I wish I knew what security felt like.
I wish I didn’t say all the wrong things whenever I actually let my guard down enough to speak freely.
I wish I didn’t still feel like I’m not getting there fast enough.