I'm Worried About You
How covering up mental illness hurts us
Posted Jan 15, 2016
I don't know how to deal with my loved ones being worried about me. Well, I do, but it's probably not the right way: to just assure the people that love you that you are okay even if you're not. I'm not saying that I'm not okay, in this case, but that is the standard response.
I've talked a lot about the controversial "how are you" question and how it's only socially acceptable to provide "good and yourself?" as a response. My friend and I have joked about answering "you know what, I'm having a really hard time..." and going into your life story when some random person on the street or in the elevator asks you how you're doing. It makes people uncomfortable, you know. The truth. People, specifically in corporate America, don't want to know if you feel like shit. If you're having a difficult time with life. They ask to be courteous but they really aren't being courteous at all, because they don't actually care how you're doing. Most, anyway. Some do. I have to give credit to good friends and good people, in general, who do actually want to know the real answer. But for the others, who expect the illustrious "I'm great how are you doing?!" and want nothing less, I really don't know why they even bother asking. It's a completely useless exchange.
I am so conditioned to the white collar lifestyle of conservative, professional expectations that I don't know how to be honest anymore. Or, it feels wrong to me. It feels like a burden to others when I say, "I'm in pain" or "I'm suffering from anxiety due to the stress of my illness" (schizophrenia) or "I'm depressed" or, god forbid, "I'm hallucinating." And you know, both my mother and my grandmother brought me up with the mission statement "Don't ever let them see you cry." They are tough women who believe that if all you can do is keep your head up, everything will be okay. My mother did not allow me to complain and once I was with my father I had no reason to. It's a difficult habit to break. To stop, and actually ask myself, well, how are you doing? Are you really okay, or are you just saying that because it's easier?
The life I have created for myself - this nonstop workaholic nature of mine between my more-than-full-time corporate job and Stigma Fighters and OCH and Diversability and being an author, if I ever have time to write fiction again - is tough. I constantly have to remind myself that most people with schizophrenia don't even work full time, let alone all-the-time, and that this is not normal, even for people that are not mentally affected by stress in a supremely negative way. People I know call me Superwoman until they see one of my blogs on my Psychology Today column wherein I'm like, wow, schizophrenia sucks, and I need a nap, and everybody is like OHMYGODALLIESTOP.
It has become easier for me, to bypass the burden we place on our loved ones, especially those extremely close to us who are likely to worry without a moment's notice, by complaining about my mental issues on the Internet. This is an unfortunate result of being one of the active leaders of the Stigma Fighters movement and the mental health community as a whole. There is value in making an emotional connection with someone who has gone through what you have when maybe the people in your family or the people physically close to you have not been through it and maybe don't understand. This I know first hand, being a member of the community that has the most stigmatized mental illness there is. But is it healthy?
Don't be afraid to burden your friends, family, and loved ones. I need to work on this too, but deep down, I know that if they care about me, it's not actually a burden to them. If you are honest, those people asking how you're doing who don't really care will stop asking after a while, and you won't have to worry about them anymore. You don't need anyone in your life who doesn't care about you or who is not sensitive or empathetic to what you're going through. I'd much rather have a small circle who cares than a big circle who doesn't.
I've rejected this ideal that it is okay to tell the truth about mental illness when somebody asks, based on my opinion that it is just too hard to explain and not worth it. But that is absolutely not true and we all know it. It's hard to explain what it feels like to deal with schizophrenia. Trust me, I get it; I've done it for years. But it is worth it. How can it not be? Once someone close to you really understands what you're going through, can't they help you when you need it? Can't they offer the kind of support that someone online could never offer because they are physically there with you? How is that not worth it?
If you are afraid - as a person with schizophrenia, to explain to someone not affected by mental illness that you hear voices or you're convinced someone is trying to kill you - that they will run away from you or have you committed or worse, imprisoned, they are not a friend. They do not care about you, really. Again, I'd much rather have a small circle who cares than a big circle who doesn't. Wouldn't you?
I don't ask you how you're doing because I wan't you to say "good, and yourself?" Actually, I usually only ask this question because I know the person isn't doing so hot and I want to lend a helping ear if I can. I'm a great listener and they call me The Fixer. Not to be an arrogant asshole but I give great advice. That's what I do best. I'm here for you. I'm learning that this is a two-way street, and I'm really trying to rely on my loved ones for support as much, if not more, as I do the mental health community on the Internet. It's not healthy to say "I'm okay" when you're not. Those people that don't really care don't really matter, and the best thing that comes out of you being honest is getting rid of them. Why would you want that toxicity in your life? Do you think it'll help?
It'll only help to get rid of it. It's okay. We can do it together.