Friday, July 31, 2015

The Pitfalls of Living in Hiding

Living with a mental illness means hiding in plain sight for me. Most people IRL don't know I have bipolar II and while I have been more open with my first family and even in-laws, and occasionally I leave mental health related comments on FB pages I follow, I tend to remain incognito. (The hubbo would say "unacknowledged" vs. incognito)

This week my hiding in plain sight tactic set me up for an uncomfortable situation.

One of the ladies I met through a board game gaming group invited me out for a walk (we ran a 5k together before Baby but then kinda fell outta touch). Well, she had received some "bipolar texts" from her mother and proceeded to talk all about her crazy mother and her bipolar-oh, and her mother happens to be on cocaine. For whatever reason the bipolar was emphasized as the offending aspect much more than the effect of hard drugs... never mind the mixing of the two.

It was awkward for me to be walking along hearing her rant and deprecate bipolar and even self harm and suicidal episodes ("if you don't get it right the 1st time, and you do the same thing the next time and fail again, obviously it's just for attention!") completely unaware that I had personal experience with all those issues. 

I couldn't bring myself to say, "Well, I have bipolar II and I have cut myself, banged my wrists, slammed my head against walls, I've written suicide notes, I've wanted to die and I'm not the same as your crackhead mother." ***I could probably come up with something better to say, more meaningful, but I can't think of it ATM***

The whole thing made think of how I live my life with so many people not having a clue who I really am. I suppose this isn't a strange thing, I'm certainly not alone in this, but that awkward walk conversation really brought it home for me and made me wonder what being "out" would be like.

Living in hiding wasn't really a choice, it just happened. I grew up with feelings not being okay and mental health being irrelevant AKA ignored (if we don't acknowledge it, there isn't a problem!). I'm not sure what living honestly would look like, it's not like mental health comes up in casual conversations, but sometimes I want to take up arms and make a stand.

Part of what motivates me is my own loneliness. All the days and nights I wonder if other families go through what we go through. I wonder if there are other seemingly "normal" folks that hide their pain, struggle in private, feel as lonely and isolated as the hubs and I. I wonder if my living honestly would help them feel better, if maybe in the long run it would combat my loneliness as well, help create a more accepting community around me or in society. It's so invalidating hiding like I do, every dishonest "I'm fine" to each "How are you?" leaves little tears in my heart.

But I also hide because of fear. I see what people write and hear what people say, things like what my friend said that perpetuate erroneous stereotypes and cultivate fear. I've seen the blank, terrified stares of someone who has no clue how to react when they hear me talk honestly and openly about mental illness, and I've read the "just kill yourself" or "I'm glad they're dead" comments online.

I don't know where I'll end up with this, living in hiding or leading a charge for acceptance or something in between, but I know that I need to keep thinking on it. 

4 comments:

  1. No easy answers.
    The plus to being out is that anyone who can't handle it drifts (or runs) away. It is hard enough to live with a chronic condition without having to protect other people from it. The misconceptions are infuriating, and sometimes dangerous.
    On the minus side? Far too many people feel qualified to tell you what you SHOULD be doing.
    Do what is right for you.

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  2. There is so much stigma associated with mental illness that it makes your head spin. How people can't seem to understand that the brain - like any other part of the body - can get ill is beyond me. Most people react ignorantly because...well...because of ignorance. And stereotypical misconceptions. Perhaps in time we'll rise above this nonsense. I hate that people will these types of illnesses have to hide, pretend or feel ashamed. I lost someone very close to me to suicide because of all this nonsense. It breaks my heart to think of how many lives are lost needlessly because of all this ignorance.

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  3. I mostly keep my depression and anxiety to myself because being mentally unwell is still shrouded in stigma. My family knows and are supportive. My brother deals with terrible anxiety so we understand each other. My mom also had depression. My (step) dad is the happiest and most relaxed person I know and even though he has never been depressed he is very supportive. Of course my husband and kids know. The women from my weight loss group know as well and that has been so amazing.
    But beyond that, I tend to keep it to myself. I think people hear that you have a mental illness then use it against you. Like everything you do wrong is because of the depression.
    At any rate, it isn't up to you to teach them. Sometimes we just have to teach ourselves about what mental illness is and isn't. That is enough.

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  4. Well said ladies, we'll said!

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Thank you for reading and commenting!

Be well, HBF