I haven’t read an article quite so confronting since the article that prompted me to write a blog that included a picture of myself inebriated in Fiji wearing little more than a mini-skirt and leopard print bra. That article was about the shocking self-hatred and body image issues that have perpetuated in women for generations. This one was about calling women crazy.
What a can of worms has been opened.
I was so upset that I actually ventured out of the house to the regular Thursday night gathering at two of our best friends’ home and I sat in the living room, and I read the article aloud to a dear friend Polina who has just returned from Russia, and I cried. I have gone there perhaps a dozen times in over four years.
My own unique brand of genuine mental illness involves a brilliant array of symptoms, including a strange, and difficult to explain social anxiety. Despite being a loud, gregarious, and vivacious personality, I have a hard time leaving the safety of my home to engage in social activities. I adore entertaining at our house, and I get out of my front door to do other things no problem. I am certainly not agoraphobic. I very much like attending business meetings and networking and schmoozing. I have a travel addiction that would make your head spin. Every one of my children have been on an international flight within four weeks of their birth, and I could quite happily live out of a suitcase indefinitely and be in a new city or country every few days. I miss the comfort and safety of home and friendships back in NZ when I travel, but this is eclipsed by the non-committal and brief relationships I get to engage in as I meet new people on buses, planes, in queues and elevators etc. While I absolutely and genuinely adore and appreciate my (our) friends, the thin skin and extreme empathy that tortures this lady means any social interaction, while exhilarating, is also extremely depleting and draining as the thoughts and feelings of the people I spend time with actually “get in” and dwell in me and I am left with an overwhelming desire to help or comfort them because, well, I probably Love them more than I do myself I suppose. So any social interaction involving someone I care about means I give not only a long warm hug, but I give a part of myself, and also feel compelled to fill up space with noise and laughter which is at times very draining as well.
That long-winded rant may not help the case I am attempting to make in this article.
I shall leave it in though. As it’s important that this post be somewhat visceral and inarguably real, because if you’re taking the time to read this I want you to understand just how raw the nerve that was touched actually is.
Deep-breath Dee. You can do this. You are the absolute queen of the over-share.
Mismanaging my own and other people’s mental illness
A defence mechanism that I’ve evolved is to very openly and publicly admit and share my struggles with genuine mental illness, as well as my many quirks and eccentricities. I do this in the hopes that it may take away the sting of people calling me crazy. I beat them to the punch every time by peppering conversations with mean or invalidating personal comments like: “But that’s only because I am bat-shit cray cray.” Or “It’s okay, I’m not offended, everyone knows I am proper crazy.” Or “But then again, what do I know, I’m not exactly the poster girl for mental health.” I am going to try and curb this, and I’ll tell you why later.
I have to admit, I am also as guilty as most at dismissing some situations and interactions I don’t like by chucking in the “yeah, but that’s fine, because they’re just next level crazy” stamp. You know what, sometimes people are impossible, and their own worst enemy. I could tell you stories about bullies at work, mean girls, sexual harassment, terrible clients, and a handful of ex-boyfriends that would make your hair curl (most of whom were lovely and are now happily married to gorgeous, kind women and raising equally gorgeous kind children – but wow, I tried to save a few total jerks as well, before I met Grumpy) Even when dealing with the biggest basket of irrational or deluded you can imagine, I try desperately to be kind and appreciate their struggle. I put forth a huge effort never to marginalize them or their feelings. If they have recognized their issues and or are trying to be a better person, they deserve a fair shake and some extra understanding as far as I am concerned. A recent run-in with a very difficult character indeed meant that the other people involved with this person were keen to knock them down or attack the struggles that they were going through with mental illness and addiction issues. Although completely taken aback and fed up with this person, I did not attack them personally – even in retaliation, as boy oh boy did they attack me. Because they are in the process of trying to sort themselves out, I made a conscious decision to drop it. (My husband just reminded me that at the time I actually very much wanted to retaliate.) I won’t be inviting this person to our re-wedding, but I also wish them no ill.
Saying that, I have very little tolerance for people who use mental illness or make excuses for seriously amoral or damaging behaviour. We are all working through stuff, and we all have to coexist, so appreciate other people’s struggles and sensitivities as much as you can and show some respect. Just because you have been diagnosed with a social, mental or physical disorder, or are depressed, or going through a particularly tough time, does not give you the right to be a creep or a jerk. It may mean that you have to work considerably harder at certain things and put in more effort to be gentle with those around you, but it does not give you a get-out-of-jail-free card to do despicable things.
Lets look at this a little deeper at this “crazy” label shall we?
How “crazy” is someone who:
– Laughs loud and often
– Is raising happy and healthy children
– Enjoys a diverse range of meaningful, stable and fulfilling relationships
– Owns and operates an increasingly strong and successful business (even after a very rocky start indeed)
– Is happily married to a kind and brilliant man
– Can keep several dozen projects in motion at any given time
– Almost always has a kind word for strangers and friends
– Openly admits to having a vast array of flaws and foibles and chooses to learn from them rather than lament them and stagnate
– Have absolutely extraordinary bursts of productivity and achievement
– Frequently faces fears head on
– Rarely shies away from adventure or misses opportunities
– Doesn’t just like, but LOVES the absolute crap out of things
Yes, there are times when I completely lose the plot. This can be tied to hormones, events, or stress. It is true that there have been times I need to be swept up off the floor and given some serious recovery time before being able to get “back in the ring” and fight the next round in life.
However, I genuinely believe that I get better, and stronger, and smarter every year. I am becoming the kind of person I would be absolutely honored to know and spend time with. I achieve this with the help of some seriously amazing, deliciously diverse, painstakingly patient, and brutally honest friends and family.
So here’s what I think we should all aim to do when dealing with our own or other’s genuine mental illness:
1) Admit and acknowledge that we’re all broken.
We’re all dealing with stuff. We all lose our shit from time to time and we all hit walls that we can’t easily get around. Admit it, and do not use it as a weapon or a tool to nominalize people or their emotions.
2) Use humor- but be kind
It is a fine line between accepting and making light of a serious issue like mental health, but I think it is important that we try and find that fine balance.
The one person who is both the most supportive and at times the biggest jerk is my beloved husband. He can say and do some remarkably hurtful and unnecessary things – and is notoriously bad at not being able to pick up cues short of being screamed at to shut it when he has crossed a line. He drops a great deal of “BBC – Bitches Be Crazy!” and “Whoa baby, you’ve had an extra steaming hot cup of crazy today haven’t you?” Sometimes, I can absolutely handle this and find it quite freeing to share a laugh with him about this stuff, other times it is just the trigger to send me into quite a tailspin.
So this suggestion is a difficult one, as it can backfire terribly.
I do feel, that discussing difficult things in a lighter manner and couched in humor can take a lot of the sting away and make it easier to deal with.
3) NEVER stoop to gaslighting or emotional manipulation
If, when dealing with a person or situation that makes you uncomfortable or the outcome looks as though it may not swing you your favour, you hear/catch yourself pointing out a person’s mental illness, or insinuating that they are somehow broken or crazy, you are probably gaslighting.
Work very hard not to.
Sometimes the mentally ill can be irrational, difficult, even delusional or hysterical. Sometimes you are just being an asshole. Work really hard to be honest with yourself and them about which one is happening when you’re dealing with people please.
4) Know the difference between enabling and supporting people with mental illness
Back to the honesty thing. Sometimes you’ll have to have some hard talks with your mentally ill friends and loved ones. About their behavior, about your concern for them.
The razor thin line my nearest and dearest tread with me when I am having an episode is the line between confronting an issue or incident of concern in a way that makes me prepared to face it and learn from it, or simply lose my shit completely.
A less than useful (although, inarguably sometimes VERY useful) coping mechanism I employ in life is abruptly and completely ending relationships.
I cut people off completely and indefinitely and never EVER look back. This won’t happen with the inner-most sanctum (husband, nuclear family, oldest and dearest friends) but it is a thing that I do that weighs heavily on people who Love me or so I have been told.
However, this is not an excuse to pussy foot around issues, and allowing me to get my way for fear I may toss my toys out of the cot and cut you off is not a valid excuse to let me be an asshole.
I think the same logic can be employed with anyone you deal with, diagnosed mental illness or not.
Be frank but fair, and know who they are and act with respect, Love and concern, and if the relationship is strong enough to weather the storms it will be rich and rewarding indeed.
5) Try not to trivialise or play the victim when dealing with mental health issues
Underplaying serious concerns or ignoring things because they are tough or uncomfortable is not going to help you or your loved ones.
Know when you are out of your depth, and seek intervention and support when you are. This is relevant for those personally dealing with concerns, as well as their support networks.
6) Be gentle, but honest
Use kind words. Avoid blame. Don’t generalize. Know the difference between the illness and the person. Don’t bring up the past as a weapon.
Hang on, but also know when to walk away.
It is a delicate and difficult dance indeed. And I look forward to hearing more about other people’s journey’s dealing with this stuff personally or supporting loved ones through them.
7) Know when to ask for help or intervention
When a problem is getting to the point it consumes you, and you no longer feel control of it. Get. Some. Help.
8) Be calm
My husband insisted I put this in. And he is absolutely calm – to the point it drives me around the bend. Sometimes I crave a reaction from him, but he’s gotten so good at weathering my storms and riding my rollercoaster. Literally anything I have thrown at him so far in our lives together has hardly ruffled a feather.
Don’t think for a moment I married a saint. He has faults a plenty, but when it comes to dealing with his wife, and the many other diagnosed mentally ill humans in our life, he is always a beacon of strength and calm.
9) Stick to the facts
Self explanatory. Don’t make things up, don’t embellish, don’t gaslight, don’t be a jerk basically.
10) Avoid attack and defence
As in any human interaction or any communication punctuated sequence of events, there is a risk of a small thing escalating to a very big thing. Defensiveness and offensiveness is a sure fire way to turn a potentially useful and valuable event or interaction into a total clusterfuck where nobody wins and nothing is achieved.
11) Don’t try to “fix” people
Know who you are dealing with, and know the difference between them and their disease.
You can’t change people. They have to do that for themselves.
Know when to walk away, and know when to stick around, but don’t ever wait for someone to become something you want them to be.
You will only be empty and disappointed.
Celebrate the great things, acknowledge and face those things you do not like, but don’t every expect someone to become the kind of person you want them to be. They are who they are, and if that isn’t enough for you to stick around, then walk away.
12) Know the difference between the disease and the person, and remind yourself of this when things get tough
Again, self explanatory.
What a marathon.
This is just my own personal observations and meanderings. I am not a qualified mental health professional, or a relationship expert. I am just someone who is fascinated by human relationships and communication, and these are just words on a screen that I am sharing with you based on my own extensive experiences with successful and unsuccessful relationships.
I am absolutely a self proclaimed feminist, and therefore, stooping to “bitches be crazy” or peppering your brain, your language or your behaviour with offensive and inaccurate shit or eluding to all women being crazy is so counter productive on so many levels and you (and I) need to try and sort that shit out.
Watch how you talk. It affects how you think. And that affects how you behave. And that affects who you are.
Hope it was worth the read.
Please feel free to get in touch and comment.