What’s worse – comments from the peanut gallery or “advice” from fellow mentally ill people who actively disregard their issues? I honestly have no idea.
Would I rather be told, “it’s all in your head,” by someone who has no experience with having a head that actively works against his or her best interest 130% of the time or, “I’m just so worried about you,” by someone who exhibits equally alarming behavior?
This might not be something that frustrates all mentally ill people, but it really sends me down a frustrated rage spiral. Maybe it’s because I resent all the healthy behaviors I’m half-heartedly trying to implement into my daily life. When I see someone who could benefit from them as well, yet they refuse while simultaneously expressing concern for my arguably more proactive attempts at recovery, I can’t contain my irritation.
I can’t really stand the notion that I’m held to some higher standard because of my relative outspokenness. Like, “oh, that must mean she’s coping really well,” and when people come to me for advice only to find that I’m still struggling, they get concerned. And I’m like, “duh, guys. I told you that I have a mental illness. What the fuck did you expect?”
This is the predicament in which many people who are outspoken about their mental illnesses find themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think of myself as a martyr by any stretch, but being open about my struggles doesn’t suddenly make me qualified to be someone else’s therapist.
Maybe it’s the invasiveness of these conversations coupled with my general silence about the nitty-gritty of my disorders out of fear of inconveniencing and burdening people that leads to this. I have these same pent-up emotions and no confidantes apart from my therapists, which is fine, but at times, I feel put on a pedestal of “knowing stuff,” which consequently makes any suggestion of my actual struggle more jarring.
I would never turn anyone away, and I am in a unique – albeit unenviable – position to be empathetic and give responses to people that I would want to hear. But then, I never get to hear them myself! I don’t feel I can ever receive the validation I give to others because as I said, indications of my struggles are met with shock and misunderstanding since I apparently give off the vibe that I’m coping well.
I spend a large amount of time trying to be self-aware and introspective enough to find out why I have such a hard time recovering, which gives me insight on some level, but sometimes, it feels unfair to be seeing three different therapists while my peers don’t even ask me if it’s “okay” if they unload their problems onto me. I can give people the same advice my therapists give me, but what works for me won’t work for everyone. I can read all the “mental health” articles in the world, but I’m not qualified to counsel. Sometimes, I’m barely qualified to listen to someone vent.
It especially adds insult to injury when those same people mask their shock with concern. Do they think I’ve been exaggerating this whole time? Like I just thought saying I had a mental illness was cute or something? I know it sounds harsh, but it’d be like wearing a cast on your arm only to have a person with bone protruding from his or her flesh act like your injury is the worst thing they’ve ever seen. Like “I know I’m mentally ill! Try addressing your own problems instead of mine, thanks.”
I’m not making a judgment either. Most of these people have actually told me how badly they’re struggling. Don’t tell me about your self-harm and then act shocked by mine. Also, don’t try to give justification for why yours is somehow less disconcerting. We’re suffering from the same class of illnesses. We can commiserate without judging each other’s severity in a patronizing way.
I know this is a bit rant-y, and I apologize for that. There are so many people, however, who tell me I should go into the “mental healthcare” field because of my so-called advice giving and interest in mental illness, but most of that stems from grasping at self-care straws. I would love to be able to help people, but I’m having trouble helping myself at this point. To force me into position of having to appear less sick than I am while also being shocked when I show my actual level of sickness to you for the first time isn’t fair. Don’t conflate knowledge about an illness with recovery from an illness. I don’t think it’s weird to want to know as much as I can about what I’m dealing with in hopes that I can ultimately learn to deal with it better.
The only reason I have a “knack” for mental illness is because I have one – well, several! It’s not some divine gift. It’s necessity. If someone calls me in hysterics, I’m just as lost as he or she is. I’m glad the person feels comfortable telling me his or her deepest struggles, but 1) no one really reciprocates and 2) it puts a lot of pressure on me, a fellow mentally ill person, to give advice that I know I’m incapable of taking myself.
Obviously, I want to create a space where we can talk openly and honestly about mental illness, but that conversation doesn’t have to be unequally emotionally taxing. When people I care about are struggling, I’m empathetic toward that, but when those same people refuse to take care of themselves, come to me repeatedly with the same problems, and are alarmed when I show signs of the illness I told them I have, the conversation quickly becomes one-sided. I’m not good at emotional labor. It doesn’t come naturally to me. If anything, the ability to give objectively good advice stems from that, and when people vent to me, I know they aren’t always looking for advice. They’re looking for emotional support, and since that is difficult for me, I am once again stuck pretending for the sake of others without any hope of that being reciprocated.
I love my peers. I’m not at all bitter. I’m just exhausted.