Today I’m going to share with you an important lesson I learned growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, not much else is as misunderstood and stigmatized as Mental Illness. In the same way you wouldn’t get angry with the incessant coughing coming from an asthma sufferer, you have to try to be a bit merciful and understanding of someone who’s physical ailment is invisible to the naked eye. But there’s a difference between uncontrollably coughing in the middle of a quiet moment at a church service, and hacking up a lung directly in the person sitting next to you’s face.
And that, my friend’s, is today’s lesson. Just because you’re going through hell, doesn’t make it ok to drag everyone else in to the flames with you.
This lesson is brought to you by my Dad, and his low tolerance for bullshit.
In case you were wondering, yes, he has room to speak. My Dad struggles with PTSD. He was speaking from a place of “lessons learned” every time he reminded me of this (gently, or otherwise).
Let me use myself as an example for a brief moment. I’m going to give you a tiny glance in to the seedy underbelly of OCD that no one likes to talk about. (Surprisingly, constant, unwarranted violent thoughts, and the quiet sound of something irrelevant to others making you so irritated you want to become violent isn’t quite as cute as rearranging the pantry until it’s just so.)
My biggest complaints about my particular anxiety disorder are as follows:
Imagine you are standing on a train platform calmly waiting for the train to your destination of choice. Everyone around you is busy thinking about work, their morning coffee, the fun adventure they are about to embark on, the happy thought of making it home to their bed after a long night shift. And though you may sit there, with a content look on your face, what’s going through your mind? The violent gory image of you stepping off the platform in front of the train. Or maybe even worse, and even more horrific to admit, the violent image of your kid slipping out of your grasp and falling on the the tracks, instead.
Soul Crushing Anxiety
You know, I have to admit, some days I don’t know if it’s the anxiety causing the horrific images in my head, or the images reminding me to be afraid of the world. Either way, it sucks. Need to drive somewhere in the pouring rain? Bam. Sick to your stomach. Need to duck in to the car for a second to unbuckle your kid, causing you to ultimately turn a blind eye to the evil world for a split second? You just made yourself a target for a violent crime. Need to fish something out of the garbage disposal? Need to go somewhere by yourself at night? Need to stay home alone for days on end? Need to do anything else that a normal functioning adult does? Hope you like saltines and Gatorade.
Sensory Processing Issues
Have you ever seen a child with Autism scream and tear at their clothing like their clothes are suddenly boring a hole in to their skin? I’ll let you in on a little secret, that’s because suddenly, their clothes literally feel like they are boring a hole in to their skin. It’s not only clothes that bear this magical power for us unlucky few. It can be anything. A certain sound, the feeling of your teeth accidentally grinding together, static-y hair, an irritating seam in your sock. Damn near anything.
Aside from the malfunctioning of whatever inner workings produce and absorb serotonin, after the last three examples, do I really need to explain why anxiety disorders almost always come hand in hand with depression?
When you read about symptoms like this (never mind the many symptoms I didn’t even mention), it might be easy to understand my hair pin trigger violent temper, and my constant fear of everything, and my reluctance to share my feelings and become close to anyone (ironic, isn’t it?). Understandable. It’s understandable.
It’s understandable that a war torn combat vet would have violent out bursts and want to drink themselves in to oblivion. It’s understandable why someone with depression wants to curl themselves in to a corner to whither away silently while the world around them continues spinning. It’s understandable why someone like myself might find it damn near impossible to inhabit the same space as someone else touching their stuff, and messing with their environment, yet simultaneously never wanting to be left alone with their own thoughts.
But unfortunately, none of this makes it acceptable to take it out on others. Having cramps and mood swings doesn’t make it ok to treat people like shit. Being over tired doesn’t make it ok to snap at and berate an innocent bystander. And being angry at the universe, no matter how justified your feelings may be, doesn’t make it acceptable to take it out on everyone around you.
It’s not their fault. You may want it to be. You may even at times wish that it’s the people around you who cause you to feel this way, and if only you could just rid yourself of them, it would all go away. But that’s not the case. This one is on you. Your actions are still ultimately your choice. Whether you decide to drink until you pass out, or treat your spouse terribly, or lose patience with your kids for no reason… or maybe even just distance yourself from someone because it’s easier than dealing with the feels… this is all still on you.
You are still in there, somewhere, and you need to remember that.
So I’ll leave you with this:
Have mercy on yourself. Have mercy on others. This shit isn’t easy. Just remember, that at the end of the day, you will still be held responsible for the choices you made.
Make good choices, kids.