The hardest part of having a mental illness is not what you would expect. It’s not feeling that the world will collapse if I make a mistake. It’s not the feeling that I don’t feel the way I “should.” Both of these are common thoughts that run through my mind, and from what I understand, they are completely normal for those who have anxiety. The most difficult part of having a mental illness is that you can never fully communicate exactly what is going on to the point where people can understand it.
Not being able to express precisely how you feel is consistently frustrating. It’s not something that I’ve ever come to terms with. At times I lash out at someone who is trying to understand, and I never mean to. It’s not because they are being insensitive or are wrong in what they are saying. It’s because I feel I’m not explaining things correctly, and if I could just find those perfect words to communicate how my anxiety/depression feels, then everything would be fine. It drives me crazy.
The frustration bubbles when I’m talking with someone, and they are trying to relate. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not frustrated with them. I’m frustrated with myself. I’m frustrated that something is wrong with me, that my experience is so far off that I can’t put it into words, that it’s so unnatural that a “normal” person wouldn’t be able to comprehend what I meaning. Sometimes it comes out more aggressive than I anticipate or intend. I try to apologize when I notice it as it has nothing to do with the individual I may be snappy with. It has everything to do with the frustration I have with myself. Sometimes I wonder if this is what toddlers feel like when they are trying reason why they feel the way they do, but can’t. They just don’t know or have the words to describe it.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this as well, so I know how confusing it can be to try and relate to someone to have them tell you that you just aren’t getting it. You’re trying but you can’t seem to grasp what they are trying to describe. I know that feeling all too well. I do my best to take it in stride, but even when talking with another person with a mental illness, there’s this feeling of disconnect. It doesn’t matter if we even have the same disorder. We experience them so uniquely that trying to find someone who has a similar experience can be difficult. My best friend has an anxiety disorder as well, and even in heightened times of stress, we experience anxiety so differently. For her, the mental symptoms come first. Me…I experience physical symptoms before the anxiety even comes. My body gives me advanced notice to try and address the situation. (It works about 50% of the time.)
I sometimes wonder what other people think I’m feeling when I say I have anxiety or depression. Do they truly understand the weight behind those words? Or do they just think I’m filled with worry or sadness? Do they understand that when I say I’m anxious that I’m not worried, but I’m envisioning the most catastrophic ending I can possibly think of? How can I make them understand it’s more than just “if I don’t do this right, then I’ll have to start over, and that’s exhausting?” It’s more…”if I don’t do this right, then the next phase will be wrong as well. If that is wrong, then my boss is going to come talk to me. If he does that, and I can’t figure it out, he’s going to fire me. If he fires me then I’m not going to be able to pay bills. If I cant’ pay my bills, I’m going to get evicted. If I get evicted, where am I going to go? Who’s going to want to employ a homeless woman who looks disheveled? ” I can turn almost anything into me becoming homeless and alone. Clearly that is my ultimate fear, but how do I relay all of that without looking like a crazy person? What’s the right word or phrase to describe that? That is where my frustration lies.
For me, it is truly the worst part of mental illness. I won’t be able to express myself freely and correctly without others looking at me like I’m crazy. It does not help that in the past I’ve had someone use that knowledge to their benefit. When you are trying to express yourself openly and tell them how you are feeling, they call you crazy to your face. It’s one of the most damaging experiences I’ve had as someone with mental illness, to open up and trust someone, to have them confirm your defective. **As a side note, I’d like to mention that since I’ve had this experience with an individual, I began to learn to discuss my feelings with more than one person. It always ends up that the only person who thought I was crazy was that one individual. That’s when friends introduced me to the term gaslighting.**
That fear has not gone away though. I still find myself struggling to the pick the words I use to describe my moods. It’s as if there are not adjectives in the English language to fully capture how heavy it can be. I don’t want to use anything to “scary” or “heavy” that will put people off. I don’t want to go into a long description of how I feel in fear that it will make me look crazy. And at times, it really just makes me want to scream.