The thing about Mental Illness is that is comes with extras, like the Aldi catalogue- they know you don’t want it but still try to dump you with it anyway, the green tea you never finish at Nha Trang Restaurant (Millennials can’t afford to refuse freebies), and all the wasted Liberal Party (aka Australian’s Republican party) campaign material deposited in Northcote. EVERYONE knows it’s a Greens area!
The extras you get with Mental Illness aren’t all as innocuous as those examples, but they are unwanted, all the same.
After a week of sinking into the couch with my dopey cat Amy by my side, I decided it was time I ought to try to go to work. Halfway through the morning, my mother texted me “how is it going, did you make it to work?’ “Meh” I replied. “But not too awful?’ she asked, “I would like to quit very much” I said, regarding the employment, not life. “I know, do you want to go to Ikea later?” as if Ikea can fix the type of low level dysphoria with its $1 sausages and cosy textiles- that soothing consumable crap that reminds you that life doesn’t have to be too deep. I wanted to reply that my life was slipping away from me and felt more productive at home plotting new ideas and researching writing grants, but I just couldn’t be bothered. Personally, the ‘Are U OK?’ day campaign is what someone without mental illness came up with, because if you’ve ever been medication or hospitalised for your illness, having someone ask you “are you ok?” is simply maddening, condescending and the answer will be ‘Fine, why?’, so therefore ineffective. I won’t go on about how mental health campaigns should be led by people who had a lived experience. But seriously!
The constant worry from others that you’ll ‘do something silly’, the lack of financial stability, and the free advice “it’s just the job/meds/friends/environment /drinking/lack of exercise- that’s the problem- you just need a holiday!” I can only speak for myself, but when you’re mental, you want to hide it. You want to keep it safe beneath layers of shame and guilt and late-night Uber Eats weight-gain.
My first experience of family and work knowing my struggles felt like I was being ‘outed’, which is terrifying because you’ve worked so hard to fit in and be ‘normal’ and appear as if you don’t analyse every single interaction and thought and end each night thinking ‘Why am I here? What’s the purpose of Everything?” If I can’t answer those questions to myself sufficiently, there’s no way I’m getting out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to explain to your manager that your sick leave is due to existential doubt, causing depression. It’s much easier to say you had gastro. Again.
I’ve been outed a few times, and each time I promise myself I’m not going to be ashamed and just embrace it. Easier said than done.
I met a guy on Tinder and things were going well. We organised a pool date which I had a mini panic about because it would mean I would be outed. Physical scars don’t hide. He saw my upper thighs and asked what happened. I hesitated for a minute and replied, “it’s from me…I did it”. He then told me about an ex-girlfriend who also had scars. Then we changed topics and I felt a huge wave of relief, like I could now bask in the warmth of urine-concentrated kiddy-pool water with this person because he knew my worst secret.
There’s a fine line between privacy and hiding your very normal human pain chained in a closet.
I became a Missing Person
Sharing became easier the more I practised it. It was something I could control. But then a week after a particularly bad episode, I went out to a gig and during the course of the night my phone died and I met a guy who I went stumbling home with. The next day I charged my phone at his house and a barrage of messages came through asking where I was and was I safe? I called my mum and she explained that my friends had made a missing person report and it was all over social media and the news. This coincided ironically with mental health week, with world mental health day falling on October 10th.
An ex-boyfriend texted too, saying he saw me on the TV at the gym and it almost sent him flying off the treadmill. I would have enjoyed seeing that, I thought.
Overwhelmed by guilt, I accepted everyone’s opinions that I should be happy that everyone cared so much. But I wasn’t happy, I felt like there was a glaring spotlight on me when it should be on others who were actually missing.
I suppose what came of it was that as much as it’s nice to be ‘off the grid’ (lol) sometimes, people do worry for good reason. So, I now I keep my phone charged and use a safe word to assure people I am OKAY if I decide to be spontaneous (Shoutout to Bipolar 2!).
After a week of embarrassment and laying low, the lexicon of my friend’s texts has changed to “Missing or nah?” as a greeting, which I wholeheartedly embrace, and as William Arthur Ward put it, “To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.”
In my next post I will muse on the nature of ‘Missing Person’ reports and the sociological phenomena of the Missing White Woman, looking to academia to try and process what made me to newsworthy. Hint: may involve discussion of white privilege.
All images authors own, except for title image courtesy of Leif Podhajsky.