Things I Wish I Could Explain to the People Who Love/Care for Someone with Severe Mental Illness

Hi lovely readers,

Happy Tuesday. Things are beginning to return to partial normalcy here in Canada, though of course businesses require that you wear a mask and we still aren’t supposed to gather in groups larger than 10. It is hard for me to remember a lot of quarantine, because some of it was very uncomfortable and painful for me, from making big life adjustments and having shattering realizations, to allowing my agoraphobia and depression to really fester, some of which was mandated and I couldn’t have changed – I went into it like many, with a lot of optimism about my capability to use the time in the healthiest ways I could, including to gain a lot of insight about myself and to work on things I ordinarily don’t have time to, but that optimism wound up having repercussions, as I spent a great deal of time confused and angry with myself for winding up having no energy, paralyzed with anxiety, or suicidal. I had thought, personally, that I would actually kind of master the whole ‘quarantine thing’, because I already was quite anti-social and introverted, and took a great deal of pleasure in being in solitude and doing whatever I liked with said time. Unfortunately, as I think may have been kind of under-discussed and perhaps silenced, it makes a great deal of sense that being government mandated to socially distance oneself from other members of human civilization and stay within the parameters of ones property as much as possible, as someone with a severe mental illness such as, in my case, Bipolar 1, or Schizo-affectivity or schizophrenia or PTSD or a panic disorder, etc., would be super hard on people for whom participating in a life with a sense of normalcy is crucial to maintaining some semblance of mental health, and for whom that is already so difficult. I had become good at some basics – I could make myself get to a class if I took a LOT of deep breaths before I walked out the door, and once I was there I loved being around people because often I wouldn’t see anyone or leave my room unless there were some penalty for not doing so, I got good at going to the gym because I had saved a screenshot of the google maps directions and memorized them so I couldn’t go into a panic attack for fear of becoming lost or give myself an out should I feel too depressed or exhausted to believe a workout was feasible. I had mastered showering in the morning and eating breakfast even when I was in a depressive episode and entirely drained, after months of practicing in early sobriety and finding it quite literally impossible. I was attending therapy after quitting for a while, having constantly begun to dissociate after trauma work and becoming very paranoid about talking to professionals for fear of being incapacitated after a session. I was staying sober from recreational drugs, and I still am, but I was doing so with gusto and ease. Quarantine stripped me back several layers and at times I’ve wondered if I am perhaps the most mentally ill I have ever been, and I am in the sense that, without being on cocaine all. the. time. haha, my symptoms continue to present themselves as well as new ones that arise as post-acute withdrawals subside. Essentially, I notice my mental illness a lot more, because I’m not high, and everyone else does too, because they don’t chalk it all up to me being high and assume that if I were to stop or start doing something I would just be fine and like everyone else and return to myself prior to turning 17. And then quarantine was like a subconscious permission slip for my brain, telling me I could stop doing any of the things that take my depression or C-PTSD or anxiety from a, say, 1/10 to a 3/10. I forgot that 3 is actually a lot better than 1, but it’s also way harder in terms of exertion than a 1, ’cause at a 1, I just sink into the misery and accept my certain imminent death, whereas at 3 I am constantly pissed off that my shower didn’t make me start visualizing life in colour again.

Anyway, my point is that I’m starting to feel a bit better and I hope you are too, lovely reader, or that perhaps you didn’t find this period so painful at all and that you continue on a positive path without having to dig yourself out of a bit of a hole. I’m trying to remind myself that a trait of my illnesses is an inability to maintain perspective as to when things have been really bad vs. really good, on a historical scale, and that I could very well be entirely wrong about all of this, or none of it, and only the people who listen to me either lament or show enthusiasm throughout my life have much of a sense, though not entirely.

Today I want to talk about a few things that I wish I knew how to adequately explain, especially in the moment, to family and friends and basically anyone who cares about/for me, as someone with Bipolar 1 and C-PTSD. Often I find myself biting my tongue for fear of sounding as though I am making excuses for myself, which is a testament to the way I was brought up, and certainly the way society talks about mental illness and false notions of positivity vs. negativity and laziness vs. productivity, and instead of attempting to explain, I apologize and accept full responsibility, or I silence myself for fear of someone trying to relate when I honestly, sometimes, don’t want to be told my life is the same as someone who’s experiences differ vastly even on a surface-level basis, don’t want to be belittled, don’t want to be given a pat on the back with no significant action after, or don’t want to be feared. I can write these things here, because you, amongst other lovely readers, frequently affirm that my posts make you feel less isolated and alienated, or teach you something to help yourself or a loved one, or just to satisfy curiosity. Few people that know me in real life are able to make time to read each of my posts, which I honestly am glad for most of the time because it makes this a truly honest place without repercussions for said honesty.

The first thing I want people to know is that, as I am 24 now, I know when I can or cannot do something, and I am never lazy. I am a really driven perfectionist by nature, and prior to first exhibiting symptoms of Bipolar 1 I don’t recall a time when I ever thought it would be better to do less, rather than the most I possibly could. With anything. I applied to NYU out of high school and got in, with the intention of becoming a journalist who could travel and shed light on issues not yet brought to light in western countries. Certainly, I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t, and I felt that would be the best use of my natural abilities as someone who liked to write and was good at it, but even at the things for which I didn’t feel possessed natural ability, I always did my best.And, a sentiment that I think may be echoed by many who live with a mental health diagnosis – I am still always doing my best. It looks different at different times – sometimes am so fatigued as a result of my brain spinning for hours, spitting repetitive paranoid thoughts at me about a traumatic event or situation from years ago or recently, or from it constantly putting down any activity I feel a glimmer of having wanted to do in a depressive episode, that I say I cannot participate in something that others might think of as being relatively easy, and that might strike someone as meaning I’m not trying. I am, I promise. But sometimes, I can avoid moving an inch for an entire day and still go to bed as if I had been running a marathon for the past 15 hours. Sometimes when I am pushed I do find I discover satisfaction in having accomplished something, but sometimes my greatest fear is true – I wasn’t ready to do whatever it was, and I did blow it, and I do feel worse for exerting myself beyond my means. Often I play a mental game of “will people be more disappointed if I say I just can’t do it now, or will they be even more disappointed when I do it and it’s awful for everyone including them”, and usually I’m pretty spot on. I used to push myself too hard, and then I had a year or two of not pushing enough, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become a pretty good judge. But I have always been doing, within myself, my best. It doesn’t change that I am sorry that I cannot do better, for me and for you, but it is not for lack of interest or effort, and I don’t know what more to do, when sometimes even staring at a TV to watch an episode of a TV show is too much effort, let alone actually holding a conversation with friends I agreed to see and making coherent sentences come out of my mouth, or, hell, going for a run when I think I might actually die if I walk out the door.

None of it has much to do with you. Sometimes things have been made much harder by lack of support from others, but, although this requires a lot of resilience and patience, ultimately everyone decides who they interact with or continue to interact with, and how they heal from the negative interactions. I certainly chose partners over the years having felt a bad gut feeling in my stomach, and though it’s not my fault some of my partners were physically or emotionally abusive, I had to decide to leave, no one could do it for me, and I had to get help after to get better, and I never felt any better when I put all of the onus on them. I have kept friends who made me uncomfortable, I have given in when family members have persistently made me feel poorly about myself and sat in it as opposed to doing the work within myself to try to recover. I have used things people have said and done as excuses for getting high, and some of them are great excuses for doing so! Being sexually assaulted, or stalked, or hit, or anything that was traumatic for a person, is a great reason to fuck off and get high, because the feelings that come as a result for many people are so unbelievably uncomfortable that it feels as though the only options are to act out in some way that creates an immediate comfort, or to literally perhaps explode and die. But ultimately, everything is sort of within me, as in it isn’t your fault if I attempt suicide after a conversation gone wrong, it also wasn’t your doing if I get better (I have thought this about partners before and that was not healthy, apparently – my therapist has been telling me this for years and warning me every relationship in a ‘high’, and yet I only listened during approx. year 9 of therapy, sigh). I say within me, and not “my choice”, because sometimes I’m doing things that I, Elizabeth, personally do not agree with, in terms of who I really am, or who I am when I’m stable, and sometimes I cannot fill out a CBT thought chart or try taking my meds at a different time and change my course of action. But it isn’t because you failed me, and it isn’t because you saved me. My brain is just doin’ it’s chemically imbalanced thing, and again, I’m sorry – I don’t want to do the things that I do irrationally either.

I’ve never had truly bad intentions. Mood disorders and empathy aren’t highly correlated, whereas a personality disorder might be, so I can’t speak for all bipolar people here, but I do hear this sentiment echoed in a lot of forums. I don’t mean to hurt people when I do; usually I start with a desire to hurt myself, and there is a ripple effect. Sometimes I’m so angry or scared or frustrated by being misunderstood I want to hurt something, but that something is never clear to me, and it isn’t you, person I likely love, too. I’m not vengeful, except towards one person who caused me immense trauma, and even that is simply within spirals of fantasy, in which I envision what I would do if I possibly could to stop this person from ever hurting anyone else as he did me. But that’s PTSD for you, and I still won’t do it. I wish I could, but I can’t. Because it’s against my nature. While I’ve had a lot of understanding and compassionate beyond my wildest expectations people in my life, I’ve also had a lot of experiences in which people either didn’t care enough to put themselves, metaphorically, in my shoes within the limited degree to which anyone can who doesn’t live my life, or in which I inflicted such sadness or rage or discomfort in someone else that it was as though they had never sympathized with and seen the reality of severe mental illness, and in which I have been told some pretty harsh things about the kind of person I must be. But, again, speaking just for myself, I have never actually had the thought that it would be pleasurable, enjoyable, or fun in any way to inflict unhappiness on someone else. Even who did so to me, aside from that one person (and again, only theoretically, never literally). I can’t even will myself to stop talking to the people who’ve caused me the greatest sadness I have felt outside of the stuff my brain just tells me episodically, because I worry that they haven’t meant to be the way they’ve been, and what if they feel just like I do now as a result of me not talking to them, and what if they hurt themselves, or what if they wondered if they were worthy of life at all. I believe greatly that there is no need for a higher power in my life, because, to paraphrase many great philosophers, the way to live life is to remember how it has felt when you’ve suffered, and to act in such as way as to cause the least amount of that for others as possible, and potentially even reduce the amount they feel. I am a good person. Imperfect and fucked up and misguided? Absolutely. But malicious? No. The only person I even ever seem to be able to stay mad at is myself (and yes, I am working on that). I’m sorry, regardless, for every time in which I have made anyone feel less than a sense of joy, I genuinely am, and even as I write this it makes me cry to gather the memories of times in which I’ve known I’ve done so, and if I could go back I would, but I promise to go forward with said recollections and try my hardest to ensure they never happen in those same ways again, aside from what is unknown and unavoidable.

Lastly, I am who I was before I began to change and show symptoms and have episodes and act irrationally and inappropriately and seemingly unforgivably, she is still there – but sometimes she’s silenced by the imbalances, and sometimes she’s different because her experience of life has altered her perceptions. But please don’t say you miss me when I was a little girl, please don’t say you miss me when I was your teenage girlfriend and my mania seemed like carelessness and confidence and fun, please don’t say you miss when I was more positive – everyone matures and changes and shit happens, so no one is ever truly who they were the day prior, even, but ultimately the aspects of me that I most strongly associate with an identity have never changed. I still love people, as much as I am introverted, I’m still curious and have a burning desire to keep learning, though now I am aware of a wider spectrum of things that need to be learned about and I’m grateful for that in some ways, I’m still kind, I’m still smart and I still make people laugh when I feel up to it, sometimes with a darker humour that I have grown to appreciate, actually. I still cry when I listen to Bach, or Radiohead sometimes, haha, I still think A Serious Man is the best Coen Brothers’ movie, I still lose myself when I’m dancing, and often I still look at the world and feel the same blind optimism I did as a kid, about the wonderful spectacularity of it all and endless opportunity, as well as its inhabitants. I write and I still feel the pen glide rapidly across the page as though I am expelling my inner most thoughts without having known I had them prior, and I still am just as vulnerable as I was, though I have learned some more of the appropriate occasions to be protective. I still love really, really hard – so hard it is more painful than honestly I probably willingly would have signed up for, and such that I feel the need to push it very far down at times. But if you’re in my life, I love you, and I would put myself in front of a bullet for you in a heartbeat (and not just when I’m suicidal! This is when you laugh, even though that’s absolutely not funny for anyone except me and perhaps other people who lose their will to live on a semi-regular basis). Please stop wishing for me to come back, and just be there for me while I figure out how to be myself as often as I can. I miss the way things were, too, but I’m gonna get there, and I’m certainly going to live in a constant attempt to try to. And if you can’t be there while I work on that, I assure you that I understand and I’m not angry – everyone has their own battles and limits and I understand I breach those for many. I’ll love you anyway: it took me a very long time to come to an acceptance around losing many friends in the early days of my diagnoses, but now I don’t have even a moment of resentment, but rather willingly recall the beautiful, happy, free moments.

That’s all I can think of. If you, lovely reader, feel so compelled, please share some things you wish you knew how to say to people in your life, or some things you want the person you love who struggles to know, or just anything that’s been on your mind recently or occurring in your post-quarantine life. Thank you so much for stopping by to read, and I am so grateful to have a place such as this that feels so safe for me to speak my mind as freely as I do, and such a supportive group of readers, as well as friends and family in my life outside the Internet.

Lots and lots of love and well-wishes,


5 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Could Explain to the People Who Love/Care for Someone with Severe Mental Illness

  1. I am sadly not a part of your life anymore, but I still care. I am happy to know you’re doing the best that you can to create a beautiful life for yourself. I have always been proud of you. Keep going, you’ve got this. You’ve always had it in you.
    All the best.


    1. Thank you very much, that’s really kind. If you were a positive part of my life which I gather from your comment you were in some way, then I wish very much that you are succeeding as well in making your life a happy journey as well. All the best to you too


      1. I certainly gave it my best shot to be. We had some great times together, memories I cherish and will always remember. Your presence is indeed missed. But I am thrilled to see your accomplishments and know the path you are on now is healthy, positive and leading you towards the beautiful, sober life you have worked ever so hard to attain. Knowing that is enough for me, you deserve nothing less.

        Liked by 1 person

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