A lack of language, an abundance of masks

Grumpy. Down. Shattered. Emotionally exhausted. Blergh. Not great. Mentally fucked. Crappy.

These are all words I’ve used to describe my state of mental health to my friends, all woefully inadequate. The total lack of language I have to adequately convey the (at times) complete debilitation I feel no doubt is a contributing factor to the lack of support I frequently get from friends (see Depression and support). If I can’t describe what I’m going through, how can I ever hope to get what I need in terms of support?

During recent reflection, I have realised that a number of times this year, I was feeling something I’ve always denied to myself. Only in the last week have I finally been able to label where I was (and perhaps still am) – suicidal (at times verging on, at times more than that). Perhaps, if I had used that word, my friends may have had a better understanding of my mental state. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that much of the response would have been to deny my experience, to tell me I was “over-dramatising” the situation.

After suffering from mental illness for 8 years, I’ve got very good at putting on masks when interacting. In all but my lowest periods (and sometimes even then), all but those who know me the best (and sometimes even them) see a very different array of emotions to those which I am actually feeling. I’ve gotten pretty good at appearing happy or at least content, at feigning enthusiasm or excitement. For me, these false emotions serve two main purposes:

  • A coping mechanism – I figure that I’m stuck with my mental illness, and other than tinkering on the edges, there’s not actually a hell of a lot I can do about it at its roots. By putting on a mask, I am still able to participate to some extent in things, whether they be socialising, political activism or whatever.
  • An avoidance of pity – There are few things that frustrate me more than being pitied, and, unfortunately, that is frequently the response I get from friends when I let my mask drop. If its not pity, I get patronised, which is just as bad. By projecting fake emotions, I’m able to interact with people without being pitied or patronised for my mental state.

Unfortunately, these masks also certainly serve a negative purpose, to hide my true state from my friends and therefore lessen the chance of receiving the support I need. Together with the lack of language I possess for when I do choose to voluntarily drop my masks, is it really surprising that the vast majority of the time, I feel like I’m going through this alone?

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13 Responses to A lack of language, an abundance of masks

  1. anarkaytie says:

    Hang in there, ash, it’s something to wade through rather than “enjoy”, but to a greater or lesser degree many understand how the distortion effect of depression works.

    I also find that people would rather be drinking and joking with me, than listen to my honest reality discussed to their face; so be it, their loss.

    Life is not a bowl of cherries all the time, and those who pretend it is, are more delusional than we who acknowledge reality, and feel depressed by it. The choice to take action to effect change is one that has driven direct action for generations. Activists have been called lunatics for easily as long!

    If medication works for you, use it. By the same token, if it doesn’t, don’t feel pressured by other’s recoveries to do something that doesn’t work for you. “Quick fixes” vs “slow rebuilding” are the oldest arguments in therapy. Not worth re-hashing when you’re in the middle of it, and you just need to keep doing one thing, consistently, in order to be able to carry on.

  2. Renegade Eye says:

    I have had breakdowns in my life. I know what you are talking about.

    Are you getting help?

    I hope you’ll visit my blog. I’m not personally an anarchist, but several of them read my blog. Argentine anarchist Marie Trigona contributes to it.

  3. A random fascist says:

    It just dawned on me this afternoon, while I was lying in te aro park partaking in the usual friday afternoon dope smoking session with the locals.Reflecting on the christonormativity thread below,there a various types of normativity.eg. christo -jahoo-asiao -jappo- euro-affro and so on.
    Well what is considered or thought to be normativity in one normative group is considered unnormal or even crazy in the other normative societies.
    On that basis Im not insane or going insane,because my behaviour is considered normative for a FUCKED IN THE HEAD ANARCHIST FUCKWIT.

  4. Hi Guy,
    I’ve featured at least one of your posts on my ‘Best of the Blogs’ feature. It may be hard for me to fully understand now. I’m a veterinarian. Today I had 4 dogs who were interested in killing me. Two were totally capable of same. One was buggered up enough that I almost certainly could have won unless I was VERY inefficient. The other one would have lost the fight, but I was protected by a person whose abilities I trust implicitely (a Vet Tech who despite my trust I plan to rescue in detail every time we go in on a “nasty”). From my point of view why should I kill myself when there is such a line up of animals waiting to do same. Great for the adrenalin and better than having the wife snark at me.
    In other words there is nothing for a “funk” like action. I get more than my share. OK, how can I say this…EVERY single person who has ever lived who has had a mind above the simply bestial has felt EXACTLY like you do now at at least one time in their life. Most people who have a VERY simple mind have felt the same as well. It is something that WILL pass when you find something TO DO. Whole philosophies such as that of Hinduism have been built around the ennui that you feel. The “isolation” that you feel is the whole subject of “existentialism”. This whole matter is actually a “learning experience” even though it may not feel like it.
    The “learning” is NOT intellectual. It is “emotional”,and you perhaps can comfort yourself by the FACT that you are privileged enough to experience it. I CAN’T give you any advise as to “sources”, even though Hinduism, existentialism and Buddhism may be places to look. I disagree with them all because I have a sense of humour. Still, you have to surf this wave alone. From an existentialist/stoic point of view that is the REALITY, but you probably have enough resources to do it.
    OK. I’ll cheer for you. Try NOT to let yourself become a victim by surrendering yourself to the “caring” professions. If you look at their objective record the best they do is NOTHING ie they do no better than time. If they succeed they often do greater harm than the problem they pretend to correct.
    So.. take courage. It’s the only advise I can give you. MOST things pass given enough time. Endurance takes more courage than facing mastiffs because it has to be held for longer. My little scraps have a simple and timely ending. BUT it is well within human possibility and well within yours because you have already faced a VERY frightening situation.
    Try and take comfort in the fact that you are NOT alone because so many people have passed through what you are experiencing now. DON’T degrade it by reducing it to some “mental health” problem. It’s a matter of “will” and “willingness” to learn. You’ll be far better when you come out on the other side. Keep swimming. The shore may be closer than you think. Perhaps tomorrow.

  5. Hi Guy again,
    I’ve reread your post and realized why I reacted. Quite frankly I’ve had this arguement before, over and over face to face, and I’ve never won yet. No matter how imposing I can be in person with all that I know and my willingness to assign “morality” or at least aesthetics to an idea with full rhetorical force I have NEVER yet won. The best I have ever gotten is “submission” while the victim continues to be a victim while pretending to agree with me. That ain’t what I want. THIS is an experiment. Can I convince you long distance when you don’t see the effect of somebody performing in front of you.
    WE ALL WEAR MASKS. It’s a condition of human existence. WE ALL PERFORM. When I deal with mastiffs as I did today when BOTH the owner (a member of the local Mafia-quite literally-but our dealings are quite legal-note the RATIONAL FEAR) and I are frightened BUT we get beyond it and do the job we ADMIT the fear yet carry on. BOTH of us are doing a performance WITH rational calculation of harm. We are BOTH wearing “masks”. My client is a “tough guy” who has less confidence than he admits (even though he admits SOME of his fear). I wear the “mask” of calmness even though I will joke that this is a “shorts filling operation”. The “trick” is that by performing we indeed become the role and actually accomplish the idea.
    Human life consists of “roles”. We ARE social animals who perform. We ALL feal social anxiety. YOUR mistake is to imagine that your situation is unique and to dwell excessively on it. How much of your anxiety revolves around “how you feel”, and how much revolves around “how you think others will feel about how you feel” ? It’s an interesting “circular thought” if you look at it. The anxiety abouts others feeds the original anxiety and magnifies it.
    No… you are NOT mentally ill. You are merely “different”, with emotions that are at one end of a “normal curve”. Take whatever drugs the MDs offer you and reject those which have side effects that are worse than your present situation. It’s better than taking the lies of the “therapists” that there is some “deep cause” that they intend to waste the rest of your life in searching for while they make money out of it. Don’t forget that they make much more per hour than you ever will unless you reject them totally and create your own life. Drugs are relatively benign despite the ideology that you are likely to be exposed to as compared to the alternative of working up more ghosts in the imagination.
    Speaking of such, I RARELY recommend Stirner because he has been so abused by American so called “anarchist” cultists, but, as an “anarchist reference” I can recommend him here. He may be less valuable than a reading of existentialism, but he accords with what you have identified with today. If you take his criticism of “spooks”/illusions to heart it may point to a way out.
    OK, I’ll probably fail here, but the eternal soldier keeps on shooting. Believe it or not I and millions of people know EXACTLY what you are going through. It is the basis of some major religions. ALL of us disagree with your description of it as “mental illness”. Some people may have much better “ways out” than I can suggest. Courage may be genetically determined,and all my exhortations may be farting into the wind. Be it known, however, that there are other ways of looking at the world that are as different from mine as mine is from the “medical model” that you have chosen to believe. Take it from a “medical” prcatitioner- if only for animals- that the model that has been presented to you is at least as crude as orthodox Stalinism insofar as it is based on “psychotherapy”(a TOTAL pseudoscience) rather than biological causes. As to the biological causes recognize that this “science” is still in its infancy. Look at the other philosophical ways of viewing the world.. Perhaps “peace” may lie there.
    Molly in her full argumentaive and aggressive mode. I will continue to argue until I rescue ONE person. At that point I’ll be too old to argue any more.

  6. Asher says:

    A message to the ex-friend (you know you who are):

    I don’t know if you’ll read this – probably, coz if I remember rightly you’ve got my comments feed on your feed reader. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter – I’m writing this for myself, to get out what I need to say, and if you read it or not, I doubt it’ll make much of a difference to your actions in the future, so who cares?

    Fuck you. Emotionally blackmail? Fuck you. How big an ego must YOU have, to even begin to imagine that this, of all things, is about you?

    Oh well, there’s the end of that friendship. I won’t pretend it doesn’t hurt, but there are upsides – I’m already liking not feeling obliged to defend you, when people question your integrity, interpersonal relations or actions.

    One last time, fuck you.

  7. Hey Asher, not really sure what to say right now, but hope things are ok…

  8. Eugenie says:

    Hi Asher,
    I’m a semi-regular reader of your blog and I wanted to comment because this post really resonated with me. I suffer occasional bouts of depression – not clinical depression, situational depression. Which is no less debilitating. I know what it’s like to put on your “happy face”, to make people think you’re okay because you don’t want to annoy them or worry them. I also understand the inability to find the words to describe how you feel: you don’t feel “down”, it goes well beyond that. As I write for a living, I like to find words for, well, every thing. During my last depressive phase (last year) I decided that the only way I could describe my world when I was depressed was that all colour had gone from it. That’s truly how it felt to me, and it seemed to convey some thing of my heartsickness to those who cared about me. I hope you are looking after yourself and doing what you need to get yourself through. Kia kaha. Eugenie.

  9. Shagya says:

    Just ran over your summer posting (our summer anyway) while looking for material. I have also gone through some of the stuff you are talking about which includes a failed suicide attempt. On that basis let me be frank. There is no such thing as “mental illness” a point I make in Shagya (my) Blog at every opportunity. Problems in living are just that … problems. You’re likely a pretty decent guy and that’s the reason that things are getting to you. It’s the real assholes who find it easy to swim with the current. BUT it is very, very important that you stop referring to yourself as if you were some “other” like a specimen of amoeba under a glass slip cover. You are not a “thing” which suffers from this other “thing”. Remember people borne before 1945 are ten times more likely to experience clinical or serious depression than most people borne afterwards. The ugliness you might feel inside is largely the product of your reaction to the world outside. Focus on worthwhile projects which among other effects could enlarge your circle of friends and interests. That would help. Trust me on this.

  10. Shagya says:

    OOPS: People borne AFTER 1945 are ten times more likely to experience major depression.

  11. Shagya says:

    Some years ago I got involved ( while we on the subject of confessions and what-all) in a website where people talked openly about the best methods of suicide … about who “got on the bus” … or was about to, etc.. I was trying to work up enough courage for what was to follow. It got weird after a while. Later I spent a month in a hospital after coming within 30 minutes of freezing to death (I entered the Prince Albert, Saskatchewan intensive care ward with a body temperature just above 30 degrees celsius and I actually walked in the hospital door). I’d gone to northern Saskatchewan in early winter with the express purpose of freezing to death. Okay so I have more experience with this then some people. After everything … in a kind of “dizzy” mood I went back to the alt-suicide discussion group and started talking about some of this stuff. One guy on the group was also talking about doing “it” and somehow I got into a conversation … of sorts. I said half-seriously, maybe in a daze ,that if you killed yourself then think of all the good things you wouldn’t be around to experience. I mentioned that there would be no more John Candy movies, no more arabian horses, and no more Johann Sebastian Bach. A day or so later I got another message from a friend of the guy I’d been saying this to. The friend thanked me. It appears my tiny admonition had STOPPED the first fellow from committing suicide. That seemed really strange but I guess it amazing what can work.

    These things do pass.

  12. Werner says:

    In the past year and a half I have come to the conclusion that all of the above which I wrote is basically crap. There are times when suicide is probably a good idea. IF you have fucked up your life to the point where there is nothing much left, or you are very sick. Second chances aren’t always available.

  13. Werner says:

    I’ve closed my own blog realizing that most of what I had to say was very weak basically quotations from other internet sources. As for any of the above I believe that some people’s lives are hopeless and guilt, worry,or whatever you want to call it can not always be assuaged. There is a case for rational suicide.

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