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?