Long gone are the days that I would keep my mental illness a dirty little secret or pretend that I was physically sick to mask my mental health symptoms.
I no longer care if my mental illness makes you uncomfortable, as your discomfort is nothing in comparison to what living with a mental illness feels like.
For years I hid my social anxiety disorder and depression from family members, friends and colleagues. If someone did find out and it made them visibly uncomfortable, I would sweep it back under the rug and try and act as “normal” as I could around them as to not make things more awkward.
I spent many years feeling incredibly lonely, not being able to share a big piece of my world. Something that had been affected my life in every single way.
I remember eating dinner with a couple of friends many years ago and the topic of social anxiety came up. They had no idea that I had a social anxiety disorder but they knew someone else with it and decided to discuss him at the table. “Yeah he’s a bit weird, he has social anxiety and goes to therapy and everything, he makes me feel really uneasy.” one of them said, as I shoved chips into my mouth, wanting the entire ground to swallow me up.
I wanted to say “I have social anxiety too, do I make you feel uneasy?” but I didn’t. I just stayed silent and cried about in secret later that evening because while they weren’t saying those things about me, they may as well have been.
When I eventually got round to being more open about my social anxiety, I had already got to a point where I was managing it pretty well. So in my openness, I was greeted with “You seem so normal though, I never would have guessed you had social anxiety/depression.” which I’m sure was meant to be a compliment, albeit thinly veiled.
You see, people tend to act more comfortable with your mental illness when you appear to be “high functioning” – fuck I hate that phrase – because they relate to you better I suppose, but it’s honestly bullshit.
They are slightly less comfortable when you’re so consumed by anxiety that you can’t leave the house or you’re puking, sweating and shaking when you dare try.
They are less comfortable when you’re so depressed that you haven’t showered in days, your hair has clumped together and your house is dirty.
They are less comfortable when you’ve cut yourself out of desperation to feel something other than whatever pain or numbness you have been silently struggling with.
They are less comfortable when you’re in the thick of it, exhibiting all the behaviours and symptoms that make you less relatable. That makes you seem less “high functioning”.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter how bad or managed my mental illness gets, I’ll always have it.
So if the extreme/scary/sad parts of my mental illness make you uncomfortable… I don’t fucking care.