Earlier today I asked Twitter a (semi-rhetorical) question about whether I should indulge in a bit of navel-gazing or just show off my boobs in today’s post. The clear (unofficial) vote was for navel-gazing, but I wondered why I made it an either/or choice. Why can’t it be both?
The image above is mostly butt and side boob — for those who prefer smut and nudity. What follows will likely be another deep dive episode of “My brain is weird.” You’ve been warned.
I’m grateful to have high-functioning (a term not everyone likes, apparently, but I don’t know a better alternative) mental illnesses. What I mean by “high-functioning” is yes, my brain goes on the fritz, but also, yes I can still get out of bed and (mostly) function in my day-to-day life. Not well, but I can manage.
Only at my lowest points (pre-therapy) did I find myself so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed or so anxious that I couldn’t breathe. That’s not true for everyone; we’re all different. I also don’t discount the very real possibility that I could fall into pits of despair and fear at some point in the future.
Right now, I’m mostly stable. My anxiety is most often triggered by things I can’t control — chaos, uncertainty, lack of routine (ya know, like what happens when you move). My bipolar disorder has always been mostly manageable but it comes in waves.
I say all that to acknowledge that, when compared to others with similar diagnoses, I’ve got it good. My mental health doesn’t prevent me from working, living a full life, or having healthy relationships.
But still I rail against my own brain.
Depression and anxiety can both be marked by similar symptoms (your mileage may vary, of course): irritation, apathy, restless sleep are just a few. Not always enough to debilitate someone, but definitely enough to make the day harder than it would otherwise be.
This means that when I have a bad night’s sleep, I wake up and ask myself, “Was the bedroom just too warm last night or am I in a bad mental health cycle?”
When I lash out in anger at John Brownstone, I wonder, “Am I really angry or is this anxiety biting me in the ass?”
Feeling apathetic could mean depression or I’m just tired — may the odds be forever in your favor.
God knows, I’m not asking for bigger or worse symptoms. But mental illness (in general) means that I can’t trust my own brain.
Were those fun, exciting ideas I had last week genuine or was it the manic cycle of bipolar disorder?
Am I experiencing a “typical” level of nervousness when meeting someone new or is this social anxiety knocking on the door?
Why do I feel completely worthless? Is this depression or unacknowledged failures on my part that I really need to deal with?
How the fuck do I know?! My symptoms aren’t always obvious, and they (thankfully) rarely knock me flat.
For me, the reality is that sometimes I don’t know. Not until I find that my coping skills aren’t working
In the grips of anxiety, no amount of calm self-talk can make me stop worrying about the what-ifs. What if I suck at this new thing; what if I can’t do it; what if, what if, what if?
When I’m depressed, nothing sounds good. To care takes effort and I have none to give. The color slowly drains away. Maybe not to the point that I can’t shower or put clothes on, but enough that walking around feels like I’m dragging a few hundred pounds on my back.
I have found that if I can’t logic myself out of my headspace, it’s mental illness come to call.
Which means I can spend hours or even days mentally beating myself up for not doing better, being stronger, getting over it, being nicer (usually to John Brownstone), or having more energy. I fade away into the background, unable to bear even the slightest human interaction. Of course, even when I know the problem is my own mental health, I still do all of that.
But once I can say, “Oh, hi social anxiety, nice to see you” I become more forgiving of myself. The moment I realize, “Ah, it’s a depressive low” I can allow myself to take the day off and let the downward swing of being bipolar run its course. For me, putting a name to what I’m feeling relieves me of a ridiculous amount of self-blame.
And that’s why being high-functioning sucks (to me) — even though I know I got the better end of the mental illness deal. For years I refused see anyone about my suspected anxiety or bipolar disorder. It was never “that bad,” and I didn’t fit the stereotypes I’d heard about. I just needed to “suck it up” and “get over it.”
I have decades of experience mentally berating myself for not being cheerful, brave, open, nice enough. Years and years of telling myself that I had no reason to feel the way I did. Because I could get out of bed and function, I (clearly) didn’t have problems.
While I’m much better at ignoring and silencing the negative self-talk these days, it’s still a part of who I am. It’s my default when I don’t understand why I’m struggling to get through a work day or why I feel so overwhelmed by the most basic things. The self-bullying feels natural — and yes, I realize how awful that sounds.
Until I can finally put a name on why I am the way I am. And then I can be kind to myself, practice a bit of forgiveness, and take a deep breath. But until then, I’m a seething, writhing, frustrated ball of nerves, lashing out — at myself and those closest to me.
Which is why I bit John Brownstone’s head off this morning and felt like I might burst with the tension filling my body — while also feeling unable to interact with people.
Why hello there, anxiety. I see you’ve found me again. Next time, could you send a text and let me know you’re on the way?
I’m sure someone is writing something sexier for this June blogging challenge. Click the button below to find out (plus you’ll see more boobs!).