mental illness, society, guilt & holidays

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so i have a strange feeling. its going to take awhile to get to, but hear me out.

i am a mentally ill person. i read a lot of mental illness blogs. i have a lot of mentally ill friends. i have even more mentally ill advocate “friends” on facebook.

and i recognize that this is a shitty shitty time of year for the vast majority of them. i wish there was something to be done about that, but for the most part there isnt. i cant replace family, or be the accepting parent, or give them a day off from the blinding depression so they dont feel guilty about not feeling happy, or whatever, that is the cause of the shitty shitty feelings. society has built this time of year into something it isnt: joyous, perfect, shiny and bright, filled with only happiness and love. and thats shitty, for everyone. because you always feel like you arent living up to a standard that doesnt exist. and it makes your strained relationships with people feel soul crushing and awkward, it makes your depression stand out that much more by comparison, it causes you to evaluate your situation not just against everyones perfect instagramed selves but also against like every possible media posting, church preaching and news outlet depiction. and theres no life, no matter how seemingly perfect, that lives up to that standard. and the more you feel like you have to, the further away from it you get. its fucked up and it fucks things up.

for years growing up i kind of hated christmas. i mean, i was still a kid who got gifts, because i come from a privileged background of sorts, so i cant say it was entirely bad or that i hated every part of it. but my memories are EXTREME STRESS FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH. i remember bawling, multiple times a day, every christmas, for multiple reasons: for years before some very intensive therapy i really resented my family and a lot of my childhood and especially my brother, and my parents for not saving me. i felt robbed of something, like there was a harsh disconnect between me and them despite all this togetherness and seemingly tv family activity. and i felt guilty. when i was little i felt left out by my family and siblings because they were all older and never wanted me around while they did teenage to adult age things so i was alone when i felt like i was supposed to be taking part. and i felt lonely and like i was doing something wrong. there were crowds and crowds of people that i didnt really know and or there were so many people i couldnt breathe, or move, and id have huge panic attacks locked in a washroom somewhere. my family also has a very strange insular dynamic where for the entire week between christmas and new years, and even a few days before christmas, we were expected to be with family, and only family, and not have outside lives so it was this constant constricting force (this is still true when any family member visits). then there were other factors, like my father having an extremely high stress level and very short fuse when he was working at his high level job, that made him angry and awful a lot and christmas added to that stress level to the point where hed be flipping out all the time and he just hated it. he hated it a lot and you could tell; and he made you hate it a little too, because you felt like the cause of his anger. and then my brother didnt live in the country anymore, so it simultaneously became an even more hyped up occasion if he was coming home and also this awkward, disappointing, land of confusion and abandonment the years he didnt. and then we were all awkward ages and three of us kids were dealing with mental health issues of varying severity, and my mother’s severe social anxiety would go into overdrive and her bordering on eating disorder tendencies would come out, and my dad and whatever shit he was going through that never came up. and then there were those years were my brother had a severe eating disorder no one talked about, which made christmas especially difficult for him, and by extension, my sister and i, as we would look at my parents to fix it, to do something, and they didnt. and we didnt.

and theres a lot of things i could say or delve into that would better explain how christmas can be sort of horrible, and how it was sort of horrible. and i think that almost everyone has those stories, for whatever reason.

but this year, i dont have those feelings. and i feel really, really guilty about it, somehow, when i read all these blogs and facebook posts and talk to my friends who i know are in the middle of all this shit.

because christmas is shit. if we are honest, the average experience of christmas is stress, obligation, dread and anxiety. and i feel like im now somehow perpetuating the joyful stereotype of the day, because my life this year has been very… on point for societal views of the season. and i feel like im betraying my people.

i feel like that a lot when i talk about good things as wholly good. and thats really kind of a strange fucked up thing. like i feel guilty when my mental illness isnt at the forefront ruining everything for me because i know it is for so many people and i dont want to be that thing. and everyone with a mental illness knows what that thing is. the thing people without a mental illness (or sometimes we as people with mental illnesses) point to, sometimes meaning it in a positive ‘you can do it too!’ manner, sometimes meaning it as a ‘she can do it, you fucking loser’ manner, as a person who has suffered through your thing and is not “ruining” or causing “discomfort” or being “abnormal” or otherwise breaking social norms by being themfuckingselves. because we, as mentally ill people, cause discomfort. it is somehow our job to reduce ourselves, to placate other people, with our pretending. with our moulding to societal expectations. being unabashedly mentally ill is a political act. and thats fucking so hard to explain. that being mentally ill is a thing, its ok, to be yourself. to feel your feelings, to have your symptoms. to not be okay. and we dont need all these things glowing and pointing all around us to remind us that we arent being enough by being ourselves. be yourself. your whole fucking messy, uncomfortable, societal ideal failing self.

so i dont know what to do. and maybe this is part of why ive never written much when ive been doing well. i feel guilty for being that thing, sometimes.

part of it comes from all the public speaking i used to do. being mentally ill in a spotlight is very strange, because you’re only really in the spotlight for that stuff when youre doing well. so then no matter what you are saying, youre sort of normalizing mental illness as something removed from the symptoms. because people arent seeing symptoms, they are hearing that they happened and then starring at this person they dont equate with those things, because they are functional seemingly normal people, and thinking “wow, shes come a long way” or “im so glad thats over for her” (both of those things have been said directly to me after more generalized mental illness speeches) and they treat you like youve magically become better. like you have a secret and like other mentally ill people could find it if they too tried as hard as you did.

this is partially because some people go through one serious bout of depression, usually brought on by a very specific set of circumstances, from which they are able, through the help of temporary medication and some serious help, to get out of, and they do overcome that depression and they dont fall back into it. and then these people talking about being mentally ill. and maybe this is a jackass thing to say, but they arent. they are people who have suffered from depression, but they are not chronically mentally ill. and somehow, people think this is the norm for mental illness. it is not.

so. im sorry if you are going through shit. i am sorry if i am presenting a view of life right now like its gotten better! ta da! im sorry if this has been a thing for you to compare things to, that makes you feel worse. and im sorry that i feel sorry for not being sick enough. that is a weird, unhelpful feeling to put out into the mentally ill universe.

so let me say this, to ease my conscious, to normalize, to give perspective, or context, or whatever it is, to my last few posts.

-ive have had an extremely relaxed, low key, family oriented christmas. i am happy. it has been joyous and full of love and happy things. i didnt feel stressed, or cry, or feel crushed by the weight of something that wasnt there. i do miss my grandma, but it is ok. i feel ok. there was a noticeable lack of stress. it has been exceptional. i am very lucky. this is true.

-my family, every single member except my oldest brother, have gone through therapy. my sister and i have gone through a lot of therapy, myself going on 8 years with the same psychologist, and several misc attempts before that. we did family therapy. my brother did ocd specific therapy. we have recognized that there is a problem (or many, layered interacting problems) and worked on ourselves and also our family dynamic, from many different angles, for a decade and a half. we are a family that puts family above everything else, for whatever reason, and we have worked through some pretty serious trauma and family shit to get to where we are at. many people have said i have a “tv family” in recent years, and there is some truth to that, now, but i cant underscore enough that this was not always the case.

-i am still very conscious of my mental illness. it is a fibre of my being. it dictates many of my life choices, even when im well. i  plan around it like it is a child that i must take care of. when im sick its an infant and when im well its a grown up that you never stopped worrying about. it is always present to some degree. it will come back full force, sometime. i am not fixed.

-my family does not completely do stereotypical christmas. particularly around gift giving. my father strongly believes that we should help each other when we need help, year round, not on a misc day of the year where we buy each other shit because we are obligated to do so. he also hates shopping, malls, and generally the public in the month of december. so he has opted out. my parents dont exchange gifts. my siblings and i dont exchange gifts. occasionally my brother will send something up if he finds something he thinks one of us would really enjoy, because we dont see each other, and he is very wealthy. my sister loves the idea of giving people things at christmas, so sometimes she will give things, usually to me or my parents, and usually not expensive but very thoughtful (see: the christmas miracle tape). she also makes food based christmas stockings for everyone with my parents money. i usually help her. if we all happen to have spare cash and my parents actually need something, we will buy it for them, because they do a lot for us and are not at a point in their lives where they need much from us during the year (this year my brothers were the only ones with money, and they bought my parents a set of glasses because they needed them. in previous years we all had a lot of money and bought them a washing machine when theres broke a week before christmas. most years they get nothing.). my mom usually buys my sister and i a few items because she knows we are struggling financially and she wants us to have something to enjoy. but basically there is absolutely no pressure to get anyone anything, to spend money we dont have, or to brave overcrowded shopping malls. we feel zero guilt about this. moreover, the members of my family with children can afford gifts for their children. this combination is a luxury few people have.

at the end of the day, my point is writing about feeling normal is hard for me, for strange reasons. and i feel guilty sometimes when things work out for me, and i dont know why. its almost the same feeling i had when i was very depressed and someone i knew got cancer, and all i could think was ‘why couldnt i take the burden instead?’. i just. i feel like an outsider sometimes. like im looking in on the lives of people and i know what they are going through and i feel helpless. probably like my parents feel about me.

why am i the one that gets the good period?

fucked up question right?

maybe only other seriously suicidal people will understand. maybe no one will. maybe this is all crazy gibberish. i know it will come back, but it feels unfair that i get to be this ok, for this long, and so many people dont.

im sorry.

 

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3 thoughts on “mental illness, society, guilt & holidays

  1. The nature of Bipolar is such that we HAVE to celebrate the happiness when it comes. It’s so damn fleeting sometimes. Now you see it, now you don’t. *poof* I hit the frightening age of 40 this year and I’m done with people telling me how I’m supposed to feel. I’m resolved to grab onto whatever happiness comes my way from now on and cherishing it for however long it lasts because I know my brain is going to fuck it up for me at some point and I won’t be able to enjoy then. From the sounds of things your family has come a long way and has worked really hard to get where you are all at right now in this moment. So in this moment, cherish it because how you described your illness as an infant you have to plan around 24/7 is real. As a parent of three boys I know how accurate that analogy is. There are good days. There are bad days. But nothing takes away the need for care and planning. Nothing changes that for people like us, even on our good days. Maybe, if I dare say so, especially on our good days. So I am happy for you. I take comfort in hearing how well it went for you. It gives me hope. I want and need to hear your joys in your life. I want to know I’m not alone and that it is possible to find light, however fleeting it may be. It is good to be reminded of that. ❤

    • tealdaylight


      i agree with you entirely – being bipolar is a weird cycle that forces you to grab the happy moments and hold on to them for dear life. i think the main thing for me right now is that ive never been ok for long enough to feel…not bipolar? like the feelings of calm and happiness have been so short in length that my main emotion was actually just relief, like thank god for this moment of stillness, not real calm or happiness. and im not… used to it? i dont know what to do with it? im just like standing here sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop, because thats whats supposed to happen next, and the longer it stays away the more confused i am. and i dont feel like ive done anything different than i have been doing for years, just for some reason its working now? and i dont know why. and not knowing what i did to get here makes me feel like ive been given an accidental gift i didnt deserve, or something, even though i have been working on literally nothing else for over a year.
      i'll stop rambling before this becomes another blog post in its own right haha.

      thank you for reading, and relating, and telling me things that i really needed to hear. i hope you too find some light.

      • *hugs* It’s okay! I miss the days before I was diagnosed with Bipolar in some ways. Yes they were crazy and I spent most of the time wondering what was wrong with me BUT I never questioned back then what I felt. This year I’m resolved to stop questioning that. My feelings are real. Period. My illness does not change that. What makes it healthy or unhealthy is what I’m choosing to do with my feelings – not the feelings themselves. So if I’m sad, that’s fine and human. What am I doing with it? If I’m happy, that’s fine and human too. What am I doing with it? That’s what I’m going to focus on this year. Embrace my feelings but focus on healthy behaviors. That’s my goal.

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