Over and over again in the past, I’ve been told “You’re just being pessimistic. You just need to think positive.” It makes sense, right? All of my mental and emotional problems are in my head so I can just think them away with positive thoughts.
So today, I have a toothache. It’s a nasty one that lingers there without provocation, without the insult of hot, cold or sweetness.
I lay in bed this morning wondering if I should take some painkillers and book myself in with my dentist to have this taken care of.
All of a sudden, it hits me. Why would I need to go to a doctor that specializes in this particular problem, diagnose, medicate and treat an issue with my teeth when my teeth are literally inside of my head?
So I attempted a different approach. I started to think positive. I built up the self-esteem of that tooth so much that it really should have swelled up to the point of shoving my other teeth right out of my mouth.
“You’re a great tooth. You’ve always been there for me.”
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. Without you, I couldn’t complete the first stage of digestion and I couldn’t get the nutrients that fuel my body.”
“You are strong! I believe in you!”
“You can do this.”
“We’re in this together. I love you.”
Can you guess what happened?
That’s right! My tooth healed itself and the pain just simply disappeared. Score one for the power of positive thinking!
…Just kidding. It didn’t magically cure my mental health and it didnt solve my tooth problem either.
Two days ago I was taking big steps
That day I reached my goal
I was able to cover a lot of ground
And I felt in control
Two days ago my goal was achievable
And I had quite a bit of help
I was well prepared and I took my time
And I felt good about myself
Yesterday I stumbled and fell
And I was overwhelmed for the whole day
I tried to get ahead of myself
And made no progress along the way
Yesterday my goals were ridiculous
And I had no help at all
I expected far too much of myself
And it slowed me down to a crawl
Today I’m taking baby steps
I’m just going with the flow
I’m making more progress than yesterday
But it’s going kind of slow
Today I haven’t set much for goals
Just one-to make it through the day
And even though I haven’t worked much
I still feel okay
Some days I’ll feel like I’m on top
I’ll feel tall and my steps will be long
Some days I’ll feel like I’m crawling
And I just need to be strong
Some days I’ll feel scattered
Unaware of where I’m going
And some days I’ll be inspired
With creativity and knowledge flowing
On the days I need to catch my breath
I need to realize, I can’t run all day, every day
And when I need to slow down a bit
It really is okay.
Chances are, you know someone with a mental disorder or disability and you’ve probably asked them this or thought this before.
This statement, “I’m tired” is not a complaint or pessimistic. It’s merely a fact of life.
Allow me to explain why a person who is constantly battling their own brain and societal expectations feel so drained.
These are people whose brains are stuck in overdrive and have a great amount of difficulty unwinding to fall asleep at night. For the average person, it takes 7 minutes to fall asleep.
Imagine crawling into bed exhausted and it takes an average of an hour to fall asleep instead of 7 minutes. Every nap and bathroom break and the brain relaxation delay begins again.
These are people whose sleep is frequently disturbed and who spend their nights tossing and turning instead of resting. Sometimes they’re awoken by noises, pain, an inability to keep body parts still, by loud noises inside of their heads, vivid dreams and many other reasons.
These are people who wake up feeling, at best, slightly more rested than they were when they crawled into bed in the first place…like a battery that has been damaged that never seems to recharge properly.
These are people, who for decades, don’t feel rested after their slumber.
These are people who put an immense amount of effort into focusing on the task that they’re supposed to do or perform while their minds are trying to carry them down other paths or while they are struggling to remember just what those tasks are.
These are are people with working memory issues who from school age on into adulthood, lack the skill to remember multi-step instructions in a world where they’re just expected to know how to do it.
These are people who are in a constant war with their own brain. People who are battling their own thoughts and fears; hearing every day from their brains that they aren’t good enough, strong enough, skinny enough, that people don’t like them, or that they should have done better…just to list a few things.
These are people who are in a constant war with other people’s judgement and lack of understanding. Who are often asked questions or who hear comments like “Why are you always tired?”, “Just suck it up and deal with it.”, “It’s just a lack of discipline.”, “It’s all in your head.”, “Stop being so pessimistic.” and “Stop being so lazy.”
These are people who experience sensory overload that mentally exhausts them. From the clothing they are expected to wear, the food that they are expected to eat, the noise around them, the sights engulfing them and the odors surrounding them, these people’s senses are constantly under attack.
These are people who are exhausted from self-advocating to people who don’t understand and don’t care to understand.
These are people who spend most of every day dealing with fears that others find silly and irrational. It’s like living on a rope bridge swaying in the wind over a canyon while you’re afraid of heights and hearing “I don’t understand what you’re complaining about, the bridge is secure. Suck it up and deal with it. I can do it, so you can too.”
These are people who are struggling to communicate their experiences because communications is a skill that needs to be taught and exercised. It’s like those who don’t have a strong artistic talent being instructed to create a sculpture using the items around you to present how they currently feel within the next five minutes.
These are people who expel a large amount of energy trying to understand body language and emotions which is another lagging skill. It would be like showing you a picture of my cat and expecting you to identify what he’s feeling based on his facial expression and pose within minutes, multiple times a day.
These are people who are tired from the side effects of medication or self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of their diagnosis and the expectations of society.
These are people who are struggling with their brain to differentiate what’s real and what’s not because their brains present everything to them as reality.
These are people who are likely to be struggling with relationships, drug abuse and alcoholism.
These are people who have physical manifestations from their mental struggles because being on high alert takes a physical toll on a person.
These are people whose muscles ache constantly or whose muscles are tired from being tense too often, who get frequent headaches or migraines, who’s appetite is affected and whose immune system becomes impaired…just to name a few things.
So please, dear readers, the next time someone with an invisible disability says that they’re tired, don’t treat them as if they’re lazy or irrational. Instead, imagine living your life on a rope bridge over a canyon, or imagine how you would feel if someone jabbed you and woke you up several times a night for just one year and the physical and mental impact it would have on you.
I beg of you, on behalf of all of us fighting our own silent battles, please be patient and empathetic. Just because you don’t experience it doesn’t mean that it’s not a reality for someone else.
I’m certain that I’ve left out many reasons as to why someone may often answer “How are you?” with “I’m tired.” If there’s more examples you can think of, please feel free to mention it in the comments.
It seems to me that I can write words worthy enough to be read- and felt- by people.
Thoughts that keep me up at night, words that twist and multiply within my scattered brain, ideas that haunt me- until I pick up a pen and a stack of papers and let them flow out of me.
My shadows have voices. My demons feed me a horrid inspiration. The fears that nip at my heels also smack creative thoughts into my head. My coldness warms as the words spill out onto paper.
And it seems to me, that my inspiration, my thoughts, my ideas, all spill from my mind as I finally reach the content part of my life. Without intense emotion, I am no longer able to mold and shape these words anymore.
Perhaps for happiness and security, I’ve needed to sacrifice the talent I needed to use for comfort and coping for so long.
This concept saddens me, but does not depress me; which is and isn’t the problem all the same.
I’ve already said my piece about how people perceive labels as opposed to how labels should actually be used. Now, I would like to address how we look at mental illness and why this is the wrong way to approach it.
When it comes to our mental health the majority of the focus is put on the symptoms and fixing the problems. The problem with that approach is that the “problems” aren’t always problematic.
For example, my anxiety is sometimes an illness and sometimes a gift.
Let’s just say, for example, I lost my hearing. It would be devastating. I would have to re-learn how to communicate. There would be a period of time where I would mourn the loss of one of my senses.
Once over that hump though, I would learn to use my other senses differently, more effectively. Sound would be felt through vibrations instead of heard with my ears. If I were to go blind, I’d learn to see through touch. If I couldn’t taste, I would learn to appreciate texture.
When we can’t interpret the world or communicate with it through the more widely accepted ways we learn to interact with it in new ways.
When we begin to look at the world in new ways, we see new things. We bring new talents, new ideas and new strengths to the world.
Personally, I think the symptoms of anxiety should look more like this:
-Feelings of panic, fear, or uneasiness -Sleeping problems -Tense muscles -Nausea -Dizziness -Difficulty concentrating -Irritability -Cold or sweaty hands or feet -Difficulty breathing -Worry -Increased or decreased sex drive -Weight gain or loss -Empathetic -Increased writing skill -Great interest in at least one scientific field -Reflective and thoughtful -Passionate -Energetic -Supportive -Unique -Creative -Artistic
….I’m sure you get the point.
Of course, not everyone will share the same symptoms and not all of the symptoms will present themselves at the same time.
If I did not have anxiety, I would not have the talents, strengths or weaknesses that I have. The thing that causes me to break down and feel like a small child huddled under blankets for fear of an invisible monster about to grab my feet is also the thing that has allowed me to focus my energy on writing and art to learn how to express myself in an alternative way. It’s also inspired my love of science. It allows me to think in ways that are abnormal and unique.
This does not need to be cured. It does not need to be fixed. For me, it does not need to be medicated and numbed and mixed into a stew of side effects; though I am hesitant to say that it does not need to be medicated for all I’m certain there are many like me who are harmed more by the medications than helped by them.
Though my own personal experiences lie with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and autism and I’ve never personally experienced any of the others…I still strongly believe that people with bipolar disorder, dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia and so on have enormous stored potential that is untapped and overlooked because all of the focus is always put on the bad and the ugly and the need to “fix” everything so it all fits together perfectly like a nice set of identical dinner plates. Just imagine the beautiful things that they could show us if we stopped telling them that they’re wrong and they need to work extra hard to become better.
What does need to start happening is that we need to start looking at mental illness as it is: Strengths and weaknesses. It’s a gift and a curse. It’s a talent and it’s dysfunction. It needs to be treated with love and support and an incredible amount of patience. We need to start allowing these people to be educated in nontraditional ways and accept them as they are without making them feel broken.
Lets start letting all of our geniuses, artists, writers, entertainers and scientists really shine.
How am I feeling? The words echoed in my head. “I’m fine.” I say, not looking up. It’s an automatic response, I’m full of them.
A question like that really shouldn’t be so complicated, should it? If I think about how I’m feeling, it’s never quite so simple as “good”, or “fine” or even “bad”.
At any given point of the day – any day – I’m just a bundle of mixed feelings. I always feel like I’ve done something wrong and like I’ve done something right; guilty, yet righteous. I feel excited, I feel happy, I feel scared, I feel sad, I feel tired, I feel alert, I feel smart and I feel dumb.
I’m feeling everything. I’m feeling confused.
I guess the proper response would be to say whichever one I’m feeling the most and right now that would be sad. But I’m not ready to get into that with you. You’ll ask me why and I won’t have an answer for you.
“Why are you sad?” You’ll ask me.
“I don’t know.” I’ll tell you.
That won’t be good enough. You’ll think I mean that I don’t know what’s wrong with me, or why I’m sad. That will frustrate you, rightfully so.
But what I really mean when I say “I don’t know” is “I don’t know how to explain it to you. I don’t know how to show you. I don’t know how to help you understand what I don’t fully understand. I don’t know how to just tell you. I don’t know how to cope. I don’t know how to make my problems easier on you.”
So I just say, “I’m fine”, because it’s much less complicated and less infuriating than “I don’t know”.