I Have a Mental Illness, but I Am Not a Damsel in Distress
In my experience, people who learn a loved one has a mental illness will react one of two ways; they either refuse to acknowledge it at all, or they take responsibility for the illness. They take the burden of happiness and mental health on their shoulders.
Now, at the great risk of sounding rude and ungrateful (I mean to be neither)… Neither of those reactions is helpful.
Why, by any stretch of the imagination, should my illness be your responsibility? Why should you believe it is, and why should I let you? Because it isn’t. It can’t be. You’re not in charge of fixing me or keeping me happy, that would be completely unfair. The people who care for those of us with illnesses like this, need to hear this, for them:
You cannot fix us. It isn’t your job, please don’t think it is. You are not responsible for our happiness, you can’t be. If we fall it is not, ever, your fault, never blame yourself. You cannot, no matter how much you want to, recover for us. You cannot take the hurt away any more than you could give us back an amputated limb. Don’t take the burden of our illness, and never let us make you feel like you have to. I’ve been there, over and over, hoping that someone will do something that flips a switch and makes me “normal”… It can’t work. Don’t let us convince you otherwise. We and only we are responsible for our own minds.
Now with all illnesses, mental or physical, there are people who are legitimately dependent on others for any kind of decent quality of live. I’m not saying that doesn’t exist in mental health, it does. And that’s OK. But not everyone. We need support, don’t get me wrong, we need acknowledgement and understanding of our illness, and if we say, “I am struggling, I need you to help me” then help. Lend a hand. Not a back. You cannot hold the broken pieces of us together forever, keeping us whole. One day you will have to leave and we will fall apart again and have gained nothing. You cannot be our glue. You can be our Band-Aid.
If your friend falls you reach out a hand and help them to their feet. You don’t carry them around on your back forever so they never fall… That wouldn’t work. The muscles in their legs would atrophy and they would be reliant on you for everything, and one day if you weren’t there they would be completely helpless. Unable to even get out of bed, and that’s not fair on anyone. Not them, and certainly not you.
It’s not your job to fix me. I’m not a jigsaw puzzle you are responsible for assembling.
I will probably never be “normal.” Depression, anxiety… These are things that don’t always go away. You learn to cope, to live with it, maybe you take drugs to relieve some of the symptoms, but it’s not a cure, it’s a patch. What I need, what most of us need, is to learn how to effectively manage our illness. To learn our triggers, and to implement emergency protocols to deal with it. We have to learn to intercept what we can, stop it in its tracks if we’re able, and if not to cope with it.
No matter how much you want to, you can’t do that for us.
I can only hope that I learn how to manage this illness. That the Very Bad Days will happen less, and the Bad Days will be easier to deal with. Your only job, as my friend, is to be there. To care. To support me. To be the hand helping me up when I fall, not the back I cling to. I will never learn to cope otherwise. I need to know what makes this easier, and when I have a Bad Day I need to know I can turn to you and that you’ll be there to keep me company while I ride it out. I may never love myself, and it isn’t your responsibility to change it and fix it so I do, but under my own steam, with your support, I may learn to like myself, and that is more than some people can ever say.
I am blessed right now to be surrounded by incredibly supportive people who help me at every turn. I will love you all forever, and I owe you so much. You make me laugh and smile. You raise me up. You inspire me. But never think, please, that you are responsible for my happiness. That you are responsible for making me whole. Never feel bad if I have a Bad Day and you can’t snap me out of it. You don’t have to, it’s not your job, and it wouldn’t be fair on you if I made you responsible for my mental health.
I don’t want you to try and fix me.
You are not my savior.
You don’t have to grip me tight and raise me from Perdition.
That’s my job. That’s on me and only me.
I love you for keeping me company. For getting me out of the flat. For making me laugh. For caring. I will do anything I can for you, because words cannot explain the magnitude of what you do for me every day, and I will never be able to repay your kindness.
But please don’t try and fix me.
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Thinkstock photo via ADK-photography