Why I'm Afraid to Reach Out When My Mental Health Is at Its Worst
Having a mental illness is exhausting. I’ve been diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder and bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Having these diagnoses makes life difficult in a number of ways, but the biggest challenge I have is letting people know when I’m not doing well.
When my mental illness flares up, it’s not the image of the girl in full makeup with fitted sweatpants in her perfectly tidy room. A single tear runs down her cheek as she tosses her blow-dried, voluminous hair declaring that she just can’t take it anymore, and she is whisked off to a sparkling private facility where she is miraculously cured in 24 minutes, plus advertisements.
Instead, it’s the image of me pacing my room until the early hours of the morning, trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to awaken the rats I hear in the walls. It’s me breaking down in tears at dawn because I know if I stop pacing, they will come out and eat me.
It’s also panic attacks so intense that I vomit. Minutes later, I’m out of the staff bathroom at work trying to control my shakes and talking a mile a minute to cover up.
At times, it’s dizzying highs and a euphoria like I’ve never known before. I have a direct line to God and she has let me in on the secrets of the universe. But I have to be careful; someone is trying to steal them from me.
It can be sitting in bed with a cavernous emptiness in my chest, believing that I cannot love, and I am unloved and unlovable. Not even being able to cry and not feeling worth the tears. My art is bad, I cannot write and therefore I am a terrible person.
Barely sleeping for days on end, feeling invincible and uncomfortably hot. It’s that moment when you have just come off the bouncy castle, dizzy, sweaty and elated — on a constant loop. I must buy all of the Harry Potter pillows from Primark. It is beyond essential and the only way to keep this joy going.
When I am at my worst, all of these combine. There are worms under my skin and I must scratch them out by breaking my skin through any means necessary. I can feel and see them, and it is terrifying. The people in charge are also trying to poison me. They have formulated a poison especially for me that will only work on me. I stop eating. My medications are poison, too. Time to stop taking them. I don’t know who is working for the “people in charge.” I stop sleeping; I can’t rest because I have so much energy. I’m smiling wide because I’m terrified.
All of this is to say that explaining this to employers, educators, friends and creative collaborators is a lot. When I say that I am in the midst of a relapse or that I haven’t been doing too well, it’s my way of expressing any or all of the above. It would be wonderful to one day feel OK to tell someone, honestly, that I am experiencing a psychotic episode and that I need to check out for a while. Or to be able to say that I need a day to self-sooth from a hypomanic episode so that it doesn’t progress into full mania. Often the fear of other’s reactions leaves me frozen.
Either they will deem me lazy and hyperbolic, or worse, hear the word “psychosis” and make wild assumptions about my character and their safety around me. Because of this, I am genuinely afraid to let people know exactly what my mental illness is and how it is affecting me. I often find myself altering the truth by claiming I have an upset stomach, headache or flu rather than admitting that I have this difficult and stigmatized illness.
It’s exhausting. It’s scary. It’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life. But I hope that letting people know when I’m struggling will get easier as time goes on. With practice and patience I can learn to be OK with telling people when I become hypomanic, manic, depressed or even psychotic, and to no longer feel ashamed for taking time to get better.
Unsplash via Lorna Scubelek