Just Because I’m Not in a Psychiatric Hospital Anymore Doesn’t Mean I’m ‘Fine’
Compared to where I was six months ago, I’m doing OK. But really, that’s not saying much. Six months ago, I was in a psychiatric hospital, extremely unwell and desperately suicidal. Everyone keeps telling me how great I’m doing — I’m back at work, I’m engaging with friends, hobbies. I know people mean well when they congratulate me on my progress, but sometimes I wish I could tell them just how much pressure that puts on me.
I don’t feel anywhere near fine a lot of the time. I can deal with that though; I’ve learned some really effective, healthy coping mechanisms as part of my recovery and I now have a much better understanding of myself and my illness. None of that changes the fact I was extremely mentally unwell in the not-too-distant past, though. No, I’m not at that acute stage of my illness where it’s obvious to everyone and their dog I’m not OK, but that doesn’t make the stage I’m at right now any less hard. People (inadvertently, I imagine) pile on the pressure, asking me for this and that, expecting so much more of me than I feel I can give right now, all the while telling me how “well” I’m doing.
Sometimes I wonder if part of this “encouragement” is a way of people justifying the expectations they have of me. When I’m not ill, I can generally be relied on to fix things, organize things and take on a disproportionate share of the mental load. And that’s OK, usually. Most of the time, I thrive off of it and enjoy the challenge — but not when I’m struggling. I am still struggling, but the load has just been dropped back on me, without any discussion or agreement. I feel I just about have the capacity to look after myself and my own problems right now, yet suddenly I’m like a juggler with all of these balls in the air, frantically trying to keep everything going, while other people pile on more and more.
I know I could just tell people how I’m feeling, but I don’t want my illness to dominate every interaction I have. I am more than that, and I want my friendships and relationships to reflect more than just the bad stuff. I also don’t want to come across like I’m using mental illness as an excuse in any way. If I really do look so “fine,” despite feeling like I do on the inside, maybe no one would believe how much I’m really struggling.
I don’t know what the way around this is. It might just be one of those unfortunate, awkward and difficult things about recovery. On the one hand, I don’t want my whole life to be about mental illness. On the other hand, I’m still nowhere near firing on all cylinders, nowhere near back to fully functioning. I still need more time, more space. Patience and understanding, more time to heal. And I just don’t know how to make people see this without having to shove it in their faces all of the time.
Unsplash image by Eric Ward