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7 Reasons People With Mental Illness Might 'Disappear'

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If you’ve decided to read this writing, my guess is you likely have someone in your life who has a mental illness and who also disappears. You might be aware that yes, this vanishing takes place, but perhaps you don’t know the why. Conversely, it could be that you are the person who takes flight, and you’d like a little help with finding the words to explain this phenomenon.

Well, never fear, I am here to help with unraveling this mystery. Or at least as the self-proclaimed expert on disappearing acts, I’d like to suggest some themes I’ve noticed are pretty common. So let’s go ahead and get started.

1. “I don’t have enough energy for other people.”

When folks are mentally unwell, every ounce of energy may be going into the basic activities required for living. It can feel like we have no energy left for anything “extra” like seeing a friend.

2. “People are better off without me around.”

We may believe that we have nothing to offer, that we have no good qualities, or that no one misses us anyways. Likewise, we may feel like we are too much of a “downer” or will bring down the mood.

3. “I can’t fulfill societal norms.”

We may feel overwhelmed by the idea of needing to perform in a certain way. Small talk, smiling, making eye contact, being dressed appropriately. All of this may just be too much for us right now.

4. “I can’t control my emotions.”

We may be experiencing panic attacks, crying fits, or other things we don’t really want others to see. We may be afraid of “causing a scene,” doing something embarrassing, or that we will be judged or ridiculed.

5. “I feel embarrassed.”

It could be we haven’t washed our hair for a week, our house may be extremely messy, or perhaps we feel shame that things have “gotten bad again” after being well for a period of time.

6. “I don’t know what to say.”

We may feel like a broken record, or that we just don’t know how to explain things. Maybe it isn’t typical for someone of our race, gender, etc. to talk about this. Perhaps our memory and concentration are bad and we can’t find our words. Maybe we tried to talk about this in the past and received a bad reaction.

7. “It’s been too long.”

We may want to reconnect but have decided our absence was too lengthy. We may feel reaching out will be too awkward or that you will have moved on and not be interested in us any more. We may think you are angry with us or don’t like us.

In truth, I created this list based off my own experience of disappearing because of my mental illnesses and I also included some of the reasons I’ve heard from friends. Like most things in life, the reasons behind why people disappear can vary and be complex. Your situation may be missing or the explanations may be wrong for your circumstance. That’s OK, simply use it as a guide, and fill in the missing information.

Lastly I would like offer some suggestions on how to be helpful to those of us who are “disappearers” as truth of the matter is we likely do need some human connection.

You can:

  • Continue to invite us to things.
  • Directly tell us you enjoy who we are.
  • Be a low pressure nonjudgmental friend.
  • Educate yourself on our conditions.
  • Ask us to join you in your errands, encourage us with ours.
  • Send little texts, memes, postcards.
  • Give some space at times if need be.
  • Ask us what we need.
  • And above all else be patient!

Are your reasons for disappearing on this list? Did this  help you to understand someone who disappears, or give you an idea of how you may support them? Other thoughts or comments, please share below!

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Getty image by Tara Moore

Originally published: April 15, 2022
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