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Behind Closed Doors With Mental Illness

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I wake frequently through the night. This happens often, and once it does, it’s difficult to go back to sleep. My mind immediately starts whirling, thoughts racing, demons taunting, memories lingering. I turn over and ignore them. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t. I have come close to mentioning the severity of this problem with my physician, but I always stop short. I don’t know how to fully explain what I go through. I know my internal voices are irrational. I know it’s just work-related stress. I know the voices will go away. Eventually. But I’m fearful he won’t understand. I’m fearful he’ll start writing in my chart. Delusional. Stressed. Depressed. Anxious. Overly-emotional. Pill seeking. There it is. That’s the one we absolutely do not want written in the chart. I put up with the night voices. I sleep when I can.

• What is PTSD?

In the morning I get dressed. I go to work. I am a registered nurse. I am good at my job. Actually, I’m great at my job. But how can someone who’s dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and now has fluctuating levels of seasonal depression and mild-severe social anxiety manage to care for strangers within seconds of first-time introductions? Because. Because once I open my bedroom door, I cease to be me. I am wearing my scrubs. My costume. My armor. I smile like I’m supposed to smile. I say the things I’m supposed to say. I go to work and function like a contributing member of society.

Around my neck is a necklace I never remove. I have worn it daily for eight years. It was given to me by a man I met when I was at one of my lowest points in life. I allowed my lack of esteem to let him abuse me, torment me, isolate me and threaten me. Something that continues to cause me shame and guilt. But I wear it not because of him but rather in spite of him. It’s my trophy. My medallion. My talisman. When I’m anxious you’ll catch me rubbing it repeatedly until my chest stops heaving. Until my breathing slows down. Until my head stops throbbing. All of this is, of course, invisible. I appear calm. I smile like I’m supposed to smile. And I say the things I’m supposed to say.

But you don’t see what I see behind closed doors. Behind closed doors I remove my armor. I lie in bed. I stare out my window. Oblivious that hours have passed. Behind closed doors I cry into my pillow. Silently of course as I cannot bring attention to myself. Crying brings unwanted attention. I learned this as a child by an abusive father. So I seldom make a sound. Behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors the music is always on. You think I have a natural love of music, and I do. But more importantly I have a hatred for silence. My silence is deafening. It allows the voices to tear through my protective walls. I must have noise. Music. Television. I don’t care. I don’t want to talk though. If we talk my voices will whisper I’m stupid. I need to shut up. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Didn’t you already say that? Are you sure you didn’t because I think you did. When are you going to stop talking? They don’t care about you. Just shut up! But of course this is all in my head. Meanwhile, I’m smiling and acting as normal as I can.

As I mentioned earlier, my problems are seasonal now instead of all the time. So if you catch me out and about please know I truly am enjoying being out and about. If I’m socializing, I truly do enjoy your company. But if I make plans and then bail, please know I tried. Maybe what started as a good day quickly went south. Because you don’t know me. Behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors, I have tried on dozens of outfits. Convinced I’m the most hideous person on the planet. Behind closed doors I have practiced smiling and talking in front of the mirror until I just can’t anymore. Behind closed doors my demon voices have won. For today. I’ll make an excuse. I’ll beg forgiveness. I’ll probably ask for a raincheck.

But if I’m not smiling today, don’t worry. I’ll smile tomorrow. I’ll keep practicing. Behind closed doors. For now, it’s time to put on my scrubs. My armor. My job is to take care of you. I will deal with myself later. Behind closed doors.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Thinkstock image by Bmywuk

Originally published: November 20, 2016
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