I’m sure this is a question most people with any illness, disability or problem in life asks themselves. Often the question will go unanswered and the questioner lives with confusion, frustration and a sense of unfairness. Many issues over time will be resolved or simply pass. A common phrase is that all things pass. But some problems are life long and can’t be fixed. In those circumstances some kind of acceptance is necessary. Acceptance of your problems, acceptance of your limits and acceptance that you must forge your own version of ‘normal’
I’ve suffered from mental illness most of my adult life and am still attempting to find acceptance. At times I feel as though I have found it but then it quickly slips away. Acceptance feels like trying to catch a slippery eel with my bare hands. Success being only short-lived.
I wish the answer to why acceptance is so difficult was a simple subject but instead it is complex. There are lots of reasons that is hard to hold on to. One reason is that when mentally unwell all rationality flies out of the window and so all the reasoning behind my recently acquired acceptance becomes quickly invalid. And partly because it’s near impossible to accept and welcome intolerable mental and emotional pain in to your life when it’s present in that same moment!
Imagine for a moment feeling as though electricity is running through your veins or worms crawling through your brain. Imagine feeling as though your skin is covered in cobwebs and the noise in your brain is so loud that it overwhelms your senses. Imagine feeling that you are covered in thick dirty slime just under your skin and that the only way to get rid of all the dirt and noise and putrid feelings inside is to bathe in boiling water and scrub yourself clean with a scourer and bleach or to cut it away. How do you learn to live with that? How do you learn to accept?
Then imagine that no one knows how to help you and that most people turn away repulsed by even the mention of ‘mental illness’. Try to remember that having mental illness often makes a person find socialising difficult anyway. It’s hard enough trying to maintain your own self care and daily routines without the pressures of trying to communicate efficiently, hold small chat, enquire about how others are keeping; show care and concern, try to maintain etiquette and boundaries. Socialising becomes a juggling act with knives. The pressure to fit in or face rejection, disappointment and judgement and in turn more hurt. Remember also that often a person with mental illness may already feel emotionally overwhelmed and hyper sensitive and so even a small slight or joke attack their expense could be internalised and increase a feeling of shame, self hatred, sense of unworthiness. Take in to account also that many diagnosis often come hand in hand with anxiety related issues that also aggravate the difficulties in social situations. Sometimes the person can be over sensitive to sensory stimulation too – lights, movement, noise etc..
I think taking all these factors in to consideration and more besides, you might theorise that such a fragile and vulnerable person might need a good support system around them? But what if now we factor in the stigma of mental illness? What if most people feel fear, repulsion or helplessness about mental illness? They don’t wish to approach a person with mental illness or be around them or spend any significant time with them and the few who do feel uncomfortable discussing mental illness, don’t want to ask how you are, don’t want to offer help because it’s too big for them to deal with.
Now imagine again that horrid feeling when you’re unwell, add the shame and guilt, add the stigma you face from others and the difficult to think rationally and ask yourself how you accept this life? How do you function each day? Who can you ask for help? How and what words can you use to ask for help and describe what you need? How do you maintain relationships?
Now lastly do not ever think that mental illness is simple, that a person can just think their way out of it, think positive, distract and it all goes away, or that this post even comes close to describing its nature. This post is a mere snippet of insight into living with mental illness. It’s far too complex for me to put in one post and would take a lifetime to explain fully.