Friday, 2 June 2017

I Don't Need You To Fix Me.


A couple of weeks ago, I had one of my annual "Awkward Mental Health Discussions" with a close relative. Bless them, every so often they make an effort to try to understand me, to ask relevant questions and find out a bit more about my current mental state. But there's always the moment when the questions turn into a blundering, artless attempt to offer a 'cure'. And while I do appreciate it comes from a place of love, it doesn't half frustrate me.

I'm often reluctant to be completely open with those around me about my mental health. They all know I have mental illnesses, sure, but I very rarely talk how I actually feel on a day-to-day basis. And, honestly, they very rarely ask.

I'm actually okay with that though. I'm fine with not talking too in-depth about it because I'm still very uncomfortable with that. The thoughts I have are often incredibly distressing for me, the last thing I want to do is upset those around me too. It's enough to know that they understand that my brain is different to theirs, without them needing to know every single way that manifests.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that these more personal, intimate conversations about my mental state are fairly rare for me. When they happen, I can feel my heart start to thud a little harder, my tongue begins to get tied, and my mind draws a blank. And yet, answering the questions honestly always makes me feel good. It makes me feel strong and courageous, and I know within myself that the only way I can expect people to understand is if I tell them.

That's why it's disheartening when the advice comes.

"Have you tried X, Y or Z?"
"You've just got to stop caring what other people think."
"It's not that bad, cheer up!"

Oh... oh, dear.

I know that this is well-meaning, but it makes me feel like a problem that needs solving, a burden that needs offloading. I feel like a hindrance.

What is this obsession, when it comes to mental health, with trying to find a solution? Why are people so determined that you must be fixed, and fixed now?

This latest conversation focused on my anxiety. The relative asked me about the fact that I rarely go outdoors, and almost never on my own. Thing is, I've actually been making progress recently. I made the journey to and from London on my own (admittedly I was met by my best friend at King's Cross, but still), and days after that I negotiated a complicated bus network to go to a local town and wander round it by myself for hours. That might sound tiny for some people, but for me, it's a breakthrough.

From what they said, this relative made it clear that they believe the way I am currently living isn't 'normal'. Pfft, they're probably right. But you know what? I'm fucking tired. I'm tired of pushing myself to fit into what other people deem as a correct way of life. I'm tired of being made to feel like I am a complication, just because my brain works differently. I'm tired of people thinking that I need to be fixed.

Of course, I'm not suggesting we all stop our methods of treatment, throw caution to the wind, and just live our lives completely defined by our mental illnesses. All I mean is that I am no longer going to be using other people's yardsticks to measure my progress.

I know, I know, I know that this person didn't mean to hurt my feelings, but the insinuation that I had to 'push through' and put myself in distressing situations purely to appear as healthy as everyone else is fucked, especially when it's for other people's benefit, not mine. I am not going to feel guilty for saying no to things that trigger me, I'm not going to feel bad if I wake up and think "I can't handle going out today", and I'm not going to compare myself to people who don't have to live with my brain. No-one else is more qualified than me to judge what I am capable of, and what I just can't do - yet.

The journey to recovery is quite genuinely a long and winding road. It's not linear, it's not going to happen overnight, and it's a bit more complicated than just going for a walk and having a bubble bath. This incessant pressure to be fixed ASAP, because god forbid you make someone else feel uncomfortable too, is not helpful.

One of the questions in my mental health series asks the interviewees what advice they'd give to people who want to support loved ones with have mental health issues. Almost every single person has said that same thing - listen. You know what not one person has said? 'Offer me advice on how to fix how I feel.' Chances are, we've already heard it, and it hasn't worked. I know you want to help, but sometimes helping isn't about finding the answer to what is a hugely complicated issue, it's just about offering support.

When I open up to you about how I feel, it's not because I want or expect you to have the answers. I just want to be heard, to be supported, to feel understood. When you treat me as less of a human, more just a walking 'Mental Illness' it feels incredibly belittling. 

People are complex creatures. We have all sorts of quirks and individual behaviour patterns. There is no such thing as a normal person. As long as I feel I am making progress, and that I'm not being completely held back from any kind of happiness by my mental health, how I live my life is not your issue. If the fact I don't have a job is so much of a problem to you that you can't just sit down, open your ears and shut up, that's nothing to do with me. If people have to be living by your standards in order to qualify as worthy of being listened to, that's on you. 

Frankly, I am finally at peace with the way my mind works. Some days I'll cry a lot for no reason. Some days I'll feel like I can't leave the house. Some days I feel hopeless. These are awful, hard days - but I am working on them. I don't put unrealistic expectations of never having them again on myself. My end goal isn't to never have another shit day, that's ridiculous. My end goal is to have healthy coping mechanisms, to know how to deal with these days, and to be able to openly talk about them because - spoiler alert - even if you aren't mentally ill, you will have fucking awful days. That is normal.

It would be awesome if people could be there to help me in this process. If they could listen, support and encourage me. If they could help get me through the day, rather than trying to somehow magically cure my illness overnight. The little things matter, the "I'm here if you want to talk"s, the "I'm proud of you"s, the "you're not alone"s.

I am not a broken person, just because I happen to be mentally ill. My illness is a part of who I am, and it's there even on the days where I'm more high-functioning. I'd like you to understand and acknowledge it, but I don't need you to fix me.
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5 comments

  1. What an inciteful post into mental illness. I'm proud of you for going to London by yourself and using the bus, that's such a huge step. Thank you for letting us know that the way we can help is by listening.

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  2. Brilliant post! Very well said and very well presented. Super proud of the steps you have been taking, going to London and your wee shopping trip - go girl!!!

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  3. Lovely and very interesting post! I definitely agree that people seem to want to find a solution and find it right now and that's not at all how it works, so great to know I'm not the only person who ever feels that way xo

    emsirose.blogspot.com

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  4. I think people think you have genuinely never thought of "just worrying less", like it's some kind of genius solution that will cure everything... I don't know, I know they mean well but it's so frustrating.
    Also I just wanted to say that you are never a burden, a problem or a hindrance. You know where I am, anytime! ♥

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  5. Yes! I agree with this post so much. It is very frustrating when people who don't really understand a mental illness then try and give advice. It is not necessary. The worst is when people wrongly try to explain your illness to you. Listening or encouraging is far more helpful x

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