I finally got caught up with all the text messages and emails from friends I’ve missed out on for over a month. Friends outside my mental health bubble, but friends nevertheless, in the Facebook definition of the term. The reason (and not the excuse) for leaving them unanswered was because at the time the anxiety of concocting a response probably would have caused another episode which I could not afford. It took nearly a month for me to recover enough and to have enough courage to even write a reply to a simple, “Hey, how are you doing?”
Well, there is the honest answer and the not honest answer to that. But would it make sense for them to hear that it’s been the worst time in my life? Was it just pure shame? After consideration, I tell them that I’m sick and in treatment for a neurological disorder.
The friends who are outside of this bubble consist of the following:
- the coworkers I remained friendly with, but don’t know me that well,
- those who seemed or have proven to be scared/ignorant/judgmental about mental illnesses and those suffering from them,
- those who don’t know how to act around me post-hospitalization (other than saying I’m so sorry, like someone died), or doesn’t act the same way around me or have abandoned me since the diagnosis
- and those friends that I just can’t really tell whether or not they will react well to the news because I’ve never spoken them about it.
This could all just be me making it up in my head. It’s possible that people are kinder than they are in my head.
Then there are those inside my mental health bubble that I can share what is actually going on.
- my parents
- my treatment team (therapist and psychiatrist)
- friends who work in the mental health field (there are very few of these people in my life as I have not worked in the industry)
- friends who are also going through similar struggles from group therapy
- other writers/speakers/bloggers who write about their stories
Why must I isolate myself, or make up a vague story to cover up a very important part of my life to just get by and to not be found? That’s what guilty people do because they’re ashamed, but I haven’t done anything wrong except to have won the lottery to have a stigma filled disorder. I found this to be very uncomfortable to be nontransparent to those I used to call “friends.” Sure, the ones that work in the industry I might go back to might not get the full details because employers will not look at my illness favorably if they find out- it seems to be a literal death sentence to your career in my field. But the friends who you used to be close to, but do not know the whole story about why you dropped off the face of the earth? That’s tricky, especially when it’s over a text, you can’t know their genuine reaction, so you wouldn’t know how to respond appropriately. Do you respond with a psych education video, or do you laugh it off like it’s nothing?
I sound a little paranoid, I know. But I feel like I would have to make a decision now on how to tell the people I meet in my life about what is going on with me, as someone who isn’t fully stable (yet). I don’t want to be someone who is inconsistent and flaky, but that’s what I do sometimes to take care of myself- that has not gone well received/ understood. Part of me wants to out myself to everyone just to show them. Fight the stigma by showing them all that I’m not what they imagine I am. But it’s pretty scary, and I fear the silent rejection and ostracism that I may have to face. I may not have enough courage for this one yet.