My attempt at a normal life

When the inevitable is asked, as part of an introduction, I tell them that I’m “taking a career break before rushing into anything.” Which is a glossy version, and not at all a lie, but certainly not the whole truth. I get it: what is a normal looking woman in her mid-twenties doing in an art class made up of mostly retired middle aged/senior men and women on a weekend when she should be having mimosas with her other friends from work? I’m sure they wonder. But I don’t give them a clue- not even when the lady at the easel next to me talks to another lady about her real world job concerning psychiatric medication research- because what follows is the belief that psych drugs make people violent, said by the another lady, and then comes rushing in the Dylan Roof theories, and so on and so forth. I’m a coward, so I don’t let my intimate personal experience with mental illness be known as a point for counter argument, as it was only my second class, and I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the mental ill girl, because for some people, that’s all they see once they know. And I certainly did not want the second lady (who strongly believed that all mentally ill people are inclined to shoot a lot of random people)  to think that I was going to shoot the whole class one of these days. (By the way, I’m getting pretty tired of ignorant people grouping together violent people and mentally ill people together, which are very independent characteristics.) Instead, I’m pigeonholed into something more mundane- math major, ex-financial analyst who is taking a career break and who now is back at art to pass the time until she feels like getting a job again, like a normal person.

I feel slightly embarrassed that I have to lie/leave out about a very essential part of my life at the moment, but at the same time, frustrated that even if I wanted to reveal it, it might do some damage to my character (when I have done nothing wrong.) I also feel embarrassed that I still don’t have the balls to stand up for myself. But I so desperately want to be back to normal, that desire is getting in the way of advocacy- For the 4 hours I’m there in the class, I want to feel like a normal person again, whether if I need to be incognito for it or not. So I keep pretending, But who isn’t pretending? We don’t go blabbering about all our troubles and tribulations to the strangers we meet, and they’re not entitled to that kind of information, anyway. Maybe I’m just so used to being transparent that hiding a piece of me from the world is difficult. That is one thing I don’t like about getting older- it’s the secrets. And as time passes the secrets snowball, every time we avoid talking about it. We cover it up with something else, patch it up with another lie there.

I sometimes liken my situation to another group. I imagine how the gay community did it, when they first came out to their fundamentalist parents, to a mostly religious society- that must have taken immense courage, and I respect the LGBT community for taking that big step. They’re getting normalized to society now, after that hard work. The movement didn’t start overnight of course, and not by one person. So sometimes I think that maybe as an individual, I risked taking that first step to speak out, come out, and educate, I wouldn’t be seen as this would-be-murderer, but as rather as another normal 20-something year old, who happens to have the misfortune of catching bipolar disorder along her journey.

 

 

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18 thoughts on “My attempt at a normal life

  1. I feel you. I’ve lost a lot of friends simply by saying that I have a mental illness. It has made me wary of meeting other people now. Being honest with others about your illness is brave, but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to share it. Love this post. Keep going!

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    1. Thanks! And thanks for reading! My experience is the same, I lost friends due to the illness, and most of all, I’ve become fearful of creating meaningful connections with acquaintances, even. I’m trying to face my fears now, but it’s been an upward battle for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As someone who has mental illness and who belongs to the LGBTQ community, I can say, I definitely feel more stigmatized bc of my mental health issues. But, then again, I mostly pass as straight and I don’t correct people. I have that ability with my sexuality; I don’t with my mental health because of my scars. So, maybe I don’t actually know… It’s an interesting comparison to think about though.

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    1. That’s interesting that you have experienced both. I suppose having something visible would definitely give you no choice but to be “out” and be brave about it, when asked. Sometimes I want to get a visible tattoo to honor my recovery from bipolar symptoms, so that I can intentionally be out about it, but I’m still not quite brave enough to do it. Only time will tell!

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  3. I understand what you mean. I was diagnosed in my 20s, but have always been open about it; I don’t know why. To me, it just seemed natural. Maybe I’ve been labeled the “mentally ill girl,” I don’t know. I guess I don’t particularly care, either! Great post, Amy.

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      1. I understand. When people I meet ask me what I do, I feel totally self-conscious because I’m on disability, but look just fine. I’m glad my therapist helped me come up with an answer: “I’m a writer and I blog about bipolar disorder.”

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  4. I so strongly identify with it! Thank you for writing it. There are many times that I choose not to share my diagnosis because I know that it’s going to be the only thing someone remembers about me. It can be so conflicting in the moment, especially when people are discussing mental illness in a way that completely mischaracterizes that. I think that you make an interesting point about the LGBTQ community comparison. I do think that mental illness is also becoming more normalized, but it’s not an equal playing field. I’m more willing to discuss my anxiety and depression, but I’ve admitted my BPD diagnosis to very few because the stigma is just too much. I really wish that would change so we weren’t in the position where we have to hide or risk so much.

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    1. Thanks for reading! I totally understand that some parts (or all) of our illness are just too much to be shared at this point. And you are right to follow that feeling to protect yourself because you are your priority! I do wish, too, that mental illness becomes normalized, or at least becomes part of our standardized education so that those who are sick with it are not risking everything when it is time to share that information with someone.

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  5. I am sorry you cant share your struggles with the class. but I do think your probably better off not to. Especially since the women have already gotten opinions on psych meds and mental illness that are incorrect. You might just be setting yourself up for heartache and hurt feelings. xxx

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    1. You’re totally right- not telling this person is the wise thing to do in this situation. I am still a little upset that I will have to censor a piece of myself that I am not personally ashamed of sharing. But all this is still a little new to me- it will take a while to get used to!

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