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Got you there, hey. Where was that title going? You(are)/your mental… health, illness, diagnosis, thoughts, progression, facts, analysis… really you could just play word association with it all day. The assumptions that could be made with this phrase essentially though is that we are wanting to hid our mental illness or disorders and appear normal, enabled or as I like to say, ‘one of them’. But there are instances when I have to keep it together and try and hide my true self, like at all the dinner parties we grace our family presence at, or even heading to the shops (can’t wear my crazy face) or work (have to make some effort to fit into the normative discourse).
So yeah, I guess this post is going to be about ways that you can appear to fit into regular societal activities, and poke fun at some of the ways that society expects us to appear a certain way because of our mental illness/disorder. I used to work on a nigh patrol which went around to all the places where homeless people slept in Canberra and served up soup, tea, coffee and cakes donated form the local bakery. A large part of the role was the talk to people and check in, giving them someone to listen and give a shit about their lives. There was this one guy I used to meet with who had some mental disorder. This was quite sometime before my postpartum psychosis and all I knew about mental wellbeing was self-learnt through books and family experiences. This man, let’s call him Freddy, had a bipolar disorder and would often stop his medications. On this particular occasion he had grandeur about being a millionaire and each week we caught up, he was dressed in a full suit with neck tie and would tell me about how he had developed the Intenet but it was stolen from him so he chose to live on the streets. Freddy was a very convincing story teller and although I knew his story was untrue due to social norms and expectations I was privy to from being ‘mentally well’.
I am like Freddy at home. I say what I want and when I want and I know one of my signs for hypomania is not having that filter in my life situations like work and social, and instead I lay open to the grandeur of my thoughts which are usually full-fledged paranoia and/or hallucinations. At this stage of the illness it is near impossible to pretend that I am anything other than what I think – and people know about what is going on whether I want them to, or not. I guess a big part of it is that I am who I am in that moment and I believe everything I am thinking, even though I know that I can’t trust my thoughts I am so drawn in that there is nothing that I can do. Or is there…?
Wear a mask
No no no no I don’t mean what you think and yes I mean what you don’t want to admit. Buy a mask. In many of these cases it is impossible to rely on a pretend version of yourself, so invest in a good quality rubber theatrical mask to hid behind. I like the ones pictured below and have been known to get around in them at dress parties and am thinking of keeping one in my office drawer for if one of those occasions where I need to hide myself at work. I would hate to come to the realisation that I was having a hypo and not be able to have a humorous yet covered escape from my office. Or even just going shopping – people will expectedly stare at me rather than my just thinking they were thereby fulfilling two needs; one need to hid my illness and the second need is to feel safe.
Never leave the house
Okay so I admit this is a little dramatic for starters, but stay with me here. If we all went outside who would watch our televisions, pet our animals and experience life from within? And as per our dear friend Nemo we are reminded that there are some things we should know about the world is that… (sorry about all the Nemo references but I am writing this while watching this brilliant film with my son). My home is designed to keep me inside, warm on this autumn day and able to relax and be my full self. Like sitting in my ‘don’t stuff with me’ tracksuits and letting my mind fly about in directions, or stay quite still, whichever mood I am in.
Keep your enemies far away and family/friends close
Now I’m getting a little serious. I have found my greatest strength in being able to live in society is based one the love and support of friends and family. And these don’t even need to be close people as such but just someone you regularly have positive contact with. The night patrol I was a part of is a great example of a community initiative and I know of another program where they pair social contacts with socially isolated people for weekly calls or fortnightly visits. Social contact is super important for blending and making sure no-one takes notice of my hitorigoto (Japanese for self-talk) which is typically out loud and a bit rambling at the best of times. At least with the pretense of caring people I can write off these conversations by holding a phone to my ear.
All jokes aside, I am to the point now where I have had to accept the fact that my craziness flies in public often without me knowing it. I can keep up appearances for a while, like a couple of week, but then the darkness seeps into my being and I cannot hide how I am going, or rather how I am not going. My doctor reminded me yesterday that I cannot control my idea of normalcy when I am not well and I need to rely on friends and family to let me know when I am reaching a hypo or beyond that stage. Unfortunately though I don’t listen to them when they say that things often seeing it is a personal attack rather than a reach for help.
So that is something to work on – knowing that they can see everything and know me better than I even know myself at times especially when I am unwell. And I need to learn to reach out in these ways to disempower the disorder.