What Mental Illness Feels Like

drawing of staring contest with myselfI am thinking about how to express what mental illness feels like for those who don’t understand. I don’t really like the term mental illness either, but that is the most commonly used, so I use it here until I develop a better one anyway. 

And I know that I can only describe what mental illness feels like for me. I think that it is a slightly different experience for many people. Yes, there are commonalities or “symptoms” so that professionals can provide a diagnosis to get treatment if needed. But even with those symptoms, it is different for each person. 

And sometimes, people don’t fit within those lists of symptoms. Or that they have several in one diagnosis and several in another. Take a peek at the definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It’s a doozy!

Staring Contest with Myself

I have listened to several podcasts with Michael J. Fox (WTF with Marc Marron, Literally with Rob Lowe). He describes the first year of sobriety as having a knife fight in a closet during both podcasts. Every time I hear him say that I shake my head in agreement. I began to think about how to explain what having mental illnesses is like in one sentence. 

And that is when I realized that mental illness is like having a staring contest with yourself. There are no winners or losers in that contest. You are locked in that contest forever. Sometimes you recognize the person on the other side of that staring contest, sometimes you don’t. And there were many times that I didn’t want to admit that the person staring back was me. 

I had lost myself somewhere along the way, but I was still locked in that staring contest with myself. Because that is the only thing I see when I need to within myself, there isn’t anyone else there by me. It’s why there isn’t winning or losing side. Even though I see it as a staring contest, it is needed to reflect me what is going on in my head.

This past year I was having a knife fight in a closet while simultaneously having a staring contest with myself. No wonder I am so tired.

― Me

Inside vs. Outside

There is a duality within people. At least there is with me. I am not sure that duality is a bad thing, not all of the time. For me, it became too hard to maintain. Because I was pushing myself so far beyond who I was at my core. To deal with that, I drank. I was slowly trying to push myself to the brink of not functioning because that is how I felt inside. 

If you were looking at me from the outside, you would have seen a completely different person. The me that other people saw was someone very different. I think somewhere inside of myself; I was all of those things. But I didn’t feel like that was me because it wasn’t. 

Inside me and outside me was the two sides of me, the one inside and the one that I presented to others. And that is who stared back at me for so many years. I wanted so badly to let others see that other side of me, the other me in pain, and was hurting so badly. But I couldn’t do that, I have never done that, not really, until now.

Welcome to My Mental illness

Now? Well, this blog, for me, is like standing on a mountain top and announcing to the world that my brain works differently than others. When someone wants to know how I am doing, how I am doing, I ask how much time do they have. And do you want to handle all of what I am about to unleash? Because holy shit, there are days that I can barely grasp it all. 

But I need to grasp it. Other people don’t need to. It would be nice if they do, but they don’t have to. I do because it is me. I want to pick apart pieces of it, examine it closer, and try to figure out what to do to heal from it or heal with it. After all, isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing? 

Well, I don’t know if that is what I am supposed to be doing. I know that I am tired of being in the same place within myself that I have been my whole life. Being locked into this staring contest with myself with nothing changing is not helping me. Before, I was caught up in what I thought I was supposed to be, who I was supposed to be, based on the fact of…what exactly? I had no idea.

Look into Thyself

I certainly don’t have the answers. I am not sure that getting the answers is the goal. Maybe it is working towards finding those answers? Perhaps it is asking the questions to find the right solution? I think it asks questions and digging deeper into what those answers mean if you had them. One of those answers that is elusive to me and others is who I am? And what does that mean?

I am no longer self-medicating with alcohol, and I survived that first year of the knife fight in a closet while having a staring contest with myself. Now, I am medicating the healthier way, with professionals’ guidance, eating healthier, and exercising. I am still in that staring contest with myself, but now it is not a contest. It is becoming a way to understand who I am.

To think that understanding my mental illness, realizing that I am an alcoholic, and completely dismantling my life would lead me back to my beginning. Where I should have been, doing what I should I have been doing all along; writing.

“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”

― Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

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