How Not to Talk To People With Mental Illness, Episode #43,635 – UPDATED »« Humanist Thoughts on a Life Well-Lived

Some Incomplete Thoughts on Mental Illness and Shame

So this weird ridiculous thing happened the other day, and it’s bringing up some weird feelings about mental illness and shame.

We had this household accident last night: one of our doors fell off its hinges. (One of the hinges snapped in two, actually, which pulled the other hinge clean out of the frame.) Of course it happened at ten o’clock at night; of course it was a door to a room that isn’t catproofed, a room that Comet absolutely can’t be allowed into, a room that we really really need a door to. So we had to frantically wrestle the door into a temporary safe place; wrangle the cats into another room and shut them in; scour the Internet to find an emergency handyperson who would come out to the house at that hour… and call Kaiser to look up my medical records and find out when I last had a tetanus shot.

See, in the course of the door-wrangling, I got these two giant raggedy gouges on my inner forearm. I’ve never before seen what attaches a door to a door frame: apparently, it’s huge pointy skewers approximately the size of railroad spikes, firmly bolstered with rust dating back to 1895, and most likely lubricated with Clostridium tetani. So in the middle of freaking out about the door and the cats and the un-catproofed room and the the handyperson, I also got to freak out about the giant gouges on my wrist, and whether I’d have to somehow find time the next day to get a tetanus shot.

All is now well. Door is fixed; cats are fine; last tetanus shot was two years ago. Crisis averted. One of those incidents that seems impossibly unmanageable and overwhelming at the time, and that will almost certainly make for a funny story later, with details exaggerated and embroidered to make it funnier.

Except that when I was getting dressed this morning to go give a talk, I realized that I was completely self-conscious about the gouges on my wrist.

arm with wounds

I started worrying that, since I’ve been blogging about my depression, people might see these two big raggedy red cuts on my wrist, and think that I’d tried to kill myself. I actually chose my outfit for the day, very specifically, to cover the wounds. I didn’t want to have that conversation with a bunch of strangers, or indeed with people I know. I didn’t want to have to tell the story of the door and the hinges and the giant skewers, over and over and over again. I was imagining myself getting defensive and over-explaining… and in the process of getting defensive and over-explaining, making people even more concerned and suspicious… which would make me get even more defensive and over-explainy, thus making them even more suspicious. It got to the point where I was almost gaslighting myself: imagining other people thinking, “Oh, sure, you cut yourself on a broken door hinge, that’s a likely story,” and feeling embarrassed at myself for concocting such a ridiculous cover story, a story that’s only just barely redeemed by being true.

All of which is absurd. The gouges don’t even look like self-inflicted cuts. They look exactly like accidental gouges acquired in a wrestling match with a heavy door that was wielding giant, rusty, tetanus-infected railroad spikes.

So why was I so freaked out?

It’s weird. I have people in my life who have been suicidal, and I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of. Any more than I think people with diabetes who’ve lost a toe have anything to be ashamed of. But I realized that I do have this fear, this shame, about people thinking that I might be suicidal. And I realized that I do still have this shame about my depression. Not anyone else’s depression: just my own. And this shame sometimes manifests itself as an anxiety about people thinking that I’m more depressed than I am. I’m fine with the world knowing that I’m depressed, that I’m on anti-depressants and in therapy, that the depression sometimes interferes with my ability to work and socialize and otherwide function, that right now I have to make managing my mental health close to my top priority. I’m not fine with the world thinking that I tried to slash my wrists.

And yet, at the same time, I also have anxiety about people thinking that I’m less depressed than I really am: an anxiety about people thinking that I’m malingering, using the depression as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I bloody well want people to understand that I’m exactly as depressed as I really am, at any given moment — no more, and no less.

Not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I’m throwing this out to the rest of the class, to anyone who currently has or has ever had mental illness: Have you ever dealt with stuff like this? Have you ever worried that entirely normal life events — or, indeed, freakishly weird life events that are pretty much just random — would be interepreted as a symptom of your illness, a sign of trouble? Have you ever worried that an explanation of what really happened would be interpreted as a cover story? And in general, do you get self-conscious or anxious or micro-managing about how you present your mental illness to the people in your life?

And if so… how do you deal with it?

Comments

  1. says

    I must be on the right anti-depressant because I don’t worry that much what people think, generally. I do wonder if Christians look at an atheist with depression and think it’s due to atheism. But ever since the Andrea Yates case I have a come-back ready for them.

  2. tyrion says

    Being autistic and ‘out’ to very few people, as well as having lifelong depression, nearly everything I do comes with severe anxiety about being seen as ‘normal’. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through one day without it. Not to be the constant outlier, the one who’s always being told I could be normal if I’d just try harder, practice more.

    The truth is, you can’t micro-manage every interaction. I’ve been trying to do it for years and it’s given me exhaustion, migraines, GORD and blackouts. But the alternative is ‘not trying hard enough’.

  3. sayke says

    My cat is constantly leaving me with deep scratches that look just like I cut myself. That look a whole lot like that picture, to be honest. I’ve actually had to explain to people how, as someone living with mental illness, it’s not helpful to me to joke that he’d be a good excuse to use if I really was cutting.

  4. Irreverend Bastard says

    Something like this happened to me some time ago. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I ended up with a very visible scratch across my wrist. I thought it looked a bit like a failed suicide attempt. And of course some would jump to stupid conclusions, like humans do so well.

    I decided that attack would be the best defense, and say “I really need to work on my suicide attempts, this one was a complete failure”. Then wait for their shocked reaction, and say “just kidding, it was (true explanation)”.

    You know what they’re going to think, just bring it out in the open right away. Because if you don’t, the unspoken assumptions will be really awkward, and your silence might be interpreted as shame, which would just validate their suspicions.

    Shame? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Let it all hang out!

    Everybody already knows that I’m on medication for anxiety and depression.

  5. Ariel says

    I realized that I do still have this shame about my depression. […] Not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I’m throwing this out to the rest of the class, to anyone who currently has or has ever had mental illness: Have you ever dealt with stuff like this?

    You have my admiration for being able to talk about this in public. The shame you wrote about … oh my. Have I dealt with a stuff like this? With shame, yes. But with the specific stuff you describe, not really. I guess the danger of interpreting some innocuous event from your life as a cover story becomes a primary issue only if you are open about your depression: since they already know, they may be prone to such interpretations. I have never been open (and probably never will be). When depression makes you feel so utterly, totally inadequate, sharing this feeling seems like inviting others to see you in the same way. And you have your work, your colleagues, your students maybe; you don’t want these people to see you as inadequate. The very idea of them knowing shames you. If possible, you would prefer to hide it even from your family, because you think you fail them too. Openness? Yeah …. in another life perhaps.

    That’s one of the reasons I admire you.

  6. says

    Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I have the added fun of people in my life who *do* see normal reactions as a symptom of my mental illness.

    So, for example, when I had a horrible and traumatic pregnancy and then didn’t want to get pregnant again, I was told that I was being irrational about it. In fact, I’ve realized, it’s *normal* to not want to deliberately subject yourself to a horrible and traumatic 9-month process that’s going to end in having to leave your baby in the hospital for several weeks!

    Then I agreed to do it again and it was actually worse the second time. (Bleeding out on the operating table is *awesome*, yo. And T-incisions are the bomb.) And I was told that being upset because I was so nauseated that I couldn’t sit up or even read without vomiting was irrational.

    I always worry that people won’t understand how severe my panic and social anxiety are…but then I’m afraid they’ll think less of me for it. Ugh.

  7. TGAP Dad says

    FWIW, when you mentioned “gigantic gouges,” I expected more. Growing up on a (horse) farm, you learn to expect a certain level of injury as par for the course. Possibly to my detriment, it would not have even occurred to me to ascertain my tetanus vaccination status with such a minor injury.

  8. fractal says

    This is a bit off topic, but this post is related to one of the things I’ve always found irritating about people who accuse suicidal or depressive people of doing it for attention. Due to the constant shaming of people with mental illnesses, especially teenage girls with severe depression (holy shit that’s where some of the worst misogyny I have ever seen comes from)*, not much of the attention you’d get for this would be very positive or enjoyable.

    *It should be noted that as a middle class white guy I haven’t seen or experienced much in that regard

  9. consciousness razor says

    Have you ever worried that entirely normal life events — or, indeed, freakishly weird life events that are pretty much just random — would be interepreted as a symptom of your illness, a sign of trouble? And in general, do you get self-conscious or anxious or micro-managing about how you present your mental illness to the people in your life?

    Definitely. It’s something only a few close friends, partners and family members know about — as far as I know, but maybe it’s obvious to others. I keep it that way on purpose, for better or worse, and it’s certainly a lot of work. “Micro-managing” just doesn’t seem to capture it.

    I try to be honest with people about it when I don’t meet their expectations, but I’ll often give them something vague like “I wasn’t feeling well” without further explanation. I think it’s fine to want some privacy, so not everyone needs to know, since I wouldn’t expect them to help me very much with this stuff anyway. Just being understanding and saying “sorry you weren’t feeling well” or whatever, without the sidewalk diagnosis, is helpful enough sometimes. At least then I can stop trying so hard to appear as if I’m being totally open with them, or covering up every last piece of evidence like I’m the bad guy in an episode of Columbo. It still feels like cheating because I get their sympathy, even though some probably wouldn’t be as sympathetic if they knew. I guess if that’s the case, it’s really their problem, and I don’t want to make it mine.

    It just becomes too much to deal with, when (like your example) I cover up things which wouldn’t need to be covered up otherwise, except that it just might tip someone off to what I’m actually covering up. I know it makes me more isolated and withdrawn sometimes — a lot of friends I’ve just gradually lost contact with, a lot of stuff I’ve missed for no good reason. I know it while I’m doing it, and even while planning ahead and mentally rehearsing how I’m going to interact with people. But it’s really hard to sort that out sometimes, even afterward when I’m thinking a little more clearly about it. I really do like having privacy and having time alone, and I do like that certain people aren’t involved in that aspect of my life, so how am I supposed to tell when I’m being self-destructive and when I’m doing it for my own benefit?

  10. leftwingfox says

    Had a similar situation a while back rescuing my cat from the attic. The first failed attempt resulted in very deep scratches across my wrist right across the veins, although not deep enough to actually rupture them. This happened just a few days before I had to go to a friend’s wedding. I wound up doing a lot of preemptive jokes about it before anyone could ask.

    The underlying emotions on that were… complicated. I’ve never had a history of depression, and If anyone I knew suspected I suffered from depression, they hid it very well. I’ve also never told anyone (until now) that I’ve had suicidal thoughts on and off for most of my life. I’ve never actually attempted it, and have a pretty strong self-preservation instinct otherwise, so I never told anyone, worried that they might overreact.

    But by the time of the wedding, I’d already had something akin to a nervous breakdown from earlier that year due to an incredibly shitty job and money troubles. I was only able to attend the wedding because of a second loan from my parents that year, so my life wasn’t exactly on even ground at that point. I guess I was more concerned about how I felt about the sight of those scars than anyone else.

  11. says

    I tell it as a complaint — for some reason people always seem to believe it if you sound annoyed. You DID have to suffer through stevedoring the thing out of the way while simultaneously shepherding the cats, and then digging through medical history for your shots. And what the hell is up with pieces randomly falling off of your house? You didn’t sign up for that!

    You make the previous insult sound large, and the current injury seems lesser by comparison. Mention the scratches as the smallest part of the story, and people pick up the idea you have subconsciously embedded in your story, that the scratches themselves are too small a part of your current situation to bother with. Paint the mountain pink, and let the SEP field perform its function.

  12. Kate Donovan says

    I often get this feeling. Sometimes I actually have had a large breakfast and don’t want lunch, thanks. Sometimes I really am just not hungry.

    And I don’t know how to cope very well. I have friends who care very much, and there’s no secret code for when I really mean that I have eaten this time. I try to cope by being ‘radically open’–that is, I make a point to not hide when I do have trouble or have been having rough patch. I hope that this means that people respond by trusting me to ask for help when I need it. But of course, this only works if you are able to ask for help when you need it. And that’s something I had to develop.

  13. kevs says

    I’ve not had a mental illness to my knowledge and no depression so I’m willing to concede I know nothing and should not comment but I’m going to anyway.

    I love reading your blog but IMHO you think too deeply about the depression and its not healthy.
    My suggestion would be to talk to good friends about this but have a break from writing about it for a bit.
    Writing might be ‘burning it in’ to the parts of you brain that think deeply and that might be making it harder to resist because depression sort of gets ‘tagged’ to a lot of other thought processes that you have to use daily as part of your life.
    Only write about the good things for a bit or the things that make you angry. (I especially like those.)
    But not about being depressed. Just try a break for a bit.
    No evidence this might work but didn’t want to stay silent and offer nothing. A big virtual hug.

  14. Eddie Sherman says

    One day last year I found myself idly planning my suicide. It wasn’t a big anguished process, I’d actually been feeling kind of better than in the weeks before. I just worked out a plan, something to make it look like an accident so my family would get the life insurance money. I had no intention of carrying it out, it was just a thought experiment. But, I remembered my doctor once telling me that if I ever came up with a plan, I needed to tell somebody. It was a warning sign or something. So I told her, and she got me in to see her right away, had me get in touch with my therapist, start seeing my therapist more, check in with my doctor every other day, and it was suddenly this huge thing. So many people were involved in what, I thought, was just a silly flight of fancy. The kind of thing you’d ponder along side other questions like “How would I rob a bank?” or “How would I build my own airplane?” It seemed kind of absurd and I felt embarrassed and ashamed for getting so many people worked up about it. Eventually I understood, with their help, that the reason it’s an issue is I’ll remember that plan (I still do) if I ever do get suicidal “for real” and I’ll be that much closer to going through with it. I’m not sure how much this relates to your story, but I hope it helps. It helps me to write it.

  15. says

    “And this shame sometimes manifests itself as an anxiety about people thinking that I’m more depressed than I am.


    And yet, at the same time, I also have anxiety about people thinking that I’m less depressed than I really am: an anxiety about people thinking that I’m malingering, using the depression as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I bloody well want people to understand that I’m exactly as depressed as I really am, at any given moment — no more, and no less.”

  16. Greta Christina says

    FWIW, when you mentioned “gigantic gouges,” I expected more.

    TGAP Dad @ #7: Well, I took the photo the day after the injury, and the nastiness had gone down a bit. But yes, you’re right, it wasn’t really that bad, I was exaggerating for comic effect. Partly to emphasize how ridiculous my reaction was, how I knew it was an over-reaction and yet that didn’t stop me from having it. Partly as a similar strategy to what Jascollins mentioned in #11, where recounting the incident as a funny/ annoying story de-emphasizes the injury and thus (hopefully) makes it clearer that it really was an accident. And partly for, you know, comic effect.

  17. Greta Christina says

    I’ve not had a mental illness to my knowledge and no depression so I’m willing to concede I know nothing and should not comment but I’m going to anyway.

    I love reading your blog but IMHO you think too deeply about the depression and its not healthy.
    My suggestion would be to talk to good friends about this but have a break from writing about it for a bit.
    Writing might be ‘burning it in’ to the parts of you brain that think deeply and that might be making it harder to resist because depression sort of gets ‘tagged’ to a lot of other thought processes that you have to use daily as part of your life.
    Only write about the good things for a bit or the things that make you angry. (I especially like those.)
    But not about being depressed. Just try a break for a bit.
    No evidence this might work but didn’t want to stay silent and offer nothing. A big virtual hug.

    kevs @ #14: I know you mean well, and I’ll try to take your comment in that spirit. But if you have no personal experience with mental illness, aren’t a trained professional in the field of mental illness, and don’t have any evidence to support the opinions you’re expressing about mental illness, please don’t give advice to mentally ill people on how to manage their illness.

    Writing publicly about my depression has been extremely helpful. It helps me process it and make sense of it. It helps alleviate the sense of shame I’ve been made to feel about it. It helps me normalize it, and frame it as simply another illness — which also helps alleviate the shame. The fact that my writing about it helps others gives meaning to it, which makes it more tolerable. There is no possible way that I’m not going to “think deeply” about my depression — that’s part of the nature of depression — but writing about it helps keep those thoughts from spinning into a secret, self-perpetuating black hole. It helps give me insight into it, helps me crystallize and focus those thoughts in a productive way, and helps me move on from them. And I often get good suggestions and ideas on how to manage my depression from other people who experience it. I’m not the only one, either: many people I know who experience depression and other mental illness say that being more public about it has helped them.

    And when people tell mentally ill people not to speak about it publicly, It’s nearly impossible to not hear it in the social context of shame and silencing — even if it’s not intended that way.

    When you have a voice in your head saying “I shouldn’t comment,” I urge you to listen to it. If you feel driven by compassion to say something, to “not stay silent and offer nothing,” I suggest you try saying, “I’m really sorry you’re going through this.” If that doesn’t seem like enough, you can add, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” But please don’t tell mentally ill people to shut up about our illness. Thanks.

  18. says

    “And this shame sometimes manifests itself as an anxiety about people thinking that I’m more depressed than I am.


    And yet, at the same time, I also have anxiety about people thinking that I’m less depressed than I really am: an anxiety about people thinking that I’m malingering, using the depression as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I bloody well want people to understand that I’m exactly as depressed as I really am, at any given moment — no more, and no less.”

    Apologies for the incomplete comment earlier, my computer is being troublesome. I’ll probably write about this atlength later on my own blog assuming it knocks it off, but the main point I wanted to get across was that I have exactly this same problem. I HATE having people worrying about me or thinking I need help, but I don’t want them to think that I don’t have a real problem either. The fact that I don’t even always trust my own evaluations of where I’m at doesn’t help matters either. :(

    As always Greta, keep writing about these things, your posts are amazing. And sorry again for the double post… now off to try and fix my computer.

  19. John Horstman says

    Interesting. I was depressed (technically classified as bipolar type 2) and borderline-suicidal for many years, and one time I slipped while climbing a tree and got a huge cut on my inner wrist (still have the scar!). It occurred to me that people might interpret it as evidence of a suicide attempt, which I just found really funny (I don’t think anyone actually did, though funnily enough, no one really seemed to notice when I actually *was* cutting myself either). I’ve never experienced a particularly strong mental illness stigma, as far as I can tell, and I never developed a sense of shame around my own – mental illness runs strongly in my family, and it was just always kind of normal (actually, mental illness IS normal, in that a majority of people – in the USA at least – suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives, and in fact a full quarter of adults suffer from a mental illness in any given year).

    I’m not sure I have any advice to offer other that to try to re-socialize oneself to not give a flying fuck whether other people think one tried to kill oneself. Of course, I also see “normal” (really congruency with normative social pressures) as decidedly bad, so unlike tyrion (I’m really sorry to hear that you have to deal with social anxiety concerning your mental illness on top of the mental illness itself; that sounds truly terrible, and I wish I had a magical instant solution), trying to appear normal has never really been a big concern. I experience something similar when it comes to crying in public (sometimes in response to things that are objectively really sad, sometimes as a result of depression): it seems to make a lot of people really uncomfortable to see someone crying, and people themselves seem to try to avoid it, but I jsut dont’ have a sense of shame around crying.

    Reading through the responses so far, it sounds like I got really lucky to have supportive family members and friends. The kinds of stigmatization some of you are dealing with on top of your conditions strike me as something that could well have pushed me over the edge to suicide in my darker periods, and that sucks. I’m really impressed you’ve managed to deal with it; my heart’s breaking a little knowing you have to deal with such situations at all.

  20. John Horstman says

    Hmm, my first sentence is a bit off: I still suffer from depressed spells, but a combination of medication and various coping techniques makes them mostly manageable without huge disruptions of my life. Unfortunately, I have not been cured in any sense, as the use of the past tense in that sentence might imply. :-/

  21. says

    I walk around with some rather obvious scars on my left wrist. Yes, they are exactly what people probably guess they are.
    For years after, I wore long sleeves to work. I remember an incident while I was in training for a call center job. One of the other people in my training class commented on my fair skin and decided to compare their skin tone to mine by grabbing my arm and yanking up my sleeve. Not only was this incredibly intrusive from someone I barely knew, my heart stopped at the idea of being “exposed”. Luckily, my sleeves were tight and didn’t move very far, and none of my coworkers commented on what they saw.
    I hated getting cat scratches, because I had to explain them over and over to friends (some of whom inspected them warily to ascertain that they did, in fact, look cat-like.). It made me feel week, broken, and untrustworthy. It made me feel “sick”, as if I would never fully recover and be “normal”.
    By now, I often forget that they’re there. When I remember, I wonder what my children’s doctors think, what my in-laws think, what strangers think. I wonder what I’ll tell my little girls some day when they begin to ask the inevitable questions (because trust me, kids just love to point out body flaws and ask about them). I still don’t have an answer to that.

  22. says

    I’m sitting here with the Black Dog curled up around my feet, so this is an exceptionally well-timed post for me.

    I’ve never actually attempted suicide, but the visualization has been so ever-present in my mind for the last 25 years that it’s pretty much become part of my mental landscape now. I’ve recently taken to thinking about how gendered depression and shame is for me. The shame in particular feels very connected to failure in living up to masculine ideals. It’s very hard—if not impossible—to find a way to actually deal with the depression without triggering this feeling that I’m failing people around me by burdening them with my petty issues. Which, of course, just triggers more depression.

    I feel somewhat like shame is so much a part of depression that it’s like the one is the shadow cast by the other. Which one is which, I’m not sure of, though.

  23. dmcclean says

    Yes, I think I have had some similar experiences.

    I was involved in a late-night highway accident that I was extremely concerned would be misinterpreted, that was in an uncontrolled environment (standing in the middle of the highway talking to the police). I had had fantasies about intentionally crashing. I was panicking because really, how do you prove something was an accident? But it was an accident, the car in front of me ran out of gas in the high speed lane on a rainy day, and the car I was following drove almost all the way to the stopped car at full speed before switching lanes thus blocking my view of the stopped car, leaving me with essentially no options with traffic beside me. And of course the other people in the situation hadn’t been living in my head; I was lucid and well-spoken and doing all the right things so it never even occurred to anyone else.

    Later, once while asking my doctor for a refill of a prescription that I was taking on an as-needed basis, I inadvertently phrased my request along the lines of “I took all the rest of my XYZ pills”, leaving out that I had taken them over the course of the prior few months. Xe had, or I perceived, an expression on xir face that freaked me out. I thought back over the “tape” in my head, realized I had done a really poor job of choosing words, and started frantically backpedaling and stammering and irrationally worrying that the situation would be escalated. And this was in a “safe” environment.

    I dealt with it by trying to remind myself to remain calm, to remember that people can’t see what I’m thinking (metaphorically), to remind myself that I was safe and not in any danger of hurting myself, and to remind myself that while suicidal ideation is a “bad thing” it doesn’t mean that the person doing the thinking is a bad person. Those last two things don’t really have anything to do with the situation of real-stories-that-sound-like-cover-stories, but just dealt with fear that at the time I felt whenever the topic of suicide came up for any reason (I mean: even in the abstract or about others than myself).

    There are a closely related set of issues that arose for me when people, mostly professionals, actually did know that I was experiencing suicidal ideation. One that sticks in my memory is feeling enormously bad for inconveniencing a person who had quite clearly been tasked with watching me with one eye for my safety while playing sudoku with the other. It was surreal because at the time I was not dealing with thoughts of self harm, the situation arose from events of the prior day.

    Thorny issues, these. Intrinsically, yes, but much amplified by unfortunate aspects of our society.

  24. cheesynougats says

    I have no idea how to deal with this, Greta. However, if you figure out a decent way that works for you, great (and tell people about it too)!

    Sorry, I don’t read your posts about mental illnesses often; they’re still a bit triggering at times, and I feel fragile a bit too much.

  25. Happiestsadist, opener of the Crack of Doom says

    Heh, I know that feeling, Greta. I’m both open about my major depression and as graceful as a drunken bison. Plus, I’ve got one cat who plays rough, and one who likes to knead, and those claws grow fast, no matter how regularly I try to trim them. So I usually have a few cuts here and there. And having a history of self-harm, I always wonder how it looks, and get self-conscious as well. As for dealing? I try to wear something that draws the eye another direction (neon pink chrome Doc Martens work great) and hope that the cat hair I inevitably have on me explains the scratches.

    On the other hand, I also am really self-conscious about my physical health issues, so I am not the best person to talk about dealing with internalized ableism, aside from saying I do a lot of it.

  26. lumi says

    My thing is the bruises. I have very light skin, bruise easily, and am really clumsy. I’m always afraid people will think my husband is abusive, which I know is just fallout from my abusive ex.

  27. ariana says

    I have this problem where I’m bipolar, but my manic episodes aren’t like the ones most people hear about. Sometimes I’m happy and excited, and I get people stopping me mid-sentence to ask “Are you manic right now?” The questions don’t stop even after I explain that this isn’t how my mania manifests and that unless they see me late at night, they’re unlikely to ever see me manic.

    I never bothered hiding evidence of cutting, and, interestingly enough, no one ever commented on them in those situations. There were times as a teenager when my arms were grabbed by various people who thought they had the right to check me for cutting, but they usually only found old scars, and then proceeded to lecture me about them. My mum put her arm through a glass door when she was a child and still has scars on her wrists, and she’s said that she gets people giving her odd looks. I don’t know what it is about people (at least the people who interact with me and the people I know) making a big deal about old injuries.

  28. carolw says

    I have scars all over my inner forearms from a psycho former cat. I have a cryptic tattoo on my inner left wrist. I’m clumsy as hell; when I lie, people totally believe me, but when I tell the truth and try to be very sincere, it sounds like I’m lying. I don’t know what to do with myself. I hide behind humor. Anger doesn’t get me anywhere. I’ve been walking the black dog off and on for the last 20 years or so. Our scars are own business. They’re the roadmaps of our lives.

  29. demonhellfish says

    Setting aside the important content of this post, which I’m not competent to comment on…

    *Damn* you can write! Clear, evocative, and thoughtful.

  30. Goodbye Enemy Janine says

    For the last eighteen years, I have has a ten inch scar going from the middle of my palm and down the inner part of my wrist. It is exactly where a cut would be if one were to try a serious wrist cutting suicide. But it is not the result of an attempt. It was to place a metal plate in my wrist to keep a broken bone together.

    When my cast came off, I was afraid that people would notice the scar and ask I was suicidal. It has yet to happen. But it did take a few years for the fear that someone might ask to fade away.

    Not sure if this helps but I hope it does.

  31. anon15 says

    For me, the shame is the most difficult part. Also, the guilt that comes from not being able to trust even my closest friends with the *full* story. They should know, these are people who care deeply for me, and hiding these things only adds to the sense of shame and guilt.
    I’ve had an eating disorder for about ten years now. I started scratching and cutting again a few months ago. I’ve been pondering suicide on and off for about fifteen years now, pretty much daily for the past year.

    I’m turning 30 in two months time and two weeks ago, for the first time, went to see a doctor. Pretty much got to skip all waiting lists and was in with a therapist the next day. Turns out, they do actually take you seriously. Who knew. Since then I’ve been mostly sitting around in a bit of a daze and just following her directions.

    I’m still hugely uncomfortable with all of it. After having people, teachers in particular, my entire life tell me I’m lazy, disinterested, unmotivated and lacking in willpower, having a therapist tell me it takes an enormous amount of mental strength to stay functional, as in managing a job, college and a social life, for this amount of time is.. weird.

  32. crookedmongoose says

    I have scars from an attempted suicide on the insides of both my wrists. On one wrist they’re barely noticeable, but on the other both the scars and the suture scars are very clear. I have a cuff bracelet I wear almost all the time when I’m out in public (class, work, so on). Wearing long sleeves doesn’t really work for me because I compulsively pull them up (always have). I have friends who insist they aren’t that noticeable, and that anyone who has a problem with them is clearly an asshole, but I’ve had people give me weird looks and acquaintances who don’t know the story grab my wrists and scold me.

    I’m slowly growing less self-conscious about them, but it’s been hard, and it adds to my general agoraphobic anxiety when I have to wonder about what other people will think. I especially worry about making sure they’re covered when I have an important meeting or a job interview, because I don’t want to look unstable when trying to make a good impression. And more than anything else, I want badly to avoid the pitying looks and the need to explain to all the people who think it’s their goddamn business what happened to you.

    This isn’t really helpful, I’m afraid. :-/

  33. says

    “I’m fine with the world knowing that I’m depressed, that I’m on anti-depressants and in therapy, that the depression sometimes interferes with my ability to work and socialize and otherwide function, that right now I have to make managing my mental health close to my top priority. I’m not fine with the world thinking that I tried to slash my wrists.
    And yet, at the same time, I also have anxiety about people thinking that I’m less depressed than I really am: an anxiety about people thinking that I’m malingering, using the depression as an excuse to avoid responsibility.”

    This makes complete sense to me. I’m not sure what YOUR actual reasons are for thinking this way, it could be any number of things, but what it looks like TO ME is that you simply want people to believe the TRUTH about your depression. You don’t want people to over-estimate it and think you have no self-control or agency and are helpless, but you also don’t want people to underestimate it, think it’s NBD, and ignore your needs (when people think that, they stop asking how you are, which really sucks, because then the burden is on you to bring it up and then you feel like you’re being a whiney pain… sigh. :/ At least, that’s my experience.). Perhaps, if it were factually the case that you had slashed your wrists, you would not be so concerned with people thinking that. Or maybe you would, simply because of the culture of shame and silence around that topic, but it seems to me that you really try to surmount that and be as honest as possible.

    So what I’m saying, I guess, is that I think those concerns you have about people getting the wrong idea about your depression are completely rational, and tied to your overarching desire for people to generally believe the truth about things. Just a hypothesis.

  34. Emma says

    In a word, yes. And it’s super difficult, Greta, because there’s absolutely no way to deal with it.

    There’s no real way to deal with invalidation because of mental illness, in my experience—most of the time, people either get it or they do not get it. And if they don’t, and they’re becoming toxic to you, the best thing I’ve done is to ignore what they say and to never discuss my depression with them again. Sad, but honestly, it’s the only thing that’s gotten me a moment’s peace with some people.

    There’s normally two extremes—either people assume that because you have MDD (like me) or some other mood disorder, you’re ALWAYS depressed and on the brink of a psychological break, or they assume that it’s not really as bad as you’re making it sound. The latter is the more common one, IME, but a lot of people tend to transition between the two, as in they’ll at first think I’m making a big deal for no reason, and then I’ll actually tell them what my life has been like because of depression, and suddenly they’ll completely turn around and think I’m about to jump off a bridge (when that is often not the case these days, however often it may have been in the past).

    Depression is hard enough. We need to stop judging people and shaming them because they’re not “ill enough” for us, or they’re “too ill” for us. Beyond the fact that it doesn’t really matter how much pain someone is in when they’re pain, it’s just not our business to know exactly “how depressed” someone is so that we can DECIDE whether or not they are worthy of our validation. You know what? They’re hurting, and they deserve to have that hurting validated, regardless of how much they “seem” to be hurting. They don’t owe it to us to show us the blood, you know what I mean? This isn’t CSI, I’m not owed evidence of anyone’s suffering, nor should I attempt to investigate their suffering because they deserve to be believed. Seriously.

  35. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    And if so… how do you deal with it?

    In my case, probably badly. I’m pretty messed up in a lot of ways I know and I also know i dn’t always deal with things well. I drink too much, I try to do my best and muddle through.

    You have my sympathies & my admiration for whatever they may be worth and as many internet [[[hugs]]] as you want if you want them.

  36. says

    One man’s opinion here–

    I ride my depression. Give it full rein for awhile, and when the tears have dried up for a bit I do a mental inventory to figure out what’s set it off *this* time.

    I avoid certain pieces of music, keep myself busy with work to put a quash on the memories that set me off, and will queue up favorite light movies and a big pile of salted-sunflower-seeds-and-tempered-chocolate patties for an all-nighter. It plays hell with my sleep schedule and diabetes, but that beats the hell of contemplating razor blades and pills.

    YMMV.

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