Last week I wrote about anxiety.
So you might ask (you didn’t, but you might), “Rita! If you struggle so badly with anxiety to the point that you don’t feel able to connect with others or contribute wholly to a relationship, then how are you married? How do you mother? How do you maintain friendships?”
To which I respond: With a lot of effort.
We are living in a time when, increasingly, there are efforts to draw attention to mental/behavioral health issues and de-stigmatize them.
However, I don’t think anything is where it should be in an ideal world. I know, personally, I’m uncomfortable with my own issues. My friends and family don’t fully understand or relate to me which isn’t really expected, but can have the side-effect of making me feel much more alone than I actually am.
I feel some of the material put out to destigmatize isn’t as helpful as it thinks it is – a lot of the pushes for sympathy and understanding tend to come across as pity: for example, I read a listicle that included a person giving homeless people free hugs as an example of modeling compassion towards mentally ill individuals. This just comes across as…not really helping in any real way.
Others have emphasized just how treatable mental health issues can be – but this isn’t always true. Many people do not have success in treatment – or at least not the kind of success that anyone is satisfied with. Not everything has a fix, it doesn’t seem like it’s really doing people favors talking about mental health issues like they’re an infection that can be solved with a round of antibiotics. Now, I understand that “treatable” is not the same as “curable”, but it tends to be spun up in such positive language that it kind of sounds the same. For some people that can be tough to face.
I’ve been struggling with my issues since I was a teenager. I’ve seen counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I’ve gone through all sorts of different phases and levels of acceptance with my own problems.
I would be lying if I said all that didn’t help at all, but I’m not cured.
And I’ve had to accept my own limitations in order to make life work for me, by my own standards and measures.
In order to include other people in my life, I’ve learned the only way for me to succeed at that at all is honesty, self-awareness, and mind-numbingly open communication.
So, for example, with my husband, I’ve had to have an open and ongoing conversation about what I am diagnosed with, what that means, how that affects me and might affect us, and what I do to live with it.
And I think that’s sort of part 2 of how I, personally, am able to maintain relationships – I just can’t focus solely on how my issues affect me. I have to do my best to remain aware of how my moods, behavior, actions, etc might affect the people I care about. As hard as the people I love may try to “get me”, they’re not always going to. That means misunderstandings and hurt feelings unless I also do my part to get them.
This is all very tiring and I don’t typically like it.
But, also, it’s worth it – for me – to have people I love and who love me in my life.
Not everyone can succeed at this. For me, it took years of practice. I know others who are still struggling with it – at the moment, they just don’t have much room to consider other people when so much is still going on inside of them.
So it’s a work in progress. Always.