Until the stigma has been removed from mental illness, I do not want help with my mental sufferings. This may be wrong, propagating stigma, or symptom of paranoia, but in my mind it is honesty about reality. It was a choice I made over twenty years ago, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
Sometimes I wonder if the day will come that I will be found out by some sort of breakdown that I can’t cover up. There have been times that I let one or two cats out of the bag when I was enthralled by a delusion, but I’ve always been good at sweeping it under the rug. “I will be the very picture of logic and rationality, and everyone will forget that I mentioned that I knew something terrible was going to happen before grandma died because I was being visited by the dead in my dreams and experienced deja vu about every five minutes for ten days straight.” Well that, and there are always voices that like to tell me “something terrible is going to happen,” and eventually something does.
Twenty years ago, in my young adult mind I knew that if I were to utter the words “I hear voices” that chaos would ensue. Especially if they found out that voices were the tip of the iceberg, and my inner life revolved around poetic, disjointed theories about how DNA and pyramids are connected and invisible aliens live among us and I am their child. I knew I would no longer be me to them. They wouldn’t expect much out of my life. I would be the girl that was cracked. I’d be a tragedy.
Yes, I could use some damned help sometimes, but I’ve grown up over the last twenty years alone in this. I’ve done everything I can to just be fucking normal. I avoid religion and spirituality and try to rule my life with rationality and logic. I talk myself out of paranoia on a daily basis. I tell myself that man walking down the side of the street isn’t really my sociopathic ex haunting me because if I look closely I can see through the hallucination that it’s just some random dude. When something is crawling in my peripheral vision or the bone inside my right arm starts violently itching I ignore it with my everything. When I can’t stand looking people in the eye I make myself do it, and when a voice shouts in my head with an ominous “you are about to die” I shout back “Shut the fuck up, I’m not going to die today.”
No one that knows me knows this about me. Not my parents, not my husband. Once when my husband was talking to me I gave him a look, and he thought I was getting tired of listening to him. So I told him “no, no, keep talking, it was just that you looked like you were forty feet tall there for a minute and it startled me.” I explained to him that sometimes I stand at the sink and I get the sensation that I’m twenty feet up in the air looking down, and I’d just had a similar sensation while looking at him. Probably migraines I said, they do mess with your perceptions. I do get migraines.
The stigma of mental illness gave me two choices in life at a very young age: live with stigma or be a liar. The choice I made was to lie to the psychologist. I lied to him until he was gone. I lied to my family as well, and I can’t begin to tell you how relieved they were. I have no regrets.
Who am I? I am told that I am a great mom. I made it through boot camp in the military and went on to have a successful part time career in it. I went through officer candidate school, where we started with over 100 and by the end I was one of only 30 that were physically and *mentally* capable enough to graduate. I was one of the three women in that group. I had a high degree of respect from my respectable butt-kicking peers. I made it nearly to my bachelors degree in computer science and worked for over seven years in an extremely hectic job as a programmer. I’ve survived divorce from a cheating husband and remarried to a man that after spending nearly three years with me thinks I’m the best companion anyone could ask for. I’m also a writer and I’m currently working on a book with a major publisher.
That sounds like the life of a person that’s leading a happy, successful life. Which I am, between the moments where I’m fighting off delusions and hallucinations. What sort of prognosis would I have been given if I hadn’t made the choice to lie that would have shaped my future? There wouldn’t be a chance in hell that I could have convinced the military to let me in. They wouldn’t buy the “I’m not dangerous. I have more self control than five of your sanest men. Your toughest battle scenarios are weak compared to some of the nightmares my mind has put me through and I’ll be the last person to lose it in a high stress situation.” It doesn’t matter who I am or what I’m capable of. If I had the stigma, I’d be dangerous to them. I wouldn’t and couldn’t belong.
I hope that someday that the world changes. It’d be nice to get some expert help with some of the things I struggle with, but from what I hear they probably couldn’t do much more to improve my quality of life. It’d be nice if my greatest fear didn’t have to be falling apart and having someone be there for me. As it stands now, the way people that mentally fall apart get treated isn’t very nice. Ever been to the ER late at night because your mind gave you every symptom of a physical emergency and had the staff treat you like shit and stick the IV in as roughly as they could because there was nothing wrong with your body and you were wasting their time? Get one taste of that, and you get to choose: live with the stigma or be a liar.
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