When we talk about mental health, what do you picture? Are you thinking of old timey asylums with people lost in time and space and in their minds? Are you thinking of depression? Anxiety? Are you thinking about how there were no mental health issues before and it’s a “millennial thing”?
I would not assume what goes through your mind when you think ‘mental illness’. However, very rarely do you think ‘disability’. Have you ever seen mental health through the perspective of disability? Some mental illnesses are categorised as psychiatric disabilities because they rob a human being of optimum functionality. Some of us live with invisible disabilities. You can meet me in real life and think of me as a loud, crazy, feminist, but you will never think ‘disabled’.
Hi, I am a writer, painter, fiction junkie, cat lady, queer, crazy, loud, feminist, and I live with psychiatric disabilities.
I have Bipolar Affective Disorder comorbid with Borderline Personality Disorder, and Panic Disorder. I have a mood disorder and a personality disorder, which means that my “mood swings” are pretty much on the go all the time, every day of the week, every hour of every day. Sometimes, I feel five different emotions in a span of 30 seconds. Bipolar disorder and Borderline Personality disorder are both incurable. We can of course manage it with medication and therapy, which is to say that no one can stop me from being hurt, but I can learn how to patch it up. I can learn the skills to be in a neurotypical world. I can adapt. I do.
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I have been working full time since 2013. I have had seven jobs since then – one lasted a mere four days before I had to quit due to sheer anxiety. I have quit jobs or been fired because of irregularities in my comings and goings, leaves taken because of depressive or manic episodes, never because of the quality of my work. Everywhere I said, I understand. We live in a neurotypical world. The schedules were made by morning people while we were too depressed to wake up and do life. I am not alone in this. Most people I know who are surviving Bipolar either work from home or keep taking long breaks between full time jobs. We are just not equipped to maintain the same mood, the same routines, meet large amounts of people every day or some days to even get off our beds. Yet, we are expected to pay our rents and live our lives just like everybody else. And we break ourselves curling up around a world not built to sustain us.
I wake up every day not wanting to do any of it ; not wanting to go on. Mental illnesses are more than just depression and depression is more than just a feeling of sadness or hopelessness. Mental illnesses come with chronic body pain, gastrointestinal troubles, eating disorders, lack of mental and physical energy, suicidal ideations, spasms, nightmares, lucid dreaming, self harm, migraines, visual problems, delusions, hallucinations, and a gamut of other symptoms. Mental illness is not bathing for days because you don’t care or feeling physically tired when you do take a bath. It is not eating for days or binge eating five full courses. It’s body dysmorphia – looking into the mirror and never knowing what you really look like. I recently fit into pants from 2010 and yet every time I look into the mirror, I look like I am two sizes larger. It’s not about body positivity. It’s about not knowing what you look like at all.
Also read: What Depression Does to a Friendship
Mental illness is dissociation. I can play and entire game and not remember playing it. I have cooked entire meals without remembering it. Imagine how dangerous it can be while crossing the road. Some days I cannot find my centre. When I say centre, I mean I cannot find what grounds me, what makes me me, what keeps me stable, what keeps me alive. Some days, I cannot trust what I see. Are the clouds really bleeding into each other? Some days I can hear my mother talking about me to my grandmother, about how disappointed she is in me, like they are standing right next to me. To clarify, my mother and my grandmother both love me to bits and wouldn’t do this at all. But, this is what my brain does just before I go to sleep. Then there are the nightmares. Oh boy, the nightmares! I can feel that I am dreaming but I can’t stop it. I can’t wake up. So I go through it. Sometimes I open my eyes and I can still see it. I can’t move. I go through it. I wake up with the same tired feeling I went to sleep with and I drink my cup of coffee before I go to work. Some days I puke because of anxiety and then I finish my cuppa before I head to work.
This isn’t just me. Scores of people are living with invisible disabilities. They are puking in office bathrooms and getting over panic attacks. They are quitting jobs and dissertations and relationships because it’s too much. We live in a world where we only acknowledge what we can see and we hide what makes us look weak. I have just had enough of it so I say, speak up. Take that mental health day. Don’t settle for quitting jobs. Demand better policies. We don’t just take up space, we matter. We matter because we are living, breathing, feeling individuals. It shouldn’t be this hard to just be ourselves.
Shreyasi Bose is a writer based in Bengaluru. Her work has appeared in Feminism in India and Women’s Web.
Featured image credit: Martino Pietropoli/Unsplash