Validation Of Mental Illness

TW: contains discussion of self harm. Please proceed with caution.

Despite living a pretty sheltered existence in recent years, with only a handful of people with whom I can be around for extended periods of time, I do have a very large extended family.  I have one cousin to whom I refer often, but I also have another 12 on the paternal side of my family.  I keep up with family news as far as possible, through my parents and siblings, but I rarely see anyone.  I don’t attend family get-togethers and I’ve missed weddings and funerals.  This is not to say I have been ‘forgotten’.  Everyone knows the ‘bare bones’ of my difficulties.  I receive invitations along with everyone else, but no one expects me to attend.  I often get text messages or emails from family members wondering how I am, what I’ve been doing with myself etc.

So I surprised myself yesterday when I agreed to meet an aunt and two cousins along with my mum and sister for coffee.  The two cousins in question are sisters, one recently engaged to be married and the other having just announced that she is expecting a baby in the Summer.  They both know I struggle and have offered their support in the past, and I am genuinely fond of each of them.  I therefore felt obligated to see and congratulate them.  Adjustments were put in place to make things as easy as possible for me: we met at the home of one cousin so as not to be in a noisy public space, I had arranged to have a ‘breather’ half-way through and go for a walk with my aunt.  In fact, for all intents and purposes, I managed ok.  I had a cup of tea and ate a small piece of shortbread, I looked at and admired an engagement ring and scan photo, I engaged in conversation from time to time…in short, I made it home in one piece.

Reading this last paragraph, I begin to question the validity of my illness.  If I can manage things like this, seemingly unscathed, then how can I be sick?  Am I just rude?  Or antisocial?  Are people judging me, thinking I look perfectly alright?

But that was a mere snap-shot of my day yesterday.  A two hour window in which I managed to remain composed.  The reality is that I spent some time with the practice nurse yesterday morning while she tried to remove staples from my arm which I put there myself.  I recently gave up my ‘cutting implements’ (see Intervention) and, in a fit of anger rage, frustration and desperation on Sunday evening I grabbed what was close and used it as a weapon against myself.  The removal of (non-medical) staples is quite clearly not in the job description of a practice nurse so the process was painstaking and excruciating.

Not only this, I had a ‘meltdown’ both before and after the event.  Before, through the fear and anxiety of going somewhere and doing something different, to which I am unaccustomed, and of having to function in a social setting.  And, after, through sheer exhaustion, the pressure of being the proverbial ‘sad clown’ for a couple of hours.

Late in the afternoon, my whole body started to ache almost as though I had flu, a new symptom to which I attribute Depression.  Although I don’t think there is anything physically wrong with me, I have taken to having a Lemsip in the afternoon to ease these aches and pains.

In the evening, I received a text from one cousin (our hostess) thanking me for making the effort and acknowledging how difficult it is for me to do these things.

So there is the evidence that proves the existence, authenticates my illness.  Did I push myself too hard yesterday?  There may be an element of that.  Granted, it was nice to see my aunt and cousins, but at what cost?  I think for now I shall stick to my Grizzly Bear habits – hibernate, and remain as much as possible in my safe place, my bedroom, at home.

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