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The Unfortunate Side-Effect

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Thorn Wilde


I think there's an unfortunate side-effect to mental illness that many experience. It's not one that's easy to understand or admit to, even to yourself, but I do think it's fairly common. At least I have observed it in both myself and many people I know (and I have a lot of friends irl with mental illness; it's like we're drawn together somehow, us weirdos who suck at fitting in because our brains don't function very well at times). As an example, I have a friend with ADHD and PTSD who often has a burning need to rant about all her problems and everything she's going through. She does so to me quite often, and I try to listen, but it's exhausting when I'm going through an episode, especially when she doesn't even bother to ask how I am doing despite knowing that I, too, suffer from a mental illness. So I 'hm' and 'ah' and say, 'Oh, yeah, that really sucks, I'm sorry.' But I don't really listen always because I haven't got room in my head. And she doesn't have room in hers so my need to do the same is overruled (part of the problem, I think, is that she should be in therapy but isn't; I am, so I may be a tad better at realising that my brain is not her problem, though far from all the time). It's not a great foundation for a friendship and can far too easily turn toxic, but I haven't got the energy or the capacity to tell her that I haven't got the energy or the capacity to deal with her shit on top of my own. Vicious cycle.


This kind of self-centredness, if you will is, I think, natural and, to an extent, healthy. It's a defence mechanism. When we're going through an episode, we really don't have room. We need to focus on ourselves if we want to get out of it. Sadly, that means that we often haven't got many resources left for what other people are going through. No matter how much we genuinely care about other people, it can be hard to express empathy in a kind and constructive way, even to those closest to us. Not saying everyone who suffers from mental illness is like this, far from it. There are strong and beautiful people in this world who, no matter how shit they feel, somehow still manage to make room for others (though often to the detriment of their own mental health, I think). In the end it's often a question of how we deal with this tendency.


In my blog post on anxiety that I wrote last week, I talked about the ways in which my brain functions (or should I say doesn't function) when I'm suffering from anxiety, in relation to other people. I'm afraid that people hate me, that I'm hurting others, that I'm the reason people are sad and annoyed. I have also realised lately that the way I overcompensate in trying to relate to and express empathy for other people when I'm like that, can appear overbearing and downright offensive. All of these things are born from this unfortunate self-centredness that arises when I just don't have the capacity to make room for other people. When I think that everything is my fault, I'm making other people's problems about me. When I overcompensate in an attempt to relate and empathise I end up shifting the focus onto myself. When I'm depressive, if I even interact at all, I just turn into a whiny bitch. And when I'm hypomanic, I genuinely believe that I can fix everyone (because I'm just that awesome!) which, of course I can't. It's not intentional. It's not an inherent part of my personality. It's because my brain lies to me and, in the midst of this overwhelming storm of emotion, I don't understand that that's what's happening.


This behaviour can be annoying to people who don't suffer from mental illness, and downright harmful to those who do. What I should be doing when I get like that is step out of the world for a bit, deal with my own shit, calm the fuck down, and then I can rejoin the rest of the world again, as myself instead of this ball of self-destruction. But I don't always have the capacity to understand this.


So, to end this weird rant of a blog post which, surprise surprise, ended up being all about me even though I was planning on talking about a generalised problem that I think many people have, I have a request: Tell me. Say, 'You're doing the thing again, Thorn. I think you need a break.' I have not, perhaps, been the most receptive of this message in the past, but I think I'm in a place now where I can be, because I understand better what I'm doing now. I may whine about my problems for a bit, but I won't bite your head off. I promise.

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