Friday, April 22, 2011

Crazy? Nah! Just a Little Unwell

Clover, over at Fluttering Butterflies, recently posted a wondrously brave examination of her experiences with mental illness. I really appreciated it, and found some parts of it resonated with me, so I wanted to do a similar thing. Most often Fluttering Butterflies reviews YA fiction books, so if that is of interest to you instead, you should still check it out! If you don't want to read a post where I try to list what I think are the more serious problems with my mind, please feel free not to read this post. Also, please note that I am doing this mostly to reject the social pressure to appear to "have it all together," which stigmatizes the subject of mental health issues, which causes people who are already struggling to feel even more isolated than they are in reality. It is not a cry for help, nor is it the result of diagnosis by a professional. I think the idea of self-diagnosis is even more problematic with mental health problems than with physical ailments, not only is subjectivity an issue, but if there is something wrong with your mind, do you really want to sue that same mind to perform the diagnosis? So, these are my observations about my experiences. Finally, and this is slightly unusual, I want to urge you not to comment on this post. If you have an academic or personal contribution to the discussion, please feel free to make it, but I do not feel comfortable discussing personal issues, so comments about me will just make me feel uncomfortable, and I hope you do not want to do that.

Anyway, I suppose the earliest problem that might be considered a mental health issue that I had was with my body image and with food. I have felt fat since elementary school, and by high school I had grown so absolutely fed up with my fatness that I wanted to stop caring that I was overweight. Mental issues aside, this certainly wasn't a physically healthy mindset. Coupled to my persistent body image issues is a not helpful desire to simply binge on food sometimes. During a car trip in high school, I remember saying something to the effect that I knew my eating habits were unhealthy, but that I wanted to enjoy some part of my life, hardly a positive attitude.

In fact, I kind of view getting diagnosed with mild diabetes last summer as a mixed blessing, as it provided me with the impetus to make some mild, but effective alterations to my life, I don't know if you can grasp how much the revelation that scale numbers can get smaller impacted me, something I knew rationally but didn't actually believe was true for me. By the way, I have mild diabetes, if I hadn't told you it is because I don't particularly like talking about it either, sorry(?). Unfortunately, my diabetes is another source of guilt, because I do believe that my incredible neglect directly led to this condition, furthermore, seeing what my friends who are Type I have to deal with, and were born with, I feel incredibly guilty calling what I have by the same name, since mine is controlled by reasonable diet (something that I ought to have been doing anyway) and oral medication. Anyway, losing weight has actually made me realize that I will probably always consider myself fat, it is simply a part of who I am by now, but it is nice to realize that I am currently less fat than I have been previously, not something I have ever really been able to say.

I guess the second thing I'd address, going in chronological order, is my social insecurity. Those of you who have known me for a while may find this surprising, because by nature I am quite gregarious, but around strangers I usually range from shy, if there are also people I know around and I feel secure, to terrified. Even with people I know well, I often have problems figuring out how I am expected to interact with other people, but after having known someone for a long time I feel fairly sure that they will forgive my social ineptitude so I can relax anyway. It also is worse the more people I am interacting with, as I was just thinking last week, social interactions increase in complexity exponentially as the number of participants increases, although factorially might actually be a more accurate estimation depending on how you consider it.

I remember that after switching schools in elementary school, I would spend recess balancing on the wooden barrier holding in the play area bark-chips, counting how many times I could completely circle around the play area. As you can see, I'm a real life of the party. Fortunately someone eventually introduced himself to me, and I made a friend. I still tend to have a low number of serious interpersonal relationships, and I am extremely grateful for the extroverted people who have made them possible. I love extroverts, not only do I get to meet them, they also facilitate my meeting more people! I tend to score fairly high on the autism quotient spectrum test, but as I have a fairly healthy sense of humor, I tend to believe that autism is not exactly my problem. Mathematically inclined people do tend to score higher on the test, and when you factor in my social anxiety my score seems quite reasonable. However, I do sometimes wish that I had some form of high functioning autism, although I am certainly not saying I wish my personality changed, because it seems like it would be nice to have a simple explanation for my persistent troubles, rather than the nagging worry that everyone has such trials, and I just seem to have failed to cope with them like everyone else has.

Probably related to my social problems is the fact that I just don't open up to people. Even with people with whom I feel comfortable, I tend to avoid discussing my personal life. See above note about diabetes. Although I did try to tell a couple of my close friends, it didn't really make me feel better about it, so I ended up telling people about it as it came up, so as not to appear to be keeping it a secret at least. Similarly, some fairly traumatic, at least relative to what usually happens to me, stuff has happened to me this semester (by the way, no I don't particularly want to discuss it) and I made a point to tell some of the people I trust, but it didn't seem to help too much, maybe a little though. Not enough to warrant the discomfort I go through bringing it up probably. I also tend to, perhaps, over analyze what people mean by what they say. For example, I realize that most people when they say, "How are you doing," are using it as a customary greeting, rather than as the question it literally is. However, when I receive a compliment, I have a tendency to believe that it is a response to a socially recognized obligation to compliment, rather than a genuine expression. Intellectually I realize it is likely that I am wrong, but that is my thought process. That is also why I don't particularly want comments about this, if you try to offer me support I will assume that you are doing so out of a perceived social necessity to provide it, whether or not that is actually the case, and it will end up making me feel worse as I try to decipher if that is the case or not. This extends to a lot of other things, trying to figure out what is socially necessitated and what is genuine is a fairly common worry that I have. My sister noted that in my post on body image, I logically justified my complement, this is because I tend to trust logic, so when I want to make sure my sincerity is realized I tend to explain my complement logically.

The last issue that I want to discuss is depression. This one I think I am working my way out of, thankfully. Although I am not usually the happiest of people, left to my own devices, some of the years proceeding this one seemed worse than usual. When people describe the feeling of not seeing any particular value in their coming day, I can empathize with how that feels. I kind of think that I was very much just going about routine of my life, with varying levels of success, in sort of a stupor. Needless to say, starting to try living my own life again and somehow finding myself in the middle of a PhD program in Michigan of all places has been somewhat of a mind shock. Not that I've ever been good at living my life, even when I am putting forth the effort.

So, hopefully by now you agree with me that I am pretty screwed up. I want you to do that not because I desire pity, which would be fairly hurtful, but because someone this screwed up can get into a PhD program, be genuinely and exuberantly happy a couple times each week, and manage rudimentary human interaction to varying degrees of success. So, if you feel screwed up too, hopefully you will agree that it is possible that the ok life is a possible outcome. Of course, my failure to see a counselor is exactly that, a failure, and I would encourage you to consider seeing one if you think that seeing one could be beneficial, even if you don't think that you are mentally ill, because we all have problems. I have repeatedly considered seeing a psychiatrist myself, but remember that talking about personal issues and talking to stranger each rank predominantly on my list of problems. There you have it, I believe we are all screwed up and I hope this helps someone feel less alone with their feelings of being screwed up. Of course, I also would like to believe I am more screwed up than most, if only because it gives me a reason that isn't a personal failure to explain why I fit in less than most, but I could be wrong ;)


elfarmy17 said...

Am I allowed to say that I admire you for posting this? :)

I have the Fluttering Butterflies post open in a different tab and intend to read it tomorrow (since it's almost 1 in the morning).

There were several things (mainly regarding social anxiety and such) you talked about which I can relate to. One of those things that I think isn't an often-talked about "problem" is over-analyzation of people's motives behind words. My mom sometimes complains of me accusing her of "ulterior motives." But as I frequently say, I'm just rather paranoid about other people, and try very hard to keep a handle on what is and isn't likely in terms of motive. Perhaps some of that is related to low self-esteem, although I also think that my conscientiousness of the phenomenon means I also keep tabs on my self-image.
I don't know. I'm a screwed-up, complicated person too. And on that happy note, I shall go to bed. Ha.

Kenny said...

Hmm, possible correlation between having a blog and having social anxiety ;) Or, as you hypothesized, everyone is shy.

Karen said...

I'm really behind on reading your blog posts, but I read this one this morning. How amazingly honest.

No discussion here, but I wanted to let you know that I love you, and you're a great big brother!

Anonymous said...

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

Anonymous said...

Never mind your happiness; do your duty.

Clover said...

Thank you for being so open and honest. I really do think it helps to break down those barriers when people speak out!