That last letter about the artist about to explode cemented my resolve to write you a letter of my own, which I have been contemplating for some time. I am an artist that exploded a long time ago, and have been desperately trying to piece myself together ever since.
The kicker is, everyone thinks I’m fine. In this world, if you don’t lose your shit in one of the socially expected ways, then you must be fine. But I’M NOT FINE.
Over a decade ago, when I exploded, I was burning the candle at both ends, figuring that I would find someplace to land before the whole thing ran out of wick. Just as the candle was about to go out, I got to the place that I thought would mean I was safe … and the floor got yanked out from under me. I fell. Really hard. I tried to kill myself. My friends and family told me “they had no idea” anything was wrong with me. And that is what is still in play today: I don’t show people what they would expect for someone who is struggling as I am, and so they don’t think I am struggling.
There are ways that people in our society expect you to “freak out.” Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Dangerous behaviors. A series of bad relationships. They also expect that if you suffer from mental illness, there are certain behaviors that go along with certain illnesses. But I don’t do any of those things. I have so many horrible things that happened to me in my past, on the rare occasion that I let even a tiny piece of that slip, people are always ASTOUNDED that I could come from a background like that. Because I don’t act in the ways that people have predefined in their heads as someone with my background would act.
I know I’m being very generic here, but we’ll just say there was abuse of all kinds, neglect, parents addicted to just about every vice you can be addicted to, etc. I steered clear of any of the typical vices due to an obsessive drive to be absolutely nothing like the people that hurt me so much. I was a good kid. I never got into any trouble. I’m smart (like, genius IQ smart). I’ve always been responsible. I’ve always found it easier to make friends with people decades my senior than with my peers, even as a kid.
But I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I weep spontaneously. I’m all alone in the world. I’ve been terrified to get into a relationship of any kind, not only because it’s difficult for me to trust people, but because physical intimacy hurts more often than it’s pleasant due to all the abuse. I’ve been diagnosed, at different times and by different doctors, as having: major depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, anxiety issues, and a question mark from one doc that I may have dissociative disorder, but as she said, “It’s so hard to tell what’s going on with you because you’re so high functioning.”
I refuse to take psych meds, because I just can’t dissociate any kind of medication from the massive side effects produced from one of the aforementioned parents being on all sorts of cocktails as long as I’ve been alive, most of which were also abused. That, plus if no one can agree on what the hell is wrong with me, I’m not going to turn myself into a human dart board and hope that they guess correctly. I’ve seen what the wrong meds can do, even when they’re not being abused. But when I’ve sought help, I’ve gotten reactions like: “We can’t help you if you’re not willing to take meds” and, “We can’t help you if you aren’t addicted to something.” Seriously. I have been actively cutting myself, struggling with an intermittent eating disorder, and have lost jobs due to my inability to cope, but because I wasn’t drowning myself in drugs, I didn’t deserve help, according to some providers.
I can’t go on like this. I’m not suicidal. I want to have a better life. But I just can’t do what normal people can do. I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the stamina, I don’t have the strength.
Oh, I’ve got strength. I survived hell. I can squash a complete mental breakdown the instant someone knocks on my door so that I appear perfectly fine. I’ve got more self-control in my little pinky finger than most people do in their whole body. I am so good in a crisis, emergency personnel have told me that should be my career choice. But forcing myself to deal with a soul-crushing job for a condescending boss for a pittance paycheck? Forcing myself to fart out bullshit papers for a class that isn’t teaching me anything I couldn’t learn at the library but is getting me into so much debt I wonder how I’ll ever repay it, given the pittance I’ve always earned in every job I’ve ever had? I don’t have that kind of strength. This is my fourth university, and I’m burning out again. I’m unemployed again. I live by myself. My savings is nearly gone, and I don’t qualify for unemployment. And there is no one to help me. No one cares enough to help me. And even if they did, no one knows that I need the help. I can’t say to people, “I need help.” There isn’t anyone that I can trust like that in my life. I’ve got nowhere to go. And the “safety net” people on the crisis line are the ones that — with attitude, I might say — told me that if I wasn’t homeless, willing to take drugs, and currently addicted to drugs, then there was no help for me.
I’m totally lost. And exhausted. And disillusioned.
I can do things — I’ve often been told I was an awesome employee. I get straight A’s without even trying as long as I can chain myself to the keyboard long enough to vomit something inane out that the professors will think is fabulous. My friends call me “Mommy” because I take care of people. I care — a lot — about a LOT of things. I’ve always been an activist. I’ve volunteered, donated, worked for a cause. I can sing. I can write. I can paint. I can take a good photo. I just can’t … live. I don’t know how. I seem to be missing some vital wiring that enables me to function in the world. I can’t even do my dishes because they overwhelm me. Right now I’ve got two sinks and a counter piled high with almost every dish I own because I walk into the kitchen and panic a little inside, then walk right back out again.
I want to be able to live, and write, and survive. And maybe to love. But I need help. If I could only see the light at the end of the tunnel, I could get there. But it’s pitch black.
You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to run your letter and invite people in the helping professions to comment. I’m going to use the power of this space to broadcast your details. Someone out there must know what you are experiencing and how to treat it.
Maybe you have the psychological equivalent of a very rare cancer. I had a very rare cancer. Most doctors had never heard of it. It’s not their fault. You must find the right people. Consulting with professionals one by one, you may be in your 80s before you get properly diagnosed.
I’m not a therapist. I’m just a writer. I recognize some of the things you mention — like the overwhelm at the dishes. I know about that. But I don’t cure people.
I don’t know what your condition is or how it is treated but maybe someone does and can propose a treatment. Maybe someone out there has seen the same combination of traits in another person, and treated that person, and can suggest that same treatment for you.
I’ve never done this before. But my faith in the efficiency of the Web and the goodwill of readers compels me to try this experiment. I will moderate the section to the best of my ability, given my limited time and talent for such things. I will try to keep the normal flow of abuse to a dull, drooling minimum. I ask readers to alert me by email to anything really outlandish.
So, reader, if you are a therapist or M.D. or psychology Ph.D. or philosopher and you recognize this condition and can propose a solution then please respond in the way you think best. That may involve writing directly to me if you think it absolutely necessary. If you think that is the best course then do so. I will answer the best I can, within my limitations. I do suggest, if at all possible, that you make your remarks on the public forum rather than to me privately. It is the most efficient way.
As a matter of policy I don’t act as a referrer. But we’ll have to feel our way through this together. Let’s see if our collective intelligence and wisdom can find a workable, practical avenue toward help for this person.
This column will run Friday and all weekend. I will check in as I can.
So … here goes! A great experiment!