En Garde!

AngelSeveral things have inspired the ideas behind this post. A realization I had when I read Ruby’s post “Behind the Curtain” sparked an idea. DeeDee’s post about compartmentalization has jumpstarted my thinking gears. Finally, there are just my own thoughts of late . . . I think I can synthesize all of these issues, and that’s what I’m going to try to do with this post.

After I read Ruby’s post and her reply to my comment, it occurred to me that I let my mental health issues define me simply by focusing on hiding them. I’m always afraid someone’s going to discover something out of place, and my whole tenuously constructed edifice will come crashing down. By being constantly on the alert, by constantly concealing my mental health issues, I am basing my identity on those issues.

I contradict myself, and it blows my mind.

I am a firm believer in the idea that mental health issues should never be the defining factor of people’s personalities. Sure, it’s a part of my personality, but it is merely a small piece of a larger whole.

My mind’s en garde stance means that my mental health issues are at the source of everything I do.

In order to lessen the degree to which my mental health issues form my identity, I need to find a way to reframe how I operate. I’m not saying I should go out and wave a flag saying, “I am someone with mental illness!”. God, no. Rather, I should refocus my impulses. Not every action has to involve mental acrobatics to conceal what lies beneath. Because that’s not even nearly all that lies beneath, first of all. But also, by living in this fashion, I am allowing the mental illness to control me while simultaneously attempting the very opposite.

Here’s an example of how I could behave differently: Often when people talk about mental illnesses and stereotype them, I say nothing because I’m afraid my mental health issues will be discovered. The other party might think, Why does she care so much? If and when they deduce the truth, they might dismiss my perspective as null and void because I am tainted.

Let’s tweak this scenario. If the discussion were about race, I wouldn’t have a problem with trying to combat stereotypes. Heck, I have no problem arguing against female gender roles, and I’m a woman.

Arguing against a misconception about mental illness doesn’t mean people will automatically think I deal with that issue. Even if it does, so what? Shouldn’t I position myself as someone who disproves the stereotype rather than someone who will be categorized as belonging with it?

That brings me to what I’ve been thinking about for the past few days, my insecurity. I can’t snap my fingers and stop being insecure. (Actually, I can’t even literally snap my fingers. It’s true.) Insecurity is a significant personality trait, even if a chunk of it derives from mental health issues. As I mentioned in my last post on my blog, I’ve felt stuck for the past couple of years. I don’t have a direction, nor am I interested in exploring a direction. This leaves me stunted.

Part of me is afraid that I can’t handle more than what I have now. Why can’t things just stay like this? What if this is the best I can do?

What if this is the best I can do?

This question has revolved in my mind for the past few weeks. It haunts me. I don’t know the answer to it, and I don’t know how to find the answer to it.

What if my mental health issues hold me back? If so, then how can they not be the foundation of my identity?

Am I permanently shattered, always cracking at the seams, or did I break in one monumental sundering? Can I put the pieces back together? If I put the pieces back together, will they fall apart again? Are the pieces lying around waiting for me to reassemble them, or are their edges constantly chipping off?

Can the pieces be adequately combined into a new product, or do they function only when they’re in their former arrangement?

Just because I shattered doesn’t mean I will shatter again.

But doesn’t it?

This idea relates back to the theme of identity. By dwelling on my breaking, am I letting it define me? Would there be less danger of it reoccurring if I changed my focus?

At any rate, my identity is rigidly compartmentalized. I feel like I can’t have any of the lines intersect without the entire flimsy edifice toppling over.

Friend life segregated. Check. Family life segregated. Check. Work life segregated. Check.

Blog life segregated. Check.

I fear that I won’t have the freedom to say exactly what I want to if my blog life collides with any of the real-life sections. Would it change how people in real life view me? Would they try to bring up my posts in everyday conversation? I couldn’t handle that. I think what I am most afraid of is people wanting to talk about my blog writing with me in real life. It’s much easier for me to have a conversation in writing than in real life. Yes, I’m pulling out my crutch here, the social anxiety. It influences how I operate when around others; it can’t be helped.

Being anonymous affords me more freedom. But being anonymous also constrains me.

When I began my blog, I mentioned that I wanted to reveal my real-world identity one day. I think I still do, but that day is far off in the future. I can’t handle coming out right now.

I’m also not sure if I can refocus my mindset. Not with where I am now and with what I worry about.

Hopefully the right time will come. Until then, I will remain en garde.

© Angel Fractured and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Angel Fractured and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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12 thoughts on “En Garde!

  1. “Arguing against a misconception about mental illness doesn’t mean people will automatically think I deal with that issue. Even if it does, so what? Shouldn’t I position myself as someone who disproves the stereotype rather than someone who will be categorized as belonging with it?”

    You bring up a very good point. Actually, you bring up a number of them. But this is the one I want to start with, fighting stigma. If you think about it, we are in a really superior place to break down those misconceptions and stereotypes, because we live with mental illness and know the truth of it. And if you aren’t comfortable disclosing (which I totally understand), and someone asks you how you know so much, a good answer is always, “Someone close to me deals with mental illness.” Which is 100% true. Who is closer to you than yourself? And besides, you’ve got a lot of us close to you now, too.

    You and I had a brief exchange about mental illness becoming your identity. Something else I learned the hard way (because I have lived it, though for different reasons): It makes you even more ill. I can’t stress that enough. When you are constantly thinking about your symptoms, trying to conceal them, living your life identifying as “mentally ill”, instead of living with it as “merely a small piece of a larger whole”, you make yourself more anxious and crazy and ill (actually, I should post about that).

    Okay, this comment is getting really long, but just one other thing.

    “What if my mental health issues hold me back? If so, then how can they not be the foundation of my identity?”

    By all of “society’s” standards, my mental health issues are doing a whole lot of holding me back. I don’t have a job, I am on disability, I am living with my parents. . . And I am so incredibly happy. I know that I have things I want to change in my life (the living with my parents part is high on that list 😉 ), but I have an identity that is so much more than my illnesses. I don’t need to rehash here, I’ve certainly proclaimed it often enough. But the way I see it, I was here first, before my mental illnesses, and so I am the foundation of my identity. Mental illness is just one more thing that makes me, me. And I think you can get to really feeling that way, too.

    • I think most people know I don’t have much of a life, though, ha. I think, though, that actually experiencing the mental illness can also constrain our fights against stigma. People can dismiss things about us and find a way to pigeonhole us into what they know. They can’t do that if we don’t have any mental health issues. But we also can be a model to show that they are having misconceptions, too. It’s a two-way street.

      I don’t think I live my life constantly thinking about how I’m mentally ill per se . . . I just think about how the symptoms are a huge chunk of who I am. I don’t know. I still have difficulty thinking of myself as a “mentally ill” person. At any rate, though, dwelling on the symptoms can increase how often I experience them.

      As for my identity . . . I just feel like I’ve dealt with certain mental health issues for so long that they *are* my identity. I was born socially anxious. I was born somber and melancholy. They came with me when I arrived. Not all of it, but a lot of it. And if that’s so, isn’t that an indication that they are the building blocks of my identity?

      • So if you feel they are the building blocks of your identity, then maybe it’s time to raze that structure and build up a new one, with different blocks. It can be done, you’ve already taken steps in the process, and you have plenty of time in which to do it, you aren’t exactly in the golden years of your life. 😉

        As far as people dismissing us because we are mentally ill, with rare exception, they can only do that if we consent to let them. We have our intelligence in addition to our experience. We have so much in the way of learning in our arsenal, and only the terminally closed-minded can successfully ignore that.

  2. I wonder how many people are constrained, not just by mental illness, but by their own perceptions about themselves. It brings up an interesting point about reinvention- can we remake ourselves by seeing ourselves in a different light or understanding how we limit/protect ourselves. I have learned some truths about my life that altered the way I saw myself and my supposed shortcomings, but I have lived with those views for so long that I still struggle to climb out completely from under them.

    As for blog life connecting with real life– I don’t know if I want to meet other bloggers. Part me wonders if it would ruin a good thing, but another part of me thinks it would be great fun. I guess it depends on which part of me showed up. Glad you’re back!

    • I think there are some ways changing your point of view can help people remake themselves. At the same time, I think there are some things about us that are unchangeable . . . for instance, I can tell myself all I want that I’m having a good time by always being in a crowd, but that would never actually make me feel like I’m having fun.

      I think I would like to meet with other bloggers in real life . . . the relationship with them is different than with people I’ve known solely from real life. I wouldn’t want people I originally know from real life bringing up my blog in conversations, but it’s different with bloggers. And thanks! 🙂

  3. I remember feeling that way. There was a time when I would rather have died than admit publicly I had a mental illness.

    I wish blogs had existed back then. At least blogging whether anonymous or not, give us not only an outlet to let the steam out but also the chance to find a community of people that understand us

  4. This is such a great post. There’s a lot to be considered when it comes to constantly questioning yourself, doubting, and fearing outcomes. Sometimes we just have to ignore all that and plunge ahead, but sometimes it’s paralyzing.

    On the point about mental illness coming up in conversation, I don’t go out on a limb, but I do typically correct misuses of mental health terminology whenever I encounter it. For example, the other night I was watching a show on Netflix and they referred to some killer as psychotic. No, I said, that person isn’t psychotic, he’s sociopathic; he’s not delusional, he’s just completely without remorse. When people (incorrectly) say something is schizophrenic, I nearly always reply with, Actually, what you mean is dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, because schizophrenia usually involves hallucinations and delusions, not being “of two minds” about things.

    I guess this is sort of a “safe” way of talking about mental illness because it’s purely factual. I’m merely demonstrating that I know more about mental health than the average bear, and that I’m not afraid to educate others about it. I’m not voicing any opinions or really putting myself out there, but even getting to the point where people understand that schizophrenia is not the same as DID would be major progress in terms of public awareness.

    Besides, if anyone ever questioned me and I wanted to hide my tracks, I could just say that I took a really interesting abnormal psych class in college. (Which I did not do – too many prerequisites – although I wanted to!) 😉

    • Hey, I think my sister gets to take abnormal psych as part of her major. I’m a little jealous!

      There are situations where I can talk about things in a “safe” way, like with the schizophrenia versus DID example. But then there’s the part about how people think mental health makes people less able to do things or unreliable or something, and it’s hard to refute that one in an abstract “I took a class” way. Perhaps that’s when Ruby’s suggestion about saying I know someone with a mental illness could be useful.

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