Are the Mentally Ill Allowed to Feel?

Do you know what the most frustrating part of being “crazy” is? That whenever I am emotional about something, it is often attributed to the fact that I’m “crazy”; and whatever I’m feeling is written off as a symptom of my mental-health issues.

Most commonly – because my husband and I spend more time with one another than we do with anyone else – this is an issue in my marriage.

Mitchell and I will be fighting over something. He gets upset. I get upset. (Or vice versa.) We both raise our voices, and the discussion quickly deteriorates into the aggregated hurt inevitably incurred in a twenty-year relationship.

An argument that begins over who should check the mail, can quickly turn into a screaming match about who is less responsible… and ultimately end up with us shouting over so much of the past, that we can no longer remember what started the damn fight in the first f*ckin’ place! (If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship – of any kind – I’m sure you can relate.)

Mitchell, being the more rational creature in our relationship, is usually the first to calm down. When he decides enough is enough, he can tag-out and regroup (with astonishing speed). And while I envy him this ability, it’s his ability; not mine.

I am calm until I’m not. Once I’m not, all bets are off the table.

Here’s why…

One of the symptoms of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) is an inability to think and/or feel in more than one emotional dimension. We think and/or feel with “white” (i.e. good) emotion or “black” (i.e. bad) emotion. And once on a side, it can be incredibly difficult to return to the other. Borderlines have an underdeveloped capacity to think in shades of grey (like most “normal” people do).

…and here’s what it looks (and feels) like.

Facts of the Case

Mitchell states that he is going to fix the pilot light on the water heater. Two days later – working on the assumption that he has fixed the water heater – I step into a shower, and have no hot water. Mitchell probably just forgot to take a look at the water heater.

Feelings (Stupid Hamsters) of the Case

Anger Hamster has just woken up, and was crabby before she got doused with shockingly cold water. But now? Now she has found a justification for being angry; and therefore, takes the wheel.

She makes an abrupt right-hand turn off of the “white” (i.e. good) emotional highway, onto the “black” (i.e. bad); and drives past every grievance she has ever had against Mitchell: drab, dilapidated houses all up and down this dark, lonely road.

She starts snarling, and growling through gritted teeth, “Look! There’s the bookshelves he never restored! Check it out! There’s the dirty kitchen floor he ‘forgot’ to sweep! Ha! The car he promised to sell! I can drive all damn day if I have to. There’s nothing good to see here, folks!”

And that nasty little fur-ball is never alone in the car. Sadness is always riding shotgun. She’s listening to Anger (while looking out at the desolate scenery), and starts to cry, “Things are never going to change. There is no hope. What am I doing on this stupid ride?”

Facts of the Case

I get out of the shower, tense and irritated.

Mitchell walks around the corner and says, “Good morning.”

I grouch back, “You may enjoy taking cold showers, but I do not!”

I have been rude. Mitchell has just woken up, and wasn’t expecting a fight. Voices start to escalate. Things quickly deteriorate, as they often do.

Feelings (Borderline Personality Affected Hamsters) of the Case

Mitchell says something that nicks an emotional nerve (intentionally, or unintentionally… it doesn’t matter, to my mind), and Anger Hamster drives – petal to the metal – further down the highway of despair.

Not able to see anything good through the windows of the car, she starts to feel as if this is the only road there is to drive. And the thought of that never-ending darkness? It’s completely overwhelming.

Anger Hamster’s first inclination is to wreck the car; kill the passengers. (But we’ve been there, done that; and it doesn’t end well.) Frustrated that she can no longer do so (because she has made some progress in anger management), she pulls over, crosses her fuzzy lil’ arms across her chest, and sulks in a boggy mire.

Sadness hamster simply continues to cry in the seat beside her.

Facts of the Case

Mitchell has simmered from hurt to angry to hurt to calm frustration.

I have begun to cry, and am not making any sense (because the hamsters in my head are confusing as f*ck).

Mitchell (truly trying to help) says, “This is your disease, remember? It’ll pass.”

Different vs. Crazy

I know that in part, my husband is correct. Him forgetting to check the pilot light isn’t really justification for a fight.

I, however, am right to be frustrated and upset. Not because of the pilot light, but because it’s a pattern in his behavior not to follow through.

Once he intimates to the fact that I might be acting crazy, though, things go one of two ways:

  • I give in and apologize for being mentally afflicted.
  • I blow up (albeit, usually in disproportionate rage) at having my valid feelings dismissed because I have a mental-health affliction.

It is difficult for me to express my emotions appropriately. It is not difficult for me to feel them appropriately.

This distinction often goes unacknowledged when folks deal with those they think of as “crazy.” Even when they understand this separation, they tend to forget it – especially in communicating with us.

I feel emotion more acutely than most. I know this. I am aware that my brain processes emotions differently than most… but this doesn’t mean that my emotions are any less valid than those of a “normal” person.

So, what can we do?

Thankfully, both my husband and I are working on this.

This morning I was able to analyze my reaction to the pilot light, and did not approach Mitchell as I normally would (like in the example above). Don’t get me wrong, here. I thought about approaching him that way… but then made a cognitive decision not to. (Yep, crazy people have rational thoughts, too!)

Instead, I was able to remind myself that though he frustrates – and angers – me more than anyone else on the planet; I also like him more than anyone else on the planet (at least 85% of the time, anyway).

I took some time for myself, before speaking to him; and when I did, I was honest about how I wanted to react; and shared my reasons for not doing so. He rolled his eyes at my initial reaction (that’s to be expected when my initial reaction borders on the “crazy” side), but said he appreciated the fact that I didn’t act on it.

I asked him to do a few of the other chores that Anger Hamster was on about, and he did them (to his credit, without any grumbling).

Today was a good day, all things considered.

Something to keep in mind…

They won’t all be good days. Mitchell and I both know that.

Bad days are made worse, though, if what I am feeling gets labeled as “crazy.”

If every emotion that swells inside my soul is dismissed as “disease,” how can I be expected to appropriately navigate my way through life?

Crazy doesn’t mean I’m inhuman. Crazy adds a bit of odd irrationality to my responsive behaviors; but it doesn’t stop the very valid way I feel… because I am human. (Just a lil’ bit more bizarre than most!)

5 thoughts on “Are the Mentally Ill Allowed to Feel?

    • Girl! That is the worst! When Mitchell comes at me like that, it flips a switch, and I start roaring… loudly.

      1. I very rarely forget to take my meds (and when I do, it’s accidental, and no more than a twelve hour gap).

      2. If I’m off my meds, I grow despondent: not angry, not upset.

      3. If I was off my meds, I’d be far too batsh*t to answer that question.

      4. No one ever asks Mitchell (who is a type-1 diabetic) if he’s taken his!

      Mental illness is a b*tch, because there’s this false assumption that those afflicted can somehow master it. Like with diabetes, meds can help; but they do not “fix” the (very real) neurolgical problem.

      We need the perspective on mental illness to shift. It’s a medical problem – a disease of the mind – not a goddam choice! (Who would choose to be batsh*t crazy?!)

      Argh! Argh at your folks! Argh at ignorance! Argh at it all!

      Liked by 2 people

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