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!)

Dear Readers,

I know what this looks like. Good Lord, that daffy broad went and nuked her site again. In the most literal sense – past posts have been removed, color scheme has changed, site identification/title has been deemed irrelevant, custom header image has been revised – you would be right… but this time around is different, I assure you; so please, let me try to explain.

Have you ever heard anyone say, Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it? It’s an old proverb that’s tossed around quite a lot; and I’d never really understood it.

In fact, my gut reaction to hearing such “nonsense” had always been, Why in the holy hell would I not want to receive what I’ve wished for?

I was working under the questionable assumption that wishes were the equalivent of best intentions. I.e. I wish for happiness, health, comfort, etc. – and that having them granted was an inherently good thing.

But then, about a year ago, I heard an Anonymous gentleman take this proverb one step further. He said, “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it… and not always in the way you had hoped.”

Honestly? My mind was blown. All of a sudden, an old saw that I considered to be downright stupid, made total and complete sense.

At the time, my brother’s death was still a raw, gaping, open wound. (Still is, if I’m being completely forthright.) And as soon as I heard that gentleman say what he did, I thought, Wow. We asked for my brother’s pain and suffering to end. He’s no longer in pain. He’s no longer suffering. But, the boy is dead.

All of the prayers that had been sent into the universe on my younger brother’s behalf had been answered. We just never considered the fact that death was a viable solution. (I mean, how much more of a final end to anything is there?)

I was stricken with renewed grief, unbearable guilt, and paralyzing fear.

Light Bulb!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak would have a paralyzing effect on my already delicate inability to make decisions.

Subconsciously, I began to worry that I could ask for the right thing at the wrong time (say when the universe was ovulating, and therefore, terribly moody), and end up with a catastrophic answer to a well-intentioned inquiry.

I stopped praying. I stopped analyzing. I stopped asking. I got stuck.

I found my way back to the path of least resistance. I started pointing fingers, and assigning blame.

Instead of trying to move forward, I fell back into the past. Old fears and bygone hurts resurfaced; and before I knew it, they had taken over my already limited world view.

In response to the fear of being without a pay check (even though we’re doing okay), I took the first employment offer that came my way. An offer that wasn’t in my field. An offer I didn’t really want. But, I threw myself into it because that’s all I’d been able to do.

My life – since hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak (and I say that without assignment of blame) – had once again become an exercise in survival, as opposed to one being lived.

Mitchell saw it. My friends saw it. They all warned me that I was spiraling out, and dangerously close to losing my sh*t… because all they were reading in my writing was pain, despair, loneliness, and grief.

I had foolishly forgotten that life is so much more than the sum of our fears… and did not see that my addictions were actively working to reclaim their tyrannous throne.

Thankfully, the universe stepped in when I needed her most; and not in a catastrophic way.

On Friday evening, my mother-in-law (who never calls me, because I don’t ever pick up) called… and in a moment of rare bravery, I answered the phone.

We didn’t speak for long, but we used those brief moments wisely. We shared our concerns about my husband’s health, and my own.

She offered a way out from under the job that was causing my crippling anxiety, and the consequent breakdown in sanity. My husband and I – albeit, hesitantly – decided to take it.

With the self-imposed weight of the world off my shoulders, I started to examine other parts of my life that were causing undue stress, and the way I was approaching this blog – like a menacing project – was one of those parts.

Project: An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

Oxford Dictionary

I started reading the posts, and realized that I was writing for all the wrong reasons.

When you work in Exceptional (Special) Education, you learn that children stand apart from their diagnoses: Down’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, etc.

These various afflictions are but a small part of a much larger whole. Diagnoses are labels. Labels imply limits. And if my kids have taught me anything, it’s that individuals are limitless.

I needed not to start over, but to shift my perception.

Yes, I am an alcoholic and an addict. Yes, I am a Borderline. Yes, I am unemployed. Yes, I sometimes fail to meet expectations (mine, and those of others). However, these things do not define the whole of who I am.

I am not a writer because of these things, but in spite of them.

So I decided to remove the subtitle – formerly The Absurd Misadventures of a Borderline – because I felt it imposed limits on who I am, and what I sensed it was appropriate to write about.

I need for this blog to reflect all of me, instead of only a part – a part that is often dark and full of miserable despondency. The part that assigns blame, instead of taking self-accountability.

I’m not saying that the malicious harpy within won’t pound away on the keys of my laptop from time to time (She calls this “typing with purpose.” Up in the Air, anyone?), nor that she won’t show up in my posts uninvited. I’m simply saying that she’s not the only one allowed at the helm of this crazy ship.

Stephen King once said, “The glory of a good tale is that it is limitless and fluid…” And to that I say, Amen, Brother!

I first started writing because in doing so I often surprised myself. I found hidden answers to internal questions. I made bizarre, seemingly random connections from point A to point Z… and could follow that itinerant road map into the wilds of imagination.

Do I sometimes write to deal with anger? Absolutely.

Is anger my only emotion? Am I nothing more than a rambling, lunatic hostage to my mental afflictions? Absolutely not.

I am the whole sum of a myriad of pieces. Some are shattered, and have dangerously sharp edges; but others are silky smooth, and covered in glitter and gold… and I’d like for you, Dear Reader, to see them all.

When Mitchell saw what I had done to the blog, he looked at me, mouth agape, and said, “Again? Seriously? I give up.” But he won’t. He will cheer for me, as he always has. So I beg of you… grab a pom-pom, and shout loudly from the sidelines. Don’t give up on me yet.