This is the first post in a series I’m currently writing, Versus – breaking down some of the black-and-white thinking that comes with having a mental illness. If there’s anything you want me to cover in this versus series, please let me know.
I’ll admit it: I’m not a reliable person.
I flake on plans. I don’t call when I should. Hell, I don’t even get out of bed consistently every day. And I don’t just mean that I don’t wake up at the same time – I don’t leave my bed some days.
Welcome to the tempest that is mental illness (or any other chronic illness/disability).
Those of us who suffer with a mental illness are not our mental illnesses – that is to say, I am more than my depression and anxiety. Some days I can’t get out of bed. Other days I feel like I could write a novel.
That’s the difference between the depressed parts of me, and the “normal” parts fighting to make it in society. It’s tempestuous, inconstant, flighty, and – above all – unreliable. Who knows what you’re going to get from one day to another?
But even aside from the ill vs. normal parts of us, our illnesses can be tempestuous. Bipolar disorder and BPD are characterized by extreme highs and extreme lows. Will you get the manic side of us – impulsive, extroverted, driven? Will you get depressed us – despondent, exhausted, suicidal? Or neurotypical us?
What is reliability?
If you Google “reliability”, you’ll get several dictionary definitions and several more resources about how it relates to statistics. A reliable test is one that can be repeated again and receive similar results. That’s great, but didn’t apply to reliability of humans, so I kept scrolling…
But then I realized, it has everything to do with human reliability.
Reliability in Work
Take the definition from Business Dictionary: “The ability of an apparatus, machine, or system to consistently perform its intended or required function or mission, on demand and without degradation or failure.”
The notion of reliability treats humans like input/output machines. We go to work and we are either able to perform consistently “without degradation or failure”, or we are seen as flawed and broken.
I’ll let the Black Disability Collective take it from here:
Reliability in Relationships
OK, so reliability in work might be a capitalist construct, but it doesn’t work the same way for our friends, right? Friends need to be able to count on us to keep plans or text them when they’re down, don’t they?
Well, sort of. You don’t want to be the person that bails on your friends all the time. But if you are trying to get better and work on your anxiety, your friends should know that and see that.
I was just having a conversation about this on Twitter the other day:
If you’re noticing that I quote Twitter conversations way too often and are wondering when I’ll stop… never. The answer is never. I spend way too much time on Twitter, but I learn new things from you all every day and want to be sure to thank you for your education!
In fact, this ties into a point I made in my recent love letter to Twitter:
“In a perfect world, stigma wouldn’t hold us back. Mental illness would be a common topic. We’d be taught what it is in our schools, how to build support systems and self-care to strengthen our emotional state early on, what to say to our emotionally vulnerable friends.”
Calming the Tempest
The key words above are, “if you are trying to get better and work on your anxiety.”
Sometimes we give in to destructive tendencies. We think, “What’s the point in taking meds? Why try to get better if it might fail later?”
That’s a normal part of the process. It’s okay to feel that way. But it’s not healthy for anyone around you if you stay in that place forever. You have to try.
In the long-term, trying can mean finding medication that works; using self-care techniques like proper hygiene, nutrition, and exercise; going to therapy; or looking at self-therapy. It can mean making a phone call to get help. It’s going to look different from anyone, and you never need to explain to anyone whether you’re trying “enough.” But that’s what your friends need — yes, I am inconstant because of my anxiety, but I am working on it.
If they’re good friends, that’s enough to help them stay. If they’re not, then fuck them.
I’m gonna say it a little louder.
You are not a therapist.
If you are a therapist, please disregard this section. But for the rest of you: you are not a therapist.
Yes, it is important to reach out to your friends as much as you can. Yes, it’s vital to be on-call for your friends as much as you can in case they’re in danger. Yes, it’s important to know what to say and what not to say to your mentally ill friends.
But you are not their therapist. Your friends cannot expect you to fix their problems, to be around 24/7 to help them, to always have the right answers.
They can only expect you to be there.
Like I said, I learn from all of you. I would welcome your feedback to this post either here or on Twitter. We’re in this together! <3