“Smiling is confusing, she thought. This is why I don’t do it.”
― Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl
One of the biggest pet peeves of anyone with mental illness I’ve ever spoken to is the assumptions of other people, especially those assumptions made around if we smile everything is absolutely fine and we are no longer sick.
It’s as if, by having a momentary respite from our pain, or by being able to put a mask on and not display to the world how we are really feeling we have completely eliminated the illness altogether.
But do people make these assumptions of people who have a physical illness, if someone with cancer, or MS has a good day do people suddenly assume they have made a miraculous recovery? Of course not, they put it down to what it is, a good day. They appreciate it for being a good day.
But when you have mental illness people don’t want to deal with the reality of it not going away, they want to sweep it under the carpet. God forbid you have a short respite from your pain then return to feeling awful again. The reactions that are sent your way vary from utter confusion to accusations that you aren’t as sick as you make out.
I have experienced some of this myself recently, I had a short respite from my depression, a brief break from my daily grind of pain and anxiety. As you do when this happens, I made the most of it. It coincided with my medicine trial for my bowel condition meaning I was feeling healthy at the same time and was able to get out of the house and do some fun things.
I had a relative visiting from overseas, so I utilised the visit to be a tourist. We even spent a few days in Dublin, if I’m honest by the time we were in Dublin I was starting to deflate pretty rapidly and I was utilising my medications to their max to get through it.
By the time I was home again, my pain was maxed out, my mental health was maxed out and I’d lost my temporary buzz. But boy, I enjoyed those few weeks of respite. I got to have just a few weeks of actual fun, I smiled, I laughed, I left the house every day.
But, now I’m suffering and panicking. I rapidly went backwards again, leaving the house is a daunting task, driving is a huge no-no, I had to get referred back into the mental health recovery team because my GP wouldn’t prescribe my anxiety meds. Thankfully I saw a psychiatrist yesterday who agreed I needed them and wrote the script straight away.
But what is hard is other people’s reactions, you need support, and people can’t understand how I can swing from one to the other and back again. In all honesty I don’t, but that’s mental health for you! It’s brutal, it’s confusing, and every now and then it gives you some respite…a taste of the norm.
But honestly if I hear the words “you don’t look ill” or “just put a smile on your face” again I may just explode!