Sometimes, I just get really angry. People with mental illness tend to one-up each other a lot. Are you having a rough day? Someone close to you has been having that day all week. Feeling especially depressed? Your friend tells you they’ve been having panic attacks for days. Struggling with suicidal thoughts? There’s always that one person who says they’ve been suicidal every day since age twelve.
I get that some feelings are more severe than others, but all we are doing is hurting each other by invalidating someone else’s pain in favor of yours.
I didn’t realize until recently how much I repress my feelings. How my depression and my panics manifest themselves in silent ways my mind keeps disregarding as not important enough to notice, because there’s always the feedback that someone has it worse than you. That’s part of the reason I struggle so much with self-harm. I might think I’m fine, but in reality the pain and sadness is building up inside of me until I reach the tipping point.
And I guess the thing that irritates me most, both about myself as well as my friend group and society as a whole, is that no one notices how upset I am until they see it. I’ve been majorly depressed and suffering from panic attacks for the past week and yet it wasn’t until Friday anyone outside of my tight group of two or three close friends asked me if I was okay. And I’m pretty sure it was because I looked like shit that day. I was only going to the Pride Center, so I didn’t bother showering—I hadn’t in days—I dug an old shirt out of my laundry basket to wear because it reminded me of the girl I’m dating, and my arms were wrapped in white gauze because they were still recovering from yesterday when I’d broken the blade out again (the first time this year, which is actually a little astonishing for me). I curled up on the couch and slept and didn’t even talk to the Friday intern, who I usually love to hang out with when he’s there. He tried bothering me into getting up, but it didn’t work. I was too tired, too upset, and too tired of hiding it.
Stacie walked in to update us on the things that were going on, as she always did, and at the end of it she asked me if I was okay. “You don’t look okay. In fact you look very bad,” she said.
It was the first time someone was acknowledging my outward expression of my inner pain, and it was kind of relieving actually. I told her I was fine—“I mean, I’m not okay, but it’s fine.”
She seemed to believe me, and when she left told me to call her if I needed anything.
I felt a little bad for another friend of mine who was there, who I’d been talking to since I bothered to sit up. He seemed to notice for the first time how shitty I really did look (he tends not to judge people by their appearances, which is a great skill to have). After what Stacie said though his attention was drawn to it, and he too asked me if I was alright. I told him a bit of what was going on, grateful for his concern but irritated that it took white gauze for him to notice.
Besides my sister, the only person that I told the whole story to was the girl I’ve been dating for the past two weeks. We were driving in her car later that same day and I decided to ask her about her comfort level with my self-harm (she was already aware of it, and my sister had encouraged me to be open with her since she’d already told me I could talk to her about it).
I started by saying I’d had a really rough week. She jumped in with “I’ve had a really rough two weeks.”
There was a slight pause. I looked at her and said I was sorry.
She looked back at me, saw I was genuinely distressed, and quickly changed her tune.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to one-up you or anything.” I shrugged, and she pressed me. “Why was this week rough?”
I go back and forth about the exchange. On one hand I’m pissed that she so quickly countered my expression of pain by trying to say she had it harder. But on the other hand I really don’t think she meant it like that, and I’m also really impressed that she quickly apologized, and then immediately refocused on me without bringing it back to herself once for the entire conversation. Her first move was immature, but she’s only a freshman. She’s still maturing out of her high school mindset, and I have a feeling high school kids are one-upping each other constantly. In fact I know that after having worked with almost a hundred of them for eight weeks over the summer. And she’s already showing maturity by correcting her behavior, so in all, the exchange mostly makes me feel safer with her.
I told her what had been going on—my struggle in finding a new job or keeping my old one, my living situation, dealing with the mixed messages I was getting. That it had cumulated to a panic attack and a bought of self-harm. And I wanted to know if she was uncomfortable with my state, if she didn’t want to hear about it, if she wanted to be an outlet for me.
“It’s not going to trigger me,” she told me. “I don’t mind hearing about it. It doesn’t bother me.”
Later I was getting warm in the car and took my jacket off, revealing the gauze. “It looks bad, but it’s okay. This is what people saw, and it freaked them out, and it was the first time I felt okay not wearing long sleeves,” I said.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she repeated.
She didn’t give me a funny look, her voice didn’t shake, she didn’t sigh or let the feeling hang for minutes on end. I let it out, she took it in, and we moved on.
I hope I can continue to feel safe with her. I hope we can continue to talk about these things. I don’t want us to be comparing our depression or our pain. That’s not healthy and it just harks back too much to the way it was with my ex. I’m hoping we can foster a safe space between the two of us, because in today’s crazy world, where some people aren’t as mature as she was able to be, things just get nasty. And I know I’m going to need an escape from that.