When Reality Isn’t Real - My Life With Mental Illness.

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Sometimes I do this thing. It’s a terrible, horrible, super frustrating thing and if you do it too you’re going to be nodding your head and rolling your eyes a whole lot in a few seconds.

It all starts when I do something wrong. As soon as it happens I’m like, “Oh shit, that was a really stupid thing to do!” Then I start to obsess about why I did it, what it means about me, and, most of all, what’s going to happen when everyone finds out about it.

For a few days, I worry that I’m going to give myself away; that every social interaction leads me one step closer to being found out. I start to put on a show. Like a ring leader in yoga pants I overcompensate at every turn and do everything I can to keep the crowds focused on anything but me. 

I get so wrapped up in pretending that I didn’t do a stupid thing that everything I’m doing is stupid.

Now, if I didn’t have an anxiety disorder, I would probably stop right there. I’d take a step back and be like, “Whoa Bessie, you’re gettin’ a tad outta control here! I’m gonna need you to grab those reins and reel it back in!” But since I’ve got GAD and PD and I don’t actually talk like a Hollywood style cowboy, I instead convince myself that the worst case scenario in my head is actually happening and before I know it I am 100% convinced that every single person in my life is judging the ever-loving shit out of me for it. 

When my mom doesn’t call me back, I know she knows and she’s telling everyone under the sun what an irresponsible disappointment I am.

If my boss forgets to respond to my last email, I’m sure she’s busy interviewing a replacement who is way less empty-headed than me.

When my husband comes home and doesn’t immediately wrap his arms around me while shouting Shakespearean sonnets, I’m absolutely positively certain that he knows what I’ve done and he’s already called a divorce lawyer and they’re putting together paperwork to tear my life apart. 

This is usually the point when I book a ticket on the hot mess express. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I start crying all the time and whenever anyone tries to help me I’m so certain that telling them the truth about what I’ve done will absolutely ensure total annihilation that I completely withdraw, causing serious damage to all of my relationships. 

And then someone finds out. Every fucking time they find out they react completely differently than I’ve anticipated and, what’s worse, I realize that I’ve been putting myself and my life through absolute hell because my imagination has taken off with my mind again.

There’s nothing quite so stunning as the realization that the life you think you’re living has never actually existed in the first place.

Now, I wish I could tell you that this never happens to me anymore. I would love to be able to talk all about some positive practice that prevents panic and puts me right smack in the middle of the real world, but that’s a crock! The truth is that this is just part of my complicated existence and I’ve had to learn how to put some seriously effective strategies to work in order to prevent my shit from getting completely out of control. 

First, ya gotta have someone to talk to; a neutral third party whose opinion you respect and whose grasp of reality is solid. When I’m able to tell someone what I’ve done, they’re able to give me good, solid advice that usually keeps me from spiraling. Things like, “Hmm.. maybe you should tell your boss that you lost that memo instead of picking a fight with your family.” 

I once spent an entire week of my life in complete chaos because I forgot to pay an important bill and incurred a $25 late charge. (I can feel you judging me.) I was absolutely convinced that my husband knew about it and that he was so deeply disappointed that he was intentionally not speaking to me about it. After two days of almost no sleep, I spilled my guts to a friend who said, “Yeah but didn’t he do that a few months ago too?”

Me in that moment: 😳………….

I ended up telling him about it that night and he was not only super supportive but completely surprised that I’d been beating the shit out of myself about a minor mistake.

A few years ago I learned that if you want to have any kind of healthy relationship with another human, you’re gonna have to learn how to talk your own self down.

While having a friendly ear is helpful, it’s equally important to learn how to figure out the difference between the world and your illness’ perception of it. Like a panicked Perry Mason, I go on fact-finding missions to determine whether there’s actual evidence of everything I’m feeling. I can spend days on end believing that the people around me are upset or angry with me, but sometimes it takes actually asking them to find out. That’s what we call, “putting on your big girl pants.” 

In the end, just plain wondering, “How much of this is coming from my mental illness” can make a world of difference. Remember, our brains aren’t always our best friends and when we start looking outside of ourselves for answers, we’re able to climb the hell out of the rabbit hole! 

Alicia Gibson3 Comments