I’m just like you.
Except for my mistakes.
For all the talk of mental health awareness, of getting the word out about depression and bipolar and anxiety and all the rest, of people becoming more accepting and understanding… I think that you may say you accept me, but if you met me, if you were confronted with it, you wouldn’t… not really.
My mistakes. That’s where I see it the most.
I don’t know what your mistakes are like. I know what mine are like, though, and I know that that’s when people stop understanding, stop accepting.
When I make mistakes, I hurt people. I scare them. I’m unrecognizable, from normal to nuts in a second.
Because my mistakes are like slippery slopes. Maybe yours stop at the top of the hill, because you’ve got shoes on and a good grip. My grip is horrible sometimes, and it feels like instead of shoes my feet are in Jesus sandals on slippery oil.
So I go from what could be a small mistake to a full-on freakout.
I slide from calm to anxious to angry in a moment. Or from feeling hurt to feeling frozen to becoming utterly depressed, unable to face life for weeks, months at a time. Or from facing one of the fears of my life to refusing to face it for the pain of it to slipping back into one of my many addictions.
It’s in the mistakes that so many of the people like me find their fears. It’s where we live, where we so often define ourselves.
So many of us think that there’s a demon inside of us because of the mistakes we’ve made in life. The kind that haunt us. The kind where we remember the face of our parents’ horrified faces at our actions or the kind where our teachers asked us, “What on earth is wrong with you?” or the kind where the kids at our school chased down our hearts and ate them up like predatory animals because they saw we were the sick wildebeests on the field.
Living a life like that, where the world doesn’t understand, where the mistakes we make live with us, it is what causes us to scream out for the mental health awareness you care about.
And you want to embrace us, and we so appreciate that.
But the embrace is dangerous, that’s part of why this dance of awareness and real-life misunderstandings continue.
The closer you get to me, the more likely you are to run into one of my mistakes. The closer we embrace, the more likely you are to hit one of my sharp angles.
It’s difficult. Frustrating. Because the thing is that I am just like you. If I was nuts, or out of control, or “insane,” in the classic sense, then it would be so much easier. You could just see me that way, and I could see myself that way, and all would be fine.
But I’m like you. My mistakes I have to own. The actual wrong action, the thing that leads me to go down the slope in the first place, that’s on me.
And as I get older, learn how to grip that slippery slope, building the muscles of self-understanding and control, then the slip itself is more on me too.
I’m just like you. And you see that. When we interact, when we connect, when we join in a community, you understand.
A mentally ill person is a person. And that’s what confuses people. The normality of it all. The mundane experience you usually get when you meet us.
We tell you about the times we considered committing suicide, or the time we went to the mental hospital after spending two months hardly eating and thinking we were Jesus, and I imagine you expect when you meet us to see either a totally insane person or a person who has solved all these problems.
Because the dialogue has gone to these extremes. We tend to define a mentally ill person as being “out of control” but that’s not really the case.
It’s true, I no longer consider suicide. Except when my medication is off. Or I drank too much and I make one of my big mistakes. Or when I prefer to imagine just sticking a knife in my arm rather than killing myself.
It’s true, I haven’t been to a mental hospital since it happened the first time, or considered myself Jesus. Except that I still feel my mind racing like it did back then every now and then. Except that now I have different problems, like anxiety, somehow cropping up, since mental illness is not static, just like any illness.
In other words, in your eyes, from a distance I may seem weird when I write about all my crazy problems. Up close I may seem normal when you get to know me.
But the truth is that, in a sense, both are true, like one of those pictures you can’t see clearly until you take a number of steps back, but in which you can only see the individual pictures that comprise it when you get up close.
I’m just like you. Except for those moments when I’m not. And even then, I’m just like you, but you can’t see it.
I’m scary for that reason. In that sense, I actually am out of your control.
Awareness, then, hasn’t really reached as far deep as understanding.
And maybe you don’t need to understand me. Maybe you don’t need to get it.
But maybe you should at least not see me as abnormal.
And, most importantly, maybe you shouldn’t see my mistakes as abnormal either. Maybe I shouldn’t be forgiven for them. Maybe it’s my job to clean them up, just like anyone else.
But, maybe, maybe, maybe, what we really need is for you to know. Not “understand” or be “aware”.
To know that our mistakes are just like yours in that they don’t define us.
Just like yours, they are moments in time, fixable and redeemable. No matter how scary, they don’t mean there’s something “wrong” with us, rather just that, perhaps, there’s something extreme about us.
We don’t have demons, monsters, or snakes hiding in us. We simply have more slippery feet, more difficulties to face. And maybe some people will never be able to handle that about us.
But at least, one day, they can stop seeing us in the ways we have been spending our whole lives trying to unlearn.