Hello! It’s mental health awareness month and that means a bunch of unsolicited perspective from me, your favorite mentally ill writer person. I want to talk to you about mental illness and accountability.
I normally think of myself as a good friend. I am generally a kind person. I am sensitive to the needs of others, I am chock full of love for the people around me, and I know how a mutually supportive friendship should look. With that said, sometimes, I am unkind. I am insensitive, I am bitter. I can be a vacuum, sucking all the positivity out of the air around me, gobbling up good and bad news and letting it attach to my insides without fully digesting. I know this.
There was a long time where I did not know this, where I understood only how other people’s actions were affecting me and not at all how my actions were affecting other people. I leaned too hard on friends and got mad when their backs couldn’t support the weight of all of our problems. I expected people to be receptacles, taking in all of the smog that was coming out of my mouth and turning it back around into clean air. This only works for so long, until the friendship short-circuits and everybody involved has to be hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning.
It is important to have other people to depend on. Ranting with friends is one of my favorite pastimes, but with is a crucial part of the equation. As it happens, because each person is on their own journey at any given moment in time, sometimes you’re in a rougher place than your friend and you need more space to rant than they do. “More space” does not equal “all of the space and then some.” It is so important to make sure you are not consistently dominating a very negative conversation. If you only reach out to somebody to rant, they learn to become stressed out at the ping of your text message, the sound of your voice.
I’m not writing this to make you feel like all of your friends resent you–on the contrary, the people who put themselves through the anxieties of situations like this love you very much and want you to be happy. But don’t be surprised when replies become less frequent or less in-depth.
As mentally ill people, we live under a great deal of constant stress. At first, realizing that I have been toxic and unfriendly and bad-at-friendship just put fuel in the fire of my self-hatred. I didn’t know how I’d allowed myself to treat my friends like they were rocks, assuming I could yell at them and (mentally) push them and shove them and they would not move or change or be affected in any way. By nature of caring about somebody, you are moved by them–imagine what would happen if that person you care about was driving you around a track at three hundred miles per hour while crying hysterically and expecting you to say encouraging, supportive things in response.
It is not easy to come to or stick to this realization. Mental illness makes it hard to have any kind of general sense of self worth to begin with. But, for me, knowing that I Have Been Bad actually made it a little bit easier to love myself. I Have Been Bad, but I am not always bad. I know how to be that kind of supportive friend that I need, and I know how I have felt when people have treated me like the rock in that weird metaphor I made before. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can take the necessary steps to fix it–which takes a lot of back and forth, push and pull, and I may never master it, but I can try.
Unsurprisingly, I came to these conclusions with the help of lots of therapy and mood stabilizers. This is not entry-level stuff. But, regardless of where somebody is in their battle with mental illness, “I’m sorry I’m a jerk, it’s just that I’m mentally ill and I can’t help it,” is not an excuse. We all have the capability and faculty to recognize how our behavior affects the people we love. It’s our job to make sure we are as healthy as we can be for ourselves and our friends and family, who love us but are not ants who can carry sixteen times their weight or whatever ants can somehow do.