Recently I was attacked by several people online, saying I must not have “real” mental illness since I am able to work, be in grad school, and have stable friendships and a marriage. Those words hurt me deeply. I don’t know what constitutes “real” mental illness but I have dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. My everyday struggle is real.
Here are 10 things I want you to know about being high-functioning and managing multiple mental illnesses.
- Just because I seem happy doesn’t mean I am. If I wore my emotions on my face all the time, it would make for a lot of awkward conversations. I smile because it’s easier, because it’s safer that way. When I’m with my friends or husband I relax and show my true emotions. I try to hold it together in public. If I am smiling, I may not be happy.
- I may be a good student and employee, but at home I fall apart. I can go to school, smile, do well in my classes and get along with everyone, but then at home I sit around, frozen, too tired to do anything, crying, and feeling numb.
- It took me years of work to get to where I’m functional. I didn’t leave the psych ward of a hospital and immediately jump back into school and work and regular life. It took me a long time to recover from hospitalizations. It took me years of therapy in order to figure out relationships, to become self-aware, and to develop coping skills.
- It takes me a lot of work to get through a day. Lots of everyday things are hard. Like this morning I went grocery shopping and almost had a panic attack since the store was so crowded. This afternoon I was frozen and dissociating. This evening I canceled plans since I don’t feel up to going places and seeing people.
- I’m tired all the time. I can function well for a while, but then I turn off and collapse. When I get home I’m so tired that it’s hard for me to do housework, or cook dinner, or get anything done. It’s hard for me to find energy to do a lot of everyday things.
- I can’t live in the moment. When I have a good day, I have to do homework. I have to do my homework and chores ahead of time because I don’t know what next week will hold. Will I be manic next week? Will I be having panic attacks? Will I be dissociating? I may be barely functioning. So I have to get everything done now.
- I have to constantly assess myself in order to function well. I can’t just relax and be myself. I have to constantly be assessing myself. Am I happy or am I getting manic? Am I just anxious or am I about to have a panic attack?
- My life consists of constantly applying coping skills. Someone asked me recently what I do with my free time. I answered that all I do is apply coping skills. That is my entire life. It’s not terribly fun, but that is how I am able to function. Since I have a group of different mental problems, I keep lists of things to do for each issue. I have lists of coping skills for mania, depression, dissociation, thoughts of self-harm, etc., etc. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it so I can accomplish things in my life.
- I always have to invent a plan B. I make plans but then know I might have a panic attack and have to leave. Or I might be too tired to go out and not be able to make it there. I invent back-up plans. I find escape routes. I warn friends that I might need to leave early. I make a plan B so that I’m not stuck when my mental illness floods me.
- It’s hard for me to make plans in advance. I just never know who or how I will be next week. So I’m afraid to make any plans. It’s easier to take it one day at a time. But then it’s the weekend, and I’m stuck at home, sad, while my friends are out having fun. I could have made plans with them… but I was tired of inventing plan B’s.
It is lonely having severe mental illness and being high functioning. I don’t take anything for granted. I know that tomorrow I could have a psychotic episode or a dissociative problem, and it might trigger things and I’ll have a setback. I may go through periods where I don’t function well. I may have to take time off school or work to pull to deal with something. But I am thankful that right now I can do things and still manage my illness. I hope I can encourage others like me.