Today I sat on my floor and looked around at the overwhelmingness of my living room and panicked.
Dishes on the coffee table that were at least 5 days (if not a week) old, so old the fruit flies had either finally lost interest or drowned in their hunt for fermented mimosa. Most of the mess is older than that, but the dishes are within the week because I rallied a little last week and cleared out all the dishes, at least, before company came over.
A smathering of junk mail and the remains of the receipts in my wallet that I save out of habit, but don’t actually do anything with (like balance my bank account) fanned out across the floor.
Pennies from the penny jar camouflaged against the hardwood floor that stick to my feet every time I unwittingly walk across one.
For days I’ve been telling myself, “You have to do something. You can’t just lay on the couch today. You have to actually get up and do something.”
Each day I laid on the couch. Did the bare minimum that is required to function. Made sure my partner had clean scrubs for work. Consumed…something when my stomach felt hollow and I was remarkably nauseous for having not eaten. Avoided the kitchen as much as possible, because the kitchen is ten times worse. Ignored the smell of urine that permeated the bathroom.
I made little pathways through my home. Well-traveled pathways to the bathroom and back to the couch, to quick-grab pantry food and back to the couch, to the floor next to the outlet so I could plug in my phone. I put on blinders and blocked everything else out. I didn’t see the pile of clothes I stepped over to get from the couch to the bathroom. I didn’t notice the cloud of fruit flies or the colony of ants when I had to wash a cup so I could drink some water.
Today, I took the blinders off and almost had the first panic attack I’ve had since I was 19 years old. My fingertips started tingling and a part of my brain realized I wasn’t getting quite enough oxygen. I turned around to the bookshelf behind me and saw a stack of notebooks next to the shelf where my old math notebooks usually live.
Methodically, one after another, I start to put them on the shelf, thinking, “This is where the notebooks go.”
I came across an adult coloring book in the pile and started to add it to the shelf, then pulled it back. In my head: This is where the notebooks go. This is not a notebook.
When the notebooks were put on the shelf, I felt a little calmer. I went to the kitchen and grabbed a trashbag, a laundry hamper (our washer/dryer is in the kitchen), and an empty container. Started picking up items and categorizing them. This is where the clothes go. This is where the trash goes. This is where the ibuprofen/duct tape/spare change goes.
And so on.
I have exactly one functional room in my house right now. It is the room that feeds into the front door, which is the only room you will see if you come over right now because people don’t get to see this part. Most people who know me will not recognize me in this image. Most people who have met me once wouldn’t recognize me in the midst of this home. If you’ve seen me in the past few weeks, chances are you don’t know any of this. Because being an extrovert, for me, means I can cover all this up when I’m with people and pretend that none of this is happening.
When I get home, it’s exactly the way I left it, and everything I held at bay comes crashing back, sometimes worse because of the juxtaposition. So I stop leaving the house which, for an extrovert, makes things worse.
I took my third shower in two weeks today (the second was yesterday). In fairness, I did it because taking a shower was the only way to cool off (we don’t have central air, and we only have one AC unit that is not currently installed because it was bent (and therefore installed incorrectly), and dripped water into our house for two weeks before we realized it and we haven’t had a chance to fix it yet). So, it’s hot as hell which definitely doesn’t make moving around easier.
Mental health issues aren’t pretty. They are painful, hard, difficult to look at, and influence many, many people’s capacity to navigate their lives. They’re the mess on my living room table and the ants in the kitchen sink and the clothes between me and the bathroom. We so often put on blinders so that we don’t have to see the muck and the mess. We see what we want- what we’re aiming for, what we need, while so often missing what we have to navigate through in order to get there. We turn people into what we want them to be and where we want them to be, rather than where they are.
Taking off the blinders sucks sometimes. Allowing yourself to see the real people around you who are struggling with depression- not sadness, but debilitating, incapacitating depression- isn’t pretty. Seeing that quiet person in the corner that comes to events for an hour then vanishes and realizing that they might have debilitating social anxiety is hard. Recognizing that that pretty person who, after ignoring you for months, suddenly wants to do a scene with you might be in a manic state isn’t fun.
Please note: I am NOT, in any way, shape, or form, advocating that people with mental health issues can’t/shouldn’t play/do scenes. I’m a HUGE fan of informed consent. The key here is “informed.” There is a big difference between, “Hey, I’m struggling with mania and feeling reckless; I think you’re a safe person and I want to do X,Y, and Z with you for the purpose of catharsis.” and “Hey, let’s go do X,Y, and Z!” with no discussion of purpose or intent.
Also, I am NOT advocating that we run around and tell other people what their mental health struggles are. We don’t need to be diagnosing other people; just allowing space for them to share their experiences. That quiet person in the corner might not be struggling with anxiety, and that pretty person might not be in a manic state. It’s up to each person to disclose what they are comfortable disclosing, and up to us to be willing to see it. And that’s the thing- we have to be willing to see it, and part of that is creating space where it is safe to share.
Allowing people to see the mess is so, so difficult. It requires both the willingness to let yourself be seen and the trust that you matter enough to the people around you that they will see you, and not step over you like a pile of laundry on the way to the bathroom. It means overruling all the tapes in your head that you are a burden, a nuisance, and people don’t want to deal with you.
When I shit gets bad, I shut down. That’s why there are a stockpile of emails I desperately need to answer and can’t. Because I don’t have an explanation for this, except that I feel like a failure. I feel like I’m playing a victim, that I should have responded sooner, that I know better than to let it get this bad, that I’m asking people to be unreasonably understanding. All the things that people say about mental health and invisible illness, trust me, I say them to myself. Every day, in my head, all the time. You don’t have to tell me to just “get up and do it;” trust me, I already know that I should and I’m already trying to. If it was that easy, I would have done it already.
It’s why you might read this, and not be able to reconcile these images, these insecurities, these fears with the person you know or the person you’ve seen flitting around. Because I believe in transparency of mental health issues…except my own, because those are scary. That comes with the fear of judgement, of consequences, of being thought of as a person who can’t handle their shit.
There need to be more discussions of mental health (and the intersections of mental health with other sub- and counter-cultures, like BDSM, activism, queer communities, POC communities, etc.) It’s also time for me to end my own hypocrisy around some of these issues and be transparent. Sometimes, my shit is bad. Sometimes, I live in a house where I haven’t showered in weeks and there are more ants and fruit flies than you can imagine, and it is beyond disgusting and the air is hot, stagnant, and stale, trapping in the smell of rotting food because I can’t get off the couch, and I can’t answer emails or do anything even remotely functional. Not because I don’t want to, not because I lack willpower or drive, but because it becomes so overwhelming so fast that I throw on the blinders and curl up inside myself until I can’t see it anymore.
Be gentle with the people who are trying to share their issues with mental health. Come up with ways to support and see people in your network of friends, family, and community that are within your boundaries and capabilities. What you have in abundance, share as you can. If what you have is capacity to see and not erase, that goes a lot further than you can imagine.
Crossposted to FetLife