I like analogies. I’d really like to be a bit more understood (wouldn’t we all?). So this analogy came to me.
Imagine growing up that you were in regular car accidents. Sometimes those accidents would be prangs, causing nothing more than a dent and a moment of shock. Sometimes those accidents would be major. The car would be a mangled mess and the emergency services cut you out. Now, it doesn’t take very long before you get nervous around cars. You have no idea when an accident could happen. When you’re in one you don’t know that you’re safe. When you see one you are aware that it could crash at any minute. Desperate to prepare yourself you look for any clues to show you that a car crash might be coming: the weather, the type of car, the noise of the engine, the smell of the car, the colour of the car, the number of passengers. There are all sorts of connections that you desperately look for so that you can prepare yourself for the impact because car crashes hurt.
Maybe it’s you? Why are you in so many crashes? You must be contributing to them somehow. Think: what is it about you that causes this? Maybe you can change that and it might help. And the thing is no one actually sees the crashes so it begins to feel a bit unreal. In fact many, many people have seen you repeatedly in a car not having a crash. Why would you be nervous about cars?
Common sense tells you that just because you spent the start of your life in car crashes does not mean that cars are unsafe now. In fact, car safety has come a long way and you pride yourself on being very adept at spotting danger signs. Still, you do feel nervous on occasion buckling your own kids in the car. You know the damage that could be done and so desperately want them to always be safe.
But those car accidents were in the past. You’ve not had a car accident for a long time. Why so nervous? Well, repeatedly having car accidents caused some physical changes to your brain. That’s not so hard to get our head round is it? These physical changes in your brain caused a type of epilepsy. You can’t control the fits but work really hard on taking medication and identifying triggers to try and minimise the fits.
Unfortunately the fits may become more regular, more severe. The medication has to be changed and that can make the fits worse. People tell you the fits get worse before they get better. This is unbearable news. Every day tasks become exhausting. You just can’t keep up with day to day stuff but you keep the fits as private as possible. People don’t really see them. It makes them uncomfortable and you don’t want people to see you like that so it’s really hard for them to understand because they can’t see it. It doesn’t make any sense – you can’t go to work because you were in a car crash 20 years ago? Lots of people have car accidents don’t they? And looked at like that it doesn’t make sense. You question if you are choosing this. Maybe if you just tried a bit harder you can stop having the fits. And you want to. You so so want to. Why would anyone want this?
And that’s a bit what this whole mental illness thing feels like to me. I was in car crashes. I survived. Damage was done. I am not in control of this illness but I bloody try and I hate it and stigma tells me I should be ashamed of it too.