Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On the Necessity of Faking it

When dealing with mental health, simple things can be difficult. Anyone who has lived with a mental health issue can tell you that. Hell, anyone who has ever had a friend or loved one who has dealt with it can pretty much tell you that. And in current years, with some of the stigma of mental health being eroded, it's more acceptable to have those days... days when you just can't function, let alone with any real modicum of productivity. As more stigma erodes, it becomes more acceptable to be open about those bad days, and to really be able to focus on self care.

But the thing is, giving in to those bad days isn't always a great coping strategy. There is a necessity to slapping on that happy face and forcing yourself to confront the world, even on your shittiest, please-don't-make-me-leave-the-bed days. The day is already exhausting, and it only gets worse when you add in social obligations, professional obligations, and all the crap in between. We see the value of this in parents with depression and anxiety forcing themselves to ignore those feelings when they interact with their children. We see it in those moments at social gatherings where we "use" the bathroom for 15 minutes to catch a break because we're socially fatigued and worn out, but we don't want to be huge jerks to people who thought enough of us to ask us there. We see it in every person who goes to work and puts up with customers and coworkers and supervisors and manages to maintain that professional veneer over their inner core of get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here.

Look, I'm all for understanding and making allowances for people with mental health. I'm all for understanding that there are times when you really need to just tell the world to fuck off for a while so that you can get into a good headspace. The unfortunate truth is that we don't live in a world where you can really afford to d that as often as you may need to. Is that unfortunate? Yes. Is it going to change? Not really. The world won't wait for us, and even the most understanding people won't allow us to make excuses forever. There is a terrible necessity in the concept of "fake it 'til you make it." 

I know, I hate it as much as you do. The majority of the time, I don't even really feel better after I fore myself to do it. Rarely do I come home and relax and say "Wow, I'm glad I suffered through that purgatory of stupid." But that doesn't mean there are no benefits at all. It's about maintaining relationships. Part of faking it like that is to not let your mental health concerns dictate your life. Now, I'm not advocating to constantly make yourself miserable for the sake of maintaining appearances, but it's  two-way street, and being able to even just muster up the energy to smile and pretend to remember strangers' names for a few hours... or sit in a crowded movie theater... or celebrate something with a friend... those things stick out. It's kind of the adult thing to do, pretending. Only instead of imaginary friends and santa you're pretending to want to listen to whatever is being said, and pretending to not be screaming in your head.

And hey, if you need to "use the bathroom" for 15minutes of peace and quiet to regroup, do it. Step outside for some fresh air. Find an adorable pet to socialize with while ignoring people for a few minutes. Most importantly, know your limits, and respect them. You don't always have to push them, but always be aware that if there comes a time when you just can't pretend, don't bother. Call it an early night. Order pizza. Turn your phone off and watch a movie or do a puzzle or dance around in your underwear. Whatever you do to unwind, please do it. Self care is just as important as being willing to take those uncomfortable steps. It's about that balance between getting lost in your own head, and thinking that faking it is a fix. it's not, but it's a good way to regain normalcy. To show effort to the people and things you care about. Hell, even if all it is is a reminder that socializing and obligations can be tedious and exhausting, it isn't a zero sum game.

So go out there, do your best. Have as much fun as you can, and don't get too worried if it takes a while to strike a balance, or if it seems like too much. Take care of yourself, but just don't forget that the world is more than you, and most importantly, that none of us are defined by our struggle with mental health issues.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Real monsters

Samantha had always known the monster as there, even when she was very little. Of course, her parents always told her that there were no monsters in her closet, or under the bed, but she knew better. When the lights were out, the covers would come up over her head and she would lay very still. Sometimes, she heard the soft creak of the closet door. other times she felt the shift of a weight underneath her. She just squeezed her eyes closed very tightly and let silent tears flow. The monster would seem to hover, and in her mind she pictured long, terrible claws running gently down the fabric of the blanket she hid under, as some sort of shield of childish fantasy. Of course the monsters couldn't get her under the blanket. And so it went, with the beast coming rather regularly and Samantha doing her best to avoid alerting it to her wakefulness. It always seemed so menacing, but it never hurt her, and in her child's mind she assumed it was the safety of the blanket.

Growing up helped her forget the monster, sometimes. When mommy and daddy fought, it was especially hard to bring herself to be more scared of her nightly visitor than of the bruises that were left on her skin. It happened more and more since mommy started drinking and daddy lost his job. Now, her nightly tears were more often due to that than any fear. Still, sometimes she heard the closet door open, and with her face buried in the pillow she froze, feeling the familiar lump in her throat. It came less often, and most days she convinced herself the sounds were a dream, and that was all there was to it. Often, there were no feelings of menace, and on the worst nights, while she sobbed and hurt, the sound of the closet creaking open and the shuffling of feet across the carpet made her feel a little less alone. Even as a dream, she sometimes felt the comforting weight of someone patting her back, or sitting on the edge of the bed, the way she remembered her mother used to do when she had had a bad dream.

One night, Samantha found herself cowering beneath the covers, nursing fresh bruises and her wounded pride as she sucked on the swollen flesh of a freshly-split lip. What had been a remarkably tame day had devolved into an argument over under-cooked pasta, or overcooked meat, or something equally as stupid. Samantha had dared voice her own views, and the retort she received was in the form of a backhand slap that had sent her reeling. A few more well-delivered blows had sent Samantha stumbling from the dining room, where she had made a hasty retreat to her bed, slamming the door before collapsing into her blankets. Her body shook with her attempts to conceal her angry sobs, and she tried her best to drown out the shouting from downstairs. As she cried, she heard the creaking of her closet door opening, and the soft shuffling of some form moving across her carpet. She froze as she heard the sound of her doorknob turning, and the darkness was lessened as light spilled into her room. She peeked her head up over the covers, her eyes finding an empty room, and both her closet and bedroom doors wide open. 

As she gawked in confusion, she heard a change in the timbre of the argument downstairs. The angry shouting rose in pitch, and seemed to tremble. There was a shout from her father, and a loud crash that seemed to shake the house. Her mother began a long, high scream, like in those movies Samantha wasn't supposed to watch, but sometimes did when her parents were out. Her mother's scream was suddenly cut off, and the silence seemed to hang heavily in the air. Samantha didn't realize she was holding her breath until she felt the burning in her chest. Slowly she crept from her bed and out into the hall. Turning to look down the stairway, she saw a pair of legs poking out from a doorway, surrounded by pieces of what appeared to be a broken plate and flecked with bright red. It took her a moment to recognize her mother's heels, and she froze in fear. There was a shuffling sound from the room in which the rest of the body seemed to be. Edging out of the light, Sam saw a dark colored hand with long claws reach out and wrap around one of the legs, pulling it into the room and out of her vision. To her horror, only the one leg moved out of her line of sight, leaving a smear of blood across the floor. As she heard a sound like raw chicken being torn apart, she clenched her teeth, letting out an involuntary whimper as she backed up. The sound stopped, and Samantha ran to her bedroom, closing the door and burying herself under the covers. She heard the weight of something moving up the stairs, the creak of the fifth step. She squeezed her eyes shut as she heard her door open. Samantha saw the shadow of something moving across the light spilling from the hallway, and then there it was, hovering beside her bed. She felt the pressure of the monster's clawed hand as it ran slowly from he top of her head and down her back. There was a coppery smell and a warm wetness soaked through the blanket where the monster touched, but instead of sinking its claws into her, it repeated the motion. There was a soft gurgling sound, like water flowing down a drain, and it slowly dawned on Samantha that the creature was attempting to soothe her, while rubbing her back. She whimpered and sobbed, pulling her body into a tight ball, but the motions continued.

The gurgling stopped, and there was a low rumble as a raspy, frog-like voice broke the silence. It sounded like wasps, and sandpaper, and was mumbled as if the speaker was attempting to talk though teeth too large for their mouth. The claws continued to gently stroke Samantha's back as she sobbed.

"No worries, little one. The monsters can't hurt you anymore."