When I grow up, I want to be a fish

July 8, 2009 at 12:57 am (Mental illness) ()

Rationality, as it turns out, is not a given right – not by God, anyway.

Every so often, like a ray of light, I have a moment when I understand things.

The other day, I accidentally crawled into part of my husband’s head – the part that would grieve if I died. (He’s told me this often enough – it’s pathetic that I need to be told at all, and worse that I simply don’t believe it except with the three remaining rational synapses in my head – which are severely overworked.) I understood for the first time that the best part of his day is curling up next to me at night – and that if I died each night would be a dark island of mocking emptiness that he would be hardly able to endure. My death would damage him forever.

All of this is obvious, but I rarely see it. I often have to work out logically that I’m happy – which goes something like this: ‘I’m sitting in a comfy chair facing a very beautiful clock that gives me pleasure, and my cat is purring. Nothing major is wrong. Therefore, I must be happy. The fact that I feel like repeatedly bashing my head against this pretty wall means nothing; it’s just a mental-illness thing – not real. Really, I’m happy. Honest.’

I know a couple – let’s call them Bob and Mrs Bob – very very well. They’re family friends, and have known me since I was six years old (and they weren’t so old themselves). We see each other as if we’re family, and help each other with family-type things – babysitting, moving house, looking out for each other, etc. When they built a granny flat and tried to rent it out for a ludicrously inflated price, I decided to move in – partly because it was a nice place, partly because I knew I wouldn’t have landlord issues with them, and partly to protect them from their own stupidity.

Similar things happen all the time – usually them giving me money for flights to Jakarta, since for twelve years I planned to move to Indonesia as an (unpaid) aid worker (and I visited frequently as an unpaid volunteer – while still studying and also supporting my own independence).

I was still living in their flat when I became mental. (By this stage, the price was market-reasonable, but still a lot for me.)  I realised (after already getting into plenty of rental debt to the Bobs – who charged no interest, and set no time period) that my mental illness wasn’t clearing up as quickly as I’d hoped (I originally thought it would last a year and then I’d get better). Naturally enough, since we are close and since I knew I was incapable of keeping the financial independence I’ve fought so hard for (I have often gone hungry, and sometimes walked – instead of bussing – up to four hours in a day, once until my feet bled) – I asked them to cancel the cost of rent, and let me continue living there for free.

I know it’s a big ask, but these are people I’m very close to (closer than family, really), and the fact remains that I needed help from SOMEONE.

Mrs Bob told me that they were perfectly willing to cancel rent – but she didn’t think it would help me “grow to become an adult.”

*pause for thought*

This was particularly startling since (a) Mrs Bob also suffers from anxiety (less than me I think, but of course I’d think that). (b) Mr Bob is financially supporting Mrs Bob (which to me has always seemed a little selfish on her part).

Later, they cancelled rent and let me continue living there. Which I believe was always the right thing to do. (These people, incidentally, are not poor – though like every Westerner, they think they are.)

Another year passed, and my attempts to erase my debt to them were literally making it worse (eg I took more work, got more stressed, and this caused a car accident which cost me $900 – pretty significant when my total income last year was $8000, including Centrelink money).

So, late last year I begged them to cancel my debt, pointing out that I wasn’t gonna pay it off anytime in the near future (and possibly would never pay it off), and that it was making me sicker. (I understand that young people are often in debt – I am not. I’d rather go hungry than borrow $5 – but being crazy has done hideous things to my usual self-control and made me spend more money, mostly because I “spend” all my self-control on not telling people how much I hate them all).

Mr Bob told me that he “saw no evidence that you are sick”. Mrs Bob told me that being mentally ill was like being hard of hearing – it was an inconvenience, and I could live with it.

I wear glasses, and I know how frustrating it is to be slightly separated from the real world – yesterday some people waved at me in the car, but I couldn’t see them clearly enough to know if they were friends of mine or not. I hate going to public places, because I don’t recognise people as easily as they recognise me (so I’m unintentionally rude – or unintentionally friendly, in some cases). I panic a little at fast food places, because even with glasses it’s hard to read the menus (for this reason, I’ve developed a lightning-fast decision-making process). I’ve been humiliated and devastated as I prayed to be healed (believing that was what God wanted) and wasn’t (many times).

But it really is just an inconvenience. Mental illness has stolen my hard-won independence, stolen several friends, and sucked away my ability to be happy even when things are going well. The fact of the matter is, I am now dependent and there’s just nothing I can do about it. So much for being the girl who wanted to move to Indonesia and make the world better – now I am a burden on the world’s back.

Mr and Mrs Bob then cancelled over $10,000 of debt.

But I’m still angry at the things they said. It was rude, selfish, and wrong of them. They called me a liar and a thief – two things that are the opposite of who I am (even now).

I know they’re wrong. . . but only with those three remaining rational cells in my brain. Everything else in me says they were right to say what they said (it’s worth noting that although they made my debt go away, they never apologised for what they said or told me they believed I really was sick enough to reasonably make that kind of request).

Which is why I’m blogging about it. Because when I blog I get a sense of what readers will think, and it bolsters those three rational brain synapses to almost four.

I still get these moments, every few days, where those Bobbish comments in my head change from a self-loathing background hiss to a sudden glorious epiphany: They’re right! I’m not really crazy at all!

Suddenly I can work! I can see my friends without “measuring” my self-control beforehand to make sure I don’t admit how I really feel! I can be a force for good in the world again! I can actually enjoy my husband! I don’t have to  be unhappy or ashamed or afraid any more!

And then I realise the truth – or most of it. None of those things – independence, happiness, pride – belong to me any more. That’s just the way it is. Even my precious intelligence is noticably less (it’s hard to focus when I’m working so hard on my rationality all the time, and feeling so scared for no reason).

The only true thing I don’t realise – not really – is this: it’s not my fault. My three good synapses just don’t stretch that far.

Because I still believe what the Bobs said rather than what they did.



  1. Ben (Crispin) said,

    Let’s make a deal – you can tell me how you really feel as long as I can too!

    No, no… you’re right.
    There’d be no survivors…

  2. felicitybloomfield said,

    That’s why I appreciate hypergraphia/manic depression – because you generally pass sanity for a bit on the way there and back.


  3. Ann said,

    You know – I’m not sure I should keep reading your blog…… I keep finding myself thinking ‘hey, I do that! and I’m really not sure I like that…… But the “I am HAPPY” thing – its something I have to tell myself all the time as well, and the fact that I do makes me feel less happy………

    Bring on the choclate and crazy margerita’s……. we both need some cheering up!


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