The Responsibilities of Being Mentally Ill



  • This blog post is not going to be about blaming you for your depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, or any mental illness you may be struggling with. 

  • This post is not telling you to "suck it up" or "get over it" because that is useless and unhelpful advice.

  • This post is not here to minimise your struggle or make you feel weak because of something you did not choose to have.

  • In fact, this post is about allowing you to take some control back over your life and to empower you, not tear you down.






I want to talk about some of the responsibilities we have as people when we have these disorders, and the importance of not allowing ourselves to be swallowed by them. I do not ever want to have my anxiety define who I am, and there are very basic steps I can take to make sure that isn't the case.


Self-Awareness

Depression makes me selfish. It makes me selfish, irritable, lazy, frustrating for others to engage with, impenetrable, makes me refuse to see things from another perspective, makes you feel as though you're drowning and there's no way to come up for air. Anxiety makes me irritable and liable to shut down so commuicating with me is difficult, it makes me over-sensitive and easily flustered, and a generally frantic.

I know that these things are the fault of my disorder, and that is a good thing, but what is even better is being aware of how these things can affect the people around me. Better still is knowing that these aren't things I can just let happen "because depression."

It's a cause, not an excuse.

Some days you won't be able to get out of bed. Sure. However, that doesn't excuse you resposibility for missing work without calling in, for flaking out when someone is depending on you, or for refusing to go to classes. Some days you will panic and make a mistake that makes someone mad at you. It's only natural, but being anxious doesn't absolve you of responsibility. Maybe if something specific about the situation triggered a moment of panic that ca be assessed and changed for next time, but the mistake remains made, and still needs to be resolved.

You can blame the disorder as much as you like, and really it's good that you're aware it exists and it's a problem, but you also have to accept that the problems that come with it are yours to solve which includes getting treatment for your disorder. If things in your life are being seriously affected by your mental illness, and you have ways and means to treat that mental illness, it would not be unfair to call you irresponsible. Allowing yourself and others to be hurt by something you have the power to change is, in my humble opinion, irresponsible.


Activity:

Reflect on moments in recent weeks or months in which you've responded to a tough situation with anger, avoidance, fatalism, anxious predictions, or another negative response. Put that side by side with what you think is the ultimate correct response. Ask yourself: how do I get to that place. Write it down rather than just thinking so it doesn't get stuck in your head and turn into pressure.

Loving and being loved

It's also very important to be aware of the way you may treat people because of your disorder. From the most common example of blowing up at someone in a moment of being overwhelmed, to wilfully taking advantage of people's kindness, making people feel low along with you, or generally being cruel and unthinking. Like I said earlier, depression makes me selfish, but I still need to apologise for hurting or taking advantage of the people around me if and when I do, because I don't want to be a cause of suffering for the people I love.

When you're dealing with something as stressful and world-changing as a mental illness one of the most important things you can have to help you cope and heal is a strong support system. However, these are all people who also have to look after their metal health and personal wellness. If you allow yourself to become a source of conflict, pain, or a drain on energy people will have trouble continuing to support you, will have trouble wanting to be around you, unless you are actively trying to improve or manage your condition.
What I'm saying is, depression can very easily lead to you treating people badly. You always have a choice though, and so your negative behaviour is not suddenly excused. Being able to apologise when you know you've done something wrong is a wonderful trait, and even better still is being able to ask for perspective and clarity when you aren't sure what was done wrong. Remember, however, in each situation to behave with tact and to know that the feelings of your loved ones are just as valid as yours.


Activity:

I strongly recommend the Befriending Meditation from Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Have a read of the blog post I did during that week (here) and give this exercise in extending compassion to those around you a go. I'm particularly fond of the mantra it uses:

May I be free from suffering
May I be as happy and healthy as it is possible for me to be
May I have ease of being

Self-care, self-care, self-care!

Again, we have to hold mental illness at a parity of esteem with physical illness. If you have an illness that you refuse to treat and refuse to acknowledge, and force other people to deal with the repercussions when treatment options are readily available...that is irresponsible behaviour.

It is your job to look out for yourself! Take breaks when you need it, don't overwork yourself, and do things that make you happy in your free time! You might see it as un productive, as I often do, or take your need for rest as some sign of weakness. However, think of it this way:





You don't stop. You work or study tirelessly day in and day out, at your peak of productivity. As this progresses, stress also builds as a product of and counterweight to your productivity. As stress builds, the scale tips in favour of it and works against your productivity. It slows your ability to work until, affects your performance so you end up having to spend even more time fixing mistakes, or have colleagues become frustrated with you.


Not only that, but the stress building up begins to affect your moods, you notice that your compulsive habits are becoming more frequent and pronounced, for example. Maybe you start to dissociate or space out more often, become easily, prone to tears, or quick to shut down emotionally. You find yourself being nasty to people or taking things far more personally, perhaps


Further than that is the potential for a severe panic attack or breakdown and the risk of being unable to work at all.








Before any of these things can happen, it is an important and responsible action to assess your workload vs. your mental state. This does not mean excusing yourself from working full stop, or allowing you to skive off duties you aren't fond of, this just means being realistic about your ability to perform a task, and knowing what help you may need (if any) in order to complete it. Taking breaks, doing things you love, and treating yourself with kindness are ways of keeping the balance of stress and productivity in check. This results, ultimately, in a more positive version of you with a better perspective and sharper mental tools with which to work.

Activity:

What makes you happy? What things in your life relieve stress and make you more able to get up in the morning. Play around with your schedule and see if you can fit more of those things in. Set dates so you have wonderful things to look forward to. I personally have incorporated a few things that just make me happy into my daily routine, which I will talk more about in a future post.








I want to reiterate before I go that this blog post is not about shaming. It's not about telling you that your emotions aren't valid, because they are, but asking you to reflect on those emotions and grow from them. One of the scariest things about struggling with mental health is this fear that everything around you is constantly slipping through your fingers, like you have a lack of control on one of the most fundamental parts of yourself (i.e.: your mind.). Exercises in self-reflection and accepting responsibility are a way of regaining some of that control.









Jacqueline Atta-Hayford