Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Post: Life Is Like Planning a Trip Across Antartica

Sheldon's note: Today's guest post is from Lana of the blog Lana Hobbs the Brave. She is a wife, mother, and ex-Christian who grew up in the world of Christian fundamentalism.

I have to say that I greatly admire her courage in speaking so openly about mental illness both here and on her blog (under her own name, no less). She has been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, and like me, has her strong suspicions that she is autistic as well.

If you haven't done so already, check out yesterday's post for a link to my recent guest post on her blog.

Once upon a time there was a woman who just couldn't be happy, who couldn't keep her house clean, and who had trouble making friends. 

That would be me.

Sometimes I may look like a lazy person with a bad attitude, but actually I suffer from bipolar disorder 2 -- with a lot of depression -- and am probably aspergers. 

What life with mental illness and autism spectrum disorders means is that a person must work very hard just to seem ‘normal’. 

An autistic person works much harder to do what comes naturally to a neurotypical person. This post does an excellent job of explaining this dynamic.

I think the concept works for mental illness, too. For example, at times I have to work very hard to simply NOT think about suicide all day long. It takes all my brain power to constantly redirect my thoughts. 
At other times, I’m hypomanic and everything feels like a huge deal. I must accomplish ALL THE THINGS immediately! And heaven forbid anyone stands in my way. 

When this happens, I have to concentrate very hard to remind myself to slow down and not holler at everyone who is irritating me by walking too slowly.

When I’m anxious, just picking out which barbecue sauce to buy at the store feels like I am planning a trip across Antarctica. And then I have to do that a dozen more times, for every item. It can be exhausting. I sometimes only make it through by muttering to myself aloud. I probably look insane and out of control, but the fact is that I am working very hard to be in as much control as I am. Without all my willpower and effort, I would be standing blankly in the middle of the very first aisle.

I feel sometimes like life is a race and I start out yards behind everyone else. To get a decent finish, I have to work harder and longer. Only in this race, no one sees that I start out behind, they only see that I look slower. Or they may see that I look normal. 

I’ve gotten good at looking normal, but no one knows how tired I am after simple interactions with people, how I sometimes practice facial expressions in the mirror to make sure I make the appropriate reactions, or how when I talk to people, I am secretly running through mental checklists “do I come across nicely, am I talking at the right volume and tempo, oh shoot I just spat when was talking, are people looking interested or bored, am I answering the correct question?”

After Luke and I married, I left my old church to attend the church he grew up in, where his dad was the pastor. It was difficult being a newcomer and a PK at the same time. I felt like everyone expected me to fit right in and automatically know ‘the way we've always done things.’ 

My attempts to fit in at church were further complicated by depression, social anxiety, and issues with bad church experiences in the past. I felt ill, from stress and depression, every time we had to go to church, probably because of depression linked to the times I had been bullied in church. 

I was shy and the illness I felt made it more difficult for me to talk to people. I tried. my husband was a youth leader, I tried to be friends with the people in the group, and the other leaders, but they all had friends already and I just didn't fit in right. Everyone could easily have expected me to be more outgoing if I wanted to make friends, but what they don’t know what how hard I was working. 

To them I probably appeared stand-offish and unfriendly, but I was fighting all my anxiety, depression, and natural difficulty making small talk to do any of the talking I did. I never did make friends in that group.  I got critical and unkind anonymous comments from church people on the blog I had at the time. People began ignoring me completely when I walked into a room with my husband, saying only ‘hello, Luke’. 

Of course, none of them knew that I was bipolar or had any of those difficulties - I didn’t even know the names of my problems myself. 

But I feel like everyone assumed I was neurotypical and just not very nice (one person told me as much).
With one in four adults suffering from mental disorders, I think people shouldn't automatically assume that we’re all starting out at the same starting line, with the same abilities.

Around a quarter of the people you meet and know are suffering from a disorder you may know nothing about.

And even people who are neurotypical have days when they are working at less-than-normal levels, due to exhaustion, stress, or sickness. Imagine working from that level all the time and you have a taste of what it can be like with a mental disorder.

When I work hard to seem ‘normal’, I know that. I don’t look at my messy house and say ‘I’m lazy’, because I know that I am working really hard to keep up the best I can. People generally treat themselves this way, but are quick to assume that another person is lazy. 

A woman with depression mentioned that she is tired of hearing that she has no disorders and simply doesn't try hard enough. She know how hard she tries, but no one else knows. People, especially religious people who believe that trusting God eliminates anxiety and depression, can be quick to assume that a troubled person just doesn't try hard enough. 

We do, we work really hard. 

You don’t know who we are, the hardworking depressed or ASD, and you can’t tell by looking. So here’s a tip. When you see someone who seems sub-par, remember they may be working as hard as you would work, or even harder.

Give grace, and the benefit of the doubt, and don’t ever assume that someone is just being lazy.

And I promise I’ll do the same for you.

Sheldon's note (part 2): If the "dead fish" cartoon is unfamiliar to you, it comes from the blog Hyperbole and a Half, the writer of that blog does an incredible job of giving a first hand experience of what depression is like. She said it's like having fish that are dead, but everyone keeps denying that they are actually dead, everything's fine. Read this post, and you will start to understand the meme, it's my favorite metaphor for depression.


  1. Lana -- Thank you for sharing this with us. It's never easy to live with mental illness. You (and Hyperbole and a Half) are right about how many people simply don't understand mental illness. I'm glad you're helping people understand its challenges.

    1. I added the images for the sake of the post, but you are right, people don't get it, even people who should know better (I'm sure you remember my experience with my doctor).

      It's time for people to get educated, it's long past due.

    2. I think Lana will like the Hyperbole and a Half cartoon, she's a fan as well :)

    3. love the cartoon! hyperbole and a half is always awesome, but i really love what she writes about depression. it's just so TRUE.

    4. I've never seen anyone who can capture just what the "dead inside" feeling from depression is like for people who have never experienced it like she does.

      I have had that phase of depression before, and I tell you, I would much rather go off the Cymbalta, and feel the full effects of the pain, stiffness, and fatigue that I have these days than go through that again.

  2. thanks for the nice comments about me (i'm blushing), and for making this look so good with pictures! you are awesome!

  3. Thanks for sharing, and helping people out.

    1. Hopefully if the more of us share our stories, someone out there won't feel so alone in this world.

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