Imagine you’d broken your leg (same time, same place, same analogy; I’m sorry). It’s been in a cast and you’ve had crutches. People have been kind to you: they’ve opened doors for you; carried your bag; someone’s taken time off work to drive you to appointments. Despite the searing pain in your affected limb, things have been good: we all love being the centre of attention sometimes.
And then you go for a check-up and it’s healed.
On your way out of the hospital, you don’t have crutches or a cast anymore, so nobody needs to open the door for you; you can carry your own bag and you can get the bus home – nobody needs to pick you up. Yes, your leg is healed and, for that you are very grateful.
But it’s like when you clasp your hands for a long time and then unclasp them: despite the rest of your body being warm, your hands feel cold because they are suddenly not being clasped by another hand. You do not need the help, but you can feel that it’s not there and your body misses it.
It’s in our nature to crave care. We all need somebody to look after us. Somebody to tell us everything’s going to be OK. I know people who are desperate for hospital admissions because it’s the only way they feel able to ask to be looked after or because they feel that it will ‘validate’ their illness (for the record, it doesn’t: you just feel guilty for being in hospital when they’re nothing actually wrong with you. Because you never ever feel ill enough to be in hospital, no matter how ill you actually are.). I know people who were in hospital with me and would do anything for attention.
At the time, it was annoying: trying to live somewhere where other patients are making a constant fuss is difficult. Trying to get attention for yourself when someone else is demanding it is hard. Looking back now, however, I can’t help but feel sorry for these people: they must have felt empty inside, as though constant attention was the only thing that could make them feel real.
Sometimes that person was me and I hated myself for it.
I’ve written about attention seeking, and how it’s maybe not a bad thing, before. I stand by that view. I also wonder whether sometimes its important to recognise that we need attention and then find healthy ways to satisfy that need.
Wanting to be admitted to hospital is damaging for you and the people around you; talking to someone who knows about these things about why you want to be admitted to hospital is a healthy way of coping with those feelings.
Feeling a constant need for validation because of your illness is damaging, and likely to lose friends in the long-term; texting someone and asking them to come and eat ice-cream with you is not. Everybody understands the emotional needs of ice cream.
The danger is, I think, that it is so easy to become a walking mental illness. It will be all that is left, and it will become the only way you know to get attention. People are so much more than their diagnoses, but it seems to me that some people hide behind their diagnosis, unsure what else they can give to the world.
This is sad.
It is sad that people donate their whole personality to a chemical imbalance; sad that they cannot reach out to others for the attention that they need without using a label, and sad that they seem to need something which is so toxic.
So what do we do?
The answer, as always, is to fight. Find something that makes you smile; find something that you wake up wanting to do in the morning; find something that isn’t going to appointments and repeating behaviours and believing that you will never get better, because if you get better there will be nothing left.
Nobody is born a mental illness. Inside you, there is a colourful person who cannot be described by the DSM V. Let that person out.
Remember your broken leg? It’s probably true that you won’t get the same level of attention as before, but it’s also definitely not true that you won’t get any. It is amazing how annoying it can be to have people offering you help that you don’t need, but those people won’t completely abandon you, because they want to help you because they like you; not because you broke your leg. And the people that fuss when you break your leg and then can’t be bothered when you’re better?
They’re really, really not worth it.
Yes it is scary.
Yes it is worth it.
And if it is hard, I am always, always here.