Dealing with people after mental illness
People tend to avoid talking about mental breakdowns like they’re the plague. It’s all they can do to hold on to their own sanity without having to think about yours!
You’re facing people for the first time since you suffered a mental breakdown. You’ve had plenty of rest and your energy levels have gone up a bit – that’s why you’re at the point of being able to see people. But at the same time you’re feeling nervous because you don’t know how they’re going to react to you having suffered a bout of mental illness. Are they going to avoid eye contact and ignore you? Are they going to ask probing questions? Are you going to have to convince them you’re not insane? Is it going to be too overwhelming and set you back a month? Are you going to end up drooling in a corner, watching them back away slowly? Just how awkward is this going to be?
In all likelihood your breakdown is going to be the very last topic of discussion, in fact it’s going to be an enormous elephant in the room that nobody dares mention. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing: good because it allows you to get on with life without having to explain yourself and bad because it feels like your breakdown is something to be ashamed of.
Dave and I laugh about the irony sometimes. When he had cancer, old colleagues came out of the woodwork that he hadn’t seen in twenty years. Siblings who’d cut him off for a decade suddenly wanted contact (until he was given the all-clear, at which point they slammed the door again!). Everyone wanted to offer support, to talk about his terrible misfortune, to get all the gory details. To be part of his illness and, potentially, his death. The fact he had experienced no nasty symptoms, felt fine and breezed through his surgery and treatment fell on deaf ears. It was, after all, CANCER. Dun dun dunnnnnnn! Well, yes, part of his bladder was unwell for a while … had it been his brain that was unwell, however, he suspects that nobody would have given a shit.
Try to go with the flow and be gentle on yourself and on others. The chances are that nobody will get it right all of the time. If people try to talk to you about your breakdown you’ll want them to shut up because your brain can’t cope with delving deep yet. If nobody mentions it at all you’re likely to feel neglected and resentful because, naturally, you want to be cared for. You’re likely to be irritated no matter what people do or how they react to what you are going through. They can’t win and neither can you.
It’s not your fault and you’re not a bad person – what you are feeling is all part of the healing process. You’ll feel annoyed at yourself sometimes because you know you’re being unreasonable. Just go with it and apologise if you’re snappy. Recovery is rough and there’s no getting around it. The healing process is stacked with ups and downs and learning how to cope with other people again is one thing that takes time.
So, take your time and allow yourself to feel whatever you feel at the time. It’s the only way.