When Normal Activities are Terrifying

Earlier this year I committed to blogging my life as a person with mental illness.  Initially it was to be out and to help those who had never experienced mental illness to have some perspective on it.  Now that I know it is largely accepted without judgment, at least within my readership, it has also become cathartic.  I’m very grateful for that – it makes it easier to continue to make good on my commitment.

I have needed to buy new long-sleeve shirts for a while now, and last night was the appointed time.  My body has changed so much this year that hardly any of my clothes fit me.  Sarah and Ashley came with and we set off for the mall.

Upon our arrival we headed for H&M (the company that recently admitted to pasting model’s heads on computer generated bodies for their ads).  My general style is fairly loose-fitting clothes.  They’re comfortable.  They’re safe.  The first pair of jeans Sarah selected was a 34″ waist, the smallest I’ve ever worn.  The pants weren’t baggy at all, but I could feel them clinging to my skin.  The shirt I tried on was a small, and it hugged every inch of my torso…

Immediately came the heavy breathing and the sweating, along with the inability to look at anything but my stomach. I see the shadows where the shirt highlights my gut hanging over my waist and become terrified to leave the fitting room.  Outside this tiny space is where everybody can look at me and be forced to mask their revulsion, so I just want to put all my baggy clothes back on and sit there for a while.  Sarah keeps prodding me to come out so she can see how the outfit looks.  Finally I do and my surroundings begin to spin, but Sarah didn’t seem to notice.  She just says I look good.  Surely she’s placating me so I don’t feel bad.

Back into the fitting room and I become aware that the hallucinations are settling in.  There’s no way I can look that fat when two hours ago I looked normal.  My arms start to tingle as though they’ve fallen asleep.  Alright, I’m panicking.  What can I do?  Trust Sarah, she wouldn’t let me go into public looking like a moron.

I try to play it cool, but Sarah starts to notice me tightening up.  She gives me a drawn out hug and tells me it will be ok.  I apologize profusely.  It’s not like I can predict when something like this will happen.  She understands, which means a lot.  I never want to be a burden, even at the times I do need help.

I eventually get through it and drop a lot of money on clothes I think could not look more hideous on me.  They are more form-fitting than anything I’ve ever worn.  They draw attention to my body instead of covering it up, and that scares the shit out of me.  During a photo shoot you can take the pictures that show you at your best, ignore the rest, and share them with just your closest friends.  But walking outside in this attire forces the world to stare at me, and that is an insufferable proposition.  When I get home I will put all of these clothes in the closet and not touch them again until I’ve lost another ten pounds.

I acknowledge that I’m having these thoughts, and I’m also aware that I am detached from reality at this moment and must trust those around me.  I generally trust myself completely, so this is not the easiest thing for me to do.  But I’m sick.  I know I’m sick.  This is how I manage it.  To trust a myself when I know my brain is malfunctioning would be extremely foolish, so the best thing I can possibly do is hand control of part of my life to someone else.  If you know you can’t be rational, you should listen to those you think can be…it’s the rational thing to do.

On the way out of the mall, I can’t help but notice that every single person in the mall is beautiful, well-dressed, and paired up with someone else super attractive.  Are these the same people who were here when I walked in?  Why didn’t I notice this then?  What am I doing here?  I don’t belong in this environment.  Sarah takes my arm, I can feel her fingers but my arms are so numb it’s like feeling them through cotton.  I feel the tears coming, but I manage to fight them back.  I’m pretty much letting Sarah guide me out of the mall because everything is whipping around.  I see food through the windows and it makes me nauseous.

I’m home now and curled up in a ball on my bed.  I’m aware that even though I will try my damndest that I’ll probably be unable to eat tomorrow.  I’m waiting to talk with Christina and Michaelyn so they can give me long-distance hugs.  I’m writing this post in the meantime and thinking about all the people out there like me who haven’t admitted to themselves that they’re ill, who continue to trust their broken mind at all times.  I’m imagining all the people who think their illness is a matter of weakness, that it’s their fault for not being better.  I’m acknowledging that there are tons of people out there staying silent and suffering instead of acquiring a support network to help them cope.  And I’m wishing there was something I could do for them.

This is what it is to live with insanity.  It’s miserable, even with a litany of coping mechanisms I have in place.  It’s hell without them.  If there is someone like this close to you, find them,  hug them, and tell them it’s going to be alright.  Salvation from hell in this life isn’t acquired through believing ludicrous things about life after death, it’s acquired through other human beings who care enough to hold you.


Update: I wrote this post before bed last night.  I am much better this morning, which shows progress.  Even in April of this year the turnaround time on an episode like that was several days.  I went to the gym this morning, kept it to 45 minutes (leaving me 15 minutes for pull ups/push ups later, so I’ll still stay under my allotted hour), and even got a 500 calorie protein shake down.  Eating will be tough today and we’ll see how it goes, but on the whole I’m much better.

 

MENTAL ILLNESS: Time to go be a lab rat.
MENTAL ILLNESS: I see affection as a competition.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Today's session.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Today's session.
About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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