Everybody has topics of conversation or images that they find upsetting or difficult to deal with. For some people there are things that they find so hard that they avoid them in order to stop themselves becoming panicked or miserable. For example an addict might avoid talking about the substance they have been addicted to because doing so causes cravings or an adult abused as a child might find that every mention of child abuse on the news brings back such traumatic memories or such feelings of anger that they feel they have to change the channel to stay safe. This is more than simply not talking about food in case you get hungry or a normal horror of abuse that makes us shy away from difficult reports – this is a visceral reaction that feels difficult to control.
I have two.
The first is fairly common and currently reasonably well under control – I am less than good at dealing with graphic descriptions or representations of people cutting themselves or being cut. I have self-harmed for more than 10 years now and though now I often go months without an episode it is rare that I manage a week without thinking about it. Related to this I find that descriptions and images are very real for me; sometimes this means I get something like a flashback where the images and sensations of my own self-harm are re-played vividly in my mind and sometimes I find that it rekindles a desire in me that I otherwise ignore. The intensity of my difficulty with these things depends on the type of image (TV depictions of self-harm & suicide are definitely the worst – where a description of someone being stabbed in a novel has less effect) and also on my mood at the time. Some days I am just better at coping with it without flinching/crying than others.
The second is a little more unusual and in some ways something I am more interested in/concerned about. I have discovered particularly in the last couple of years that I struggle to listen to discussions about other people’s mental illness diagnoses and treatment. Its not usually a problem to talk to someone about their personal struggles and support them but the involvement of health professionals and families makes me extremely panicky. I am not entirely sure why this is but I can offer some hypotheses. – firstly, I feel like a fraud. I am not particularly ill or struggling that hard therefore I am not worthy of the sort of support that others so clearly do need. – secondly, I am ashamed. Ashamed of being ill, frightened and embarrassed to admit to it, ashamed of being weak, of being a fraud, ashamed of being ashamed. – thirdly, I am jealous. No matter how actually difficult it actually is for any individual to ask for help, to me it seems so easy for others and so freely given in return. I know that I am most amazingly supported but sometimes I feel so afraid to ask. I wouldn’t begin to know how to return to the bosom of my family to be looked after or to ask my boss just to give me a little more space.
These things between them are an unwelcome rush of emotion and I struggle to keep myself calm. I find this reaction particularly distressing because my logical mind wants to offer support and the benefits of my own experiences and to help people feel less alone and instead I feel overwhelmed and in desperate need of attention and support myself. ugh.
I hope that by acknowledging and considering my feelings I can begin to move past them. One day I will not be ashamed.