Monday, April 13, 2015

The Perfect Comeback - Accepting Myself

#HAWMC Day 13:  Tell us about a time when you felt marginalized or stigmatized by someone because of your health condition. Maybe at the time you didn't speak up, or maybe you did – what did you say or what would you have said to take back control and let them know they were out of line. 

A time when I felt marginalized or stigmatized? Oh, ya know, how about every day? Yes, that's correct, every day. Now, I want to be clear - many, perhaps the majority, of these times, this isn't intentional. But it happens, because I don't, I can't, live by society's rules for "normal". 

I recently read (and shared) a meme/Facebook thing that said, "I'm that person that goes to a party and plays with the dog." I can relate to this 100 percent. I do, in fact, go to parties and play with the dog. When I manage to go to a party at all. Why? Because I think the dog understands me more than most people. It's not their fault (the people). I'm just, in many respects, different. Others are trying to drink and de-stress and chat and be social. I'm trying to not let the walls close in, hoping I don't cycle into a hypomanic episode and frantically talk everyone's ear off to the point of embarrassment, or cycle into a depressive cycle and burst into tears for no reason in the middle of the party. Others don't have to intentionally exclude me... I'm naturally marginalized by the difference in our thoughts, emotions, and actions. And trying to include myself and act like everyone else just feels fake - I think people can see right through it, and in my opinion, being fake is worse than being excluded. 

Then there's the times when I have to, for the third week in a row, turn down plans with friends because I'm so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from rapid cycling that I can't possibly do anything but read a little and get to bed early. And if I do manage to get out, I worry the whole time about getting home and getting to bed because I am doctor ordered to get eight to nine hours of sleep per night to keep cycling to a minimum. If I start to lack sleep, I'm going to be ill. I will cycle badly and it could take quite a while to recover - all from a couple of nights less sleep. I know, when my friends are all out having fun, not concerned with getting to bed at the right time, that I'm out of place, worrying about my "bedtime" like a 7 year old or a 70 year old. I can't relax because the anxiety is too much. It's not needless worry, or me having a pole up my ass, unable to have fun. I can't just chill out, it's legitimate anxiety that rakes at me the whole time. And so I often choose to just stay home instead. 

Then there's my hobbies. When people ask what I do for fun, there's always an awkward pause before I say, "Oh I like reading, writing, and organizing mental health awareness campaigns. I run a mood disorders online support group." Nothing says barrels of fun like introspective, solitary hobbies. "So, let's talk about mental illness!" isn't exactly a great icebreaker at social gatherings. While I do have other hobbies, outdoor activities in particular, I generally like to do them with one other person or by myself. Big groups make me feel anxious and tend to maximize my differences... and the fact that I feel anxious in groups and can't relax further maximizes my differences. It's a vicious cycle. 

How do I take back control? I accept all of this. I accept who I am, cyclothymia and all. I have acknowledged that I will rarely be the cool, fun, life of the party. Most of the time, I won't even make it to the party. And that's ok. I've accepted that  my group of friends may be small, but they're loyal, and that sometimes, my best friend has to be myself (or my dog Cinn).  By understanding that much of my "extroverted" tendency of the past was actually hypomania, and now that I'm on meds for it a lot of that has disappeared, I've allowed myself to embrace my more introverted, creative, reflective self. It's a very different side of me, but I'm enjoying learning about it, exploring the deeper levels of me. Ironically, it's the unintentional marginalizing, the feeling out of place, that's helped me to truly understand accept myself, possibly for the first time ever. 

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