“It’s not you, it’s us”

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I found myself with the sudden enthusiasm to invite friends over during this holiday season when I was at a TASMAC yesterday and realized that I could buy a whole crate of beer because a friend had his car. I had, earlier, planned some kind of gathering, but the true enthusiasm showed last night much to the amusement of the guys at the counter. It faded a bit by the time I got home when I started thinking about what many of my ‘friends’ would think about not being a part of this.

When you have a psychosocial disability, friendship quite often comes under the bus. I used to be the kind of person who had a lot of friends. I still do. People keep telling me – ‘I met a friend of yours the other day’. People use the term friend very vaguely – to describe work acquaintances and ex lovers and classmates and even friends of friends. Sometimes I wonder what that means.

Much has been said about splitting – about how for many people with psychosocial disability, they go from idealization to devaluation very quickly, with no middle ground. I found that in the recent past that happened to me for some people. As time went by I became very disturbed by this, which itself shows some kind of development of self awareness, which might be a sign of improvement.

Anyway – I began to think about my relationships with these people. People with psychosocial disabilities – actually for that matter any disability – are often thought of as selfish. ‘They ask for too much’ isn’t seen against their need for self preservation and dignity. Sometimes people understand ‘accessibility’ and ‘accommodation’ when you put it in terms of a ramp or a wheelchair or a sign language interpreter. When it comes to emotional accommodations, it’s a different story altogether. Mostly because it’s difficult to verbalize their requirements without sounding trivial at best, hurtful at worst.

Someone close to me was indulging in what can only be described as emotional blackmail, driving me into a crisis that only someone that you truly love can do. Now it’s apparently sorted. My feeling of victimization is strong – ‘how could they have done that to me’ – so strong, that I don’t even want to speak to this person, who I was struggling to reach out to for weeks.

There are other times and people – the person who said something sexist and ableist to me that I’m not able to get over because I’d like to talk to them about things concerning me as a woman with disability; the person with the ‘hilarious’ spouse that I’d rather not have to deal with; the person who wants to discuss my ‘issues’ that they’ve been following on social media even though I don’t want to discuss it with them, and so on.

There’s a part of me that’s still social, very social – spending hours with people I don’t even know. And in fact that’s so much less stress than the middle – people who you are supposed to be ‘friends’ with, because if you get up in the middle of a group of strangers and say ‘ I have to go’, everyone bids you a cheerful goodbye. If you sit silently and watch them, they don’t know that you aren’t normally like this, so you don’t have to pretend (which is extremely exhausting). You aren’t accosted with the ‘but you just got here’ or ‘stay for another drink’ or ‘you are just acting so weird lately’ or worse, the texts later that evening asking you ‘what’s wrong did I do something wrong’ and ‘why are you hanging out with xyz and not me?’ and of course ‘have you been taking your meds?’. It’s all well meaning only, sometimes. Because we need to talk about mental health and intervene when people seem to be ‘abnormal’. Except the idea that I’m doing this out of self preservation – which is possibility antithetical to self harm – seems impossible, because I am being a bitch.

There are the friends you hold close, and who don’t ask you these questions. After you leave, or after you throw them out of your house, they’ll text you the next day with a link to a podcast that you’d like, or ask you if you want to go for breakfast to Sangeetha. When you drop off the map and they say that they are worried about you, you know it is just that. It’s not because they have tracked you on SM and found that you checked in at a restaurant the day you blew them off saying that you were ‘not well’. There is a strong movement among users and survivors of psychiatry towards ‘being there’, and there’s a sweet anecdote about this by Gabor Gombos and how it helped him overcome his crisis.

Yes, there is a lot of overthinking – jumping to conclusions and magical thinking and mind reading and all the wonderful phrases I journal regularly. We need to space to sort out these things. The conflict about whether something is just in one’s head or is real is very difficult to resolve. Sometimes, one has the courage to verbalize it.

“I think I’m a failure and I’ve wasted my entire life.”

The usual answer: “Rubbish, you are just being paranoid” or even “no, that’s not true”.

How about, instead, let’s accord this person some capacity to think things through instead of shutting them down:

“Why do you feel that way?”

It is only one’s ability to empathize that can take one forward from here. I suppose that is where peer counseling scores over other personal relationships.

It’s really really hard to be a friend or partner to someone with a psychosocial disability. A person’s heightened sensitivity will pick up on any attempt to make this about you, infantilize them, and so on. So I think that at least in some cases the judgement about someone’s condition and suicidal tendencies and selfishness based on the fact that they aren’t responding to YOUR WhatsApp messages despite being online can be reserved.

Reasonable accommodation?

* A note on semantics here. This is how I choose to identify myself. Disability is not the impairment in itself. The impairment in this case being a mental disorder. It’s when the mental disorder interacts with various barriers that hinders a person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Since I am talking about people for whom attitudinal barriers create these barriers, I use the term psychosocial disability. I’m not advocating that such persons automatically qualify for social protection or disability benefits, that is a separate issue altogether. Feel free to replace PSD with mad, mentally ill, user survivor of psychiatry, or any other term you would rather identify yourself with.

 

** Goes without saying, this is a personal account, also drawing from the experiences of persons with PSD who are close to me and that I have been a peer counselor for. But mostly my own, and by no means a generalization.

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