I read an article about mental illness recently that kinda blew my mind. The bulk of it was an anecdote about a woman with really bad OCD. Every time she left the house, she’d think “Oh shit did I remember to unplug my hair dryer?” and she’d obsess about how she probably hadn’t and how her house would surely burn down. And then she’d have to go home and check that she really did unplug it. But as soon as she got back in her car again…”Yeah but did I *really* unplug it?”
She was a high-powered lawyer, btw, and this shit was ruining her life. Making her late for important work stuff and whatnot. And she went through medication and therapy but nothing made the obsession with the hair dryer go away.
And then finally some orderly or something at a hospital where she was being treated was talking to her and learned her story and he said “Dude why don’t you take the hair dryer with you?”
BOOM. Freedom. Now every time she thinks “Did I remember to unplug the hair dryer?” she doesn’t have to go home and check or sit at work consumed with worry. She just looks over at the passengers’ seat or in her purse and sees it sitting there, unplugged.
And my epiphany here is: maybe it’s wrong to treat some types of mental illnesses as illness. It might be better to think of mentally ill people (some kinds, anyway) as just…having a different set of challenges than other people. Like, if a short person can’t reach the top shelf of the cupboard, you don’t try to cure their shortness. You move shit to the bottom shelf or they stand on a chair when they need to reach things. And I’m increasingly feeling as though many mental illnesses can be managed but not cured/fixed, so the trick is to do what you can with meds etc. but also to accept that sometimes you’re just not gonna be like other people, and adapt accordingly.
I almost had this epiphany years ago, when The Social Worker told me about a woman he knows with schizophrenia who’s mostly fine due to meds but still hears, and talks to, voices sometimes – so she got a Bluetooth earpiece to make it look like she’s just on the phone when these conversations happen.
I also almost had this epiphany a while before that, when Bastardcat kept batting around the pull cord to my windowblinds and wouldn’t stop no matter how much I yelled at him, and finally I realized hey, the instinct to bat around hangy-things is a deeply ingrained cat thing and it’s probably stupid to yell at him for it. There are things I could train Bastardcat to do or not do, but leaving a hanging cord alone was not one of them. So I tied the cord up out of his reach, and we were both happy.
So, the idea of accepting limitations and adapting as best one can instead of banging one’s head against the wall was floating around in my brain for a while, but it took the hair dryer story to make the idea coalesce around things like OCD, anxiety, and depression in particular.
I’m going to try to stop using neurotypical people as my benchmark for how I should be, and instead think strictly in terms of “Am I getting my necessary shit done? Am I feeling okay?.” And I’m going to try to come up with depression, anxiety, and OCD-equivalents of a short person keeping their important stuff on the bottom shelf.