Sunday, June 10, 2007

Learning to trust again

The hardest part of going through any mental illness is coming out on the other side and learning to trust yourself again. For so long the person suffering has been unable to accept that what they are saying or doing is rooted in any kind of reality that it can take years to learn how to act and react "normally."

Take someone with Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for example. You live your life for so many years growing accustomed to your very own personal brand of crazy. It seems totally normal to take ten showers a day or to vacuum your carpet three times every hour or so. There are habits that start when you are a child that carry on into adulthood and it isn't until you've reached a certain point in life that you realize that not everybody on the planet gets nauseous at the thought of accidentally stepping barefoot on a chewed off fingernail that someone has left behind. It occurs to you, as you watch miscellaneous people climbing stairs that not everyone needs to start the flight of stairs on the left foot and end on the right. Not everybody needs every sentence they utter to be made up of an even number of syllables. Not everyone who drives past a person on a bicycle has to turn at the next corner to go around the block just to ensure that they didn't hit the bicyclist the first time. Not everyone has the moment of panic that ends in an anxiety attack once they realize that they only checked the door locks or alarm clock four times instead of five.

Eventually, something changes. Maybe it's therapy; maybe it's medication. Maybe it's a combination of the two. Maybe it's taking up yoga or tai chi or acupuncture. But for whatever reason, the brain starts getting better. Seratonin levels even out appropriately and all of a sudden the compulsiveness of your obsession is over. That is not to say that the obsession is gone, but the harmful compulsiveness that disallowed you from taking part in every day life is gone.

And what do you do then? Have you ever seen A Beautiful Mind? It's a great movie; one of my favorites. At the end John Nash is coming out of his classroom and near the door he sees a man that he's never seen before. He calls over a student and asks her quietly if she sees the other man. She kind of laughs and assures Professor Nash that she does indeed see him. This is a perfect example of someone who suffers from a mental disorder trying to learn to trust himself again.

Someone recovering from an OCD episode might begin to wonder what the actual consequences would be if they only took one shower today instead of three. They might leave the doors unlocked just to reassure themselves that they will not be plunged into some sort of apocalypse that results in the end of the world. This person might let dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight instead of scrubbing them, just to make sure that they would not die because there were germy dirty things in their presence.

I don't know exactly why people suffer from mental illnesses. I don't know why mental illnesses manifest themselves in such wide-ranging ways. I don't know why Person A is susceptible to depression, Person B is prone to anxiety, and Person C's suffers from OCD. But I know that all of those disorders truly exist and one of the steps of recovery is learning to trust oneself again. Any journey through mental illness will more than likely affect the afflicted for the rest of their lives.

So be patient with the "crazies" in your world. The more accepting you are the faster they'll learn that they can be trusted with their own decisions and reactions. And once they've regained that trust in themselves, they'll be better able to trust you too.


pekan said...

dangermama said...
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