Why lack of understanding should not be confused with discrimination

I had a painful telephone conversation recently. The person is, I admit unashamedly, someone I adore. He’s witty, clever, funny, tender and incredibly supportive. He steers me towards fulfillment in a gentle manner wanting only the changes in me that I want for myself. He tries really hard to support me with regard to my mental health problems and does enormously well. Except for one thing that, strictly speaking, shouldn’t be a bone of contention but it is periodically and it’s a something for which he is not at fault.

I’m a chatty person to say the least. I never shut up. I wake up chatting to my animals and don’t stop until I go to sleep. It’s not about living on my own because I do it when I live with people. I’m not quite sure how to end conversations so I rattle on and on forever sometimes even when I’m walking away and they’re not listening. Or after I’ve actually put the phone down. It’s generally considered a harmless eccentricity and, most of the time, tolerated. Now factor in a need to talk, to say how I’m feeling because, for too many years, my feelings or needs weren’t heard. So far so good, we have a chatty woman who doesn’t know when to stop and is afraid to stop in case the people who do listen stop listening. Add to the mix a large slice of compulsiveness that isn’t entirely healthy and that’s when the problems really start.

When I’m anxious or fretful I find it really soothing if I can email a friend or text them and let go of the feelings safely. When I’m seriously ill this can help me to avoid self-harm or even stop me from attempting suicide. It’s a simple and effective way of keeping me safe whilst keeping someone else aware of what’s going on. When I’m very ill then it’s obvious what’s going on. When the anxiety levels are lower it’s just about impossible for anyone to distinguish between the anxious me and the chatty me. The chatty me is a pain in the arse. I’d put a finer point on it but it’s sometimes better to be blunt. So whilst there are times when it’s apparent what the need is there are times when the need is almost invisible to the naked eye and this is where the conflict lies.

Whilst in this low level state my friend cannot distinguish the difference between me being chatty and annoying and becoming anxious to a point where I may be ill. It is irritating beyond belief when someone won’t shut up and his way of dealing with this is to ignore me. He honestly believes that if he ignores me then I’ll learn that I’m not going to get the attention I’m craving and I don’t see it quite like that. In my anxious mind I’m sure he knows that I’m creeping towards an episode of destructive cycling but is just wielding power and when I’m well I get pissy because he is ignoring me and that makes me nudge him all the more. Either way the solution (in my eyes at least) is to say hello and ascertain by the response what is going on. If I’m well it shuts me up (so maybe there is an element of attention seeking in my personality). If I’m becoming ill then it alerts both of us to the fact because often I don’t know what’s happening until it is far too late. In both scenarios there is an element of compulsive behaviour that I have no control over in exactly the same way I have to check switches and rattle doors when I’m going out.

It’s difficult trying to make sense of that sort of compulsion when it’s happening to you without trying to understand something which you cannot possibly imagine. How do you explain to someone who has never felt it that the door handle is stuck to you and you can’t let go?

I will defend the behaviour and attitudes of my friend. I don’t think he’s a bad man and I don’t think he lacks understanding when it comes to an holistic view of me and my problems. He lacks understanding specifically when it comes to my compulsions because, and I’m grateful for this, he doesn’t have them and can’t understand them. I don’t understand them so how can I expect him to?

Is it discrimination when someone, as an outsider, fails to understand those things, which we, as insiders cannot? Perhaps it is thoughtlessness, a lack of tact or just sheer frustration but discrimination, not necessarily. It isn’t always easy to separate mental illness from personality. Sometimes the illness glues itself to the skin of our minds and adheres. If we remove it or try to separate it then we take away part of what is essentially us. It’s easier to let it remain and grow around it rather than force an amputation of the soul.

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