On Time: Mental Illness and Accountability

I’m guessing you’ve read the title and are a little uncomfortable. I want to let you know that you should be uncomfortable, because this is not easy to write about. Nobody wants to tell the mentally ill to get their act together because that’s a terrible thing to say to someone who’s suffering.

But as somebody who’s mentally ill, I reserve the right to tell my people to be real with themselves. We know when we’re not doing our best. Sometimes it’s not our fault. Sometimes, we know we can do more. I’m talking about that second one; I’m not about to tell anyone mental illness is their fault. That’d literally be so wild. I want to talk about the times when we know we can do more and we don’t. The times when we need to hold ourselves accountable.

And by we, I mean I. This post is about me, and nobody else; it’s not about you, mentally ill person taking offense that I would dare presume to know your experience. And it’s definitely not about you, able-bodied neurotypical who is reading this skeptically, wondering if I’m faking it.

Characteristic of a Leo, I wrote this post about me.

I’ve been diagnosed with a few things. Recently: PTSD, anxiety, depression. A few years ago: an obsessive disorder, though until recently it was largely under control.

All semester, I’ve been struggling. Struggling to get things done on time; see the Summit 400 menu for evidence of overcompensation for a lot of late and missed assignments. Struggling to feel adequate, to be available to my friends, to perform even the simplest tasks (shoutout to my roommates for putting up with my dishes week after week). And I know I can do better. I could use the agenda that’s gathering dust in my drawer. I can set reminders, alarms, alerts. I could reply to all those texts, emails, Snapchats, Instagram DMs that have been piling up.

So why don’t I? Why do I let the stress of two senior seminars keep me up until 2 am every night, reduce me to tears every day for weeks at a time, or prevent me from enjoying my last months of college? Why don’t I do something about my anxiety attacks or my frequent bouts of depression?

I can’t say it’s laziness. I have never been lazy. And I won’t blame my mental illness either. Being mentally ill is a context, not an excuse.

The real problem is I’m already using all of my energy just to keep my head above water.

Those unanswered texts, rejected invites to parties, and unread emails are all the little ways I self-care. I don’t have to go out, I know it’ll add more stress later, so I’ll stay in and get this done. I don’t have to reply to that text; I can save it for later, when I have the energy to reply. I don’t have to open that email right now, it can wait, if it were important, it would be marked urgent. And so, I slide into an abyss of self-loathing and apathy.

Missing class doesn’t happen often– usually only to Yoga and who can blame me? It’s 7 AM. I am exhausted. What does happen often is being late to class. The thought is, “Oh, I can be a few minutes late, it won’t be a big deal.” Not forty-five minutes like the first years in the leadership course I’m assistant teaching, but late enough and consistently enough where it’s becoming rude to the professor and unprofessional at work. Missing meetings I’ve forgotten I arranged because I didn’t write it down; I thought I wouldn’t forget in the two days since I scheduled it, and yet here we are, with another email from Dr. Blaich asking why I haven’t shown up to his office hours. Clementine just emailed for the umpteenth time about a form I have yet to get signed, a form I need to get financial aid next semester, and to graduate. She ignores my explanations that I’ve already had the department heads sign that form twice. And so, I slide further.

Missing assignments piled up in my Summit class because I just didn’t care. I had so much else to worry about– two fifty-page papers, a B in my Astronomy class when I’ve never much cared about my grades, not to mention my mental health issues, the constant financial stress of being a broke college student, and my literal job as a tutor. Who cares if I half-ass one two-credit class? Nell Ruby, that’s who. She cares enough to email me over and over to let me know I’m one assignment away from failing, that I’m about to fail, that I’m failing, that I’ve failed but I can do extra credit. It’s not nothing, but I slide further.

As the event planner of the Center for Writing and Speaking, it’s my job to, well, plan events. And that gets horrendously stressful when my team doesn’t reply to emails, doesn’t follow through or update me on the status of each aspect of the event, or just doesn’t show up. When it takes an email from my boss to get them into gear, it really doesn’t make me feel great about my leadership skills. What does it all say about me? Am I a bad leader? What am I doing wrong? And so, I slide further.

We haven’t even touched on the feelings of inadequacy all of this causes. As a person with an obsessive disorder, once a thought gets in my head, it will not leave me alone. And I mean, it will not leave me alone. I’m talking for hours, days, weeks. Months. Months of listening to I’m inadequate, I’m not enough, I’ll never be enough, it won’t be good enough so why try? Everyone is counting on me and there is no way I can satisfy them.

All I can do is my best, I tell myself. I pray on it, I meditate, I eat well and I go to Yoga. But I know I haven’t been giving it 100%. So I went to my therapist and asked if he would agree that I need to be medicated. To which he replied, “Oh my God, absolutely.” Cut to one month later, I’ve started Prozac, and I feel more able to do all the work I need to do than I have in months. I’m more productive and I am less prone to negative thoughts. I remembered every single one of my assignments this week; I didn’t miss a single meeting or class (except Yoga because I was sick). The event I planned was a huge success; I haven’t been late to a single tutoring session or staff meeting. And I’m not only passing all of my classes, but my extra credit work has put me on track to graduate– and graduate I will, thanks to the form I finally got signed.

But none of that has anything to do with Prozac. It was my therapist, finally allowing me to admit that I am mentally ill, that I’m not doing my best, and that I need help. Just the act of doing something about my mental health was enough to kick me into gear. I’m not at 100% yet, but I’m working hard and getting there. And for now, getting there is good enough.

I know not everyone is in a position to do something about their mental illness, but this was my experience: that a little validation and recognition that you need help can go a long way. I know that’s not news, but I thought I’d share it anyway.

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