The world is pretty much in the Stone Age when it comes to psychiatry. This makes it hard for people with any degree of mental illness. It’s especially hard if you’re not quite able to function like other people but you do well enough so that your problems don’t show every day.
That’s what it’s like for me on the autism spectrum. (Not everyone considers autism a mental illness. I consider it one for me because it affects my daily functioning and makes me depressed.) But I think it applies to most other disorders, too. Here are some tips that might help you keep a healthy perspective.
Know your limitations, but focus on your strong points.
You probably can’t handle as much stress as other people. So maybe you don’t get as much done in a day. But the flip side of that is that you’re probably a pretty patient human being. That’s going to make a lot of people want to be your friend.
I’m not sure why, but it seems like people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in the brains and creativity department. Autism often comes with great attention to detail and the same type of associative thinking as schizophrenia. And we all know how many artists are bipolar.
I’m not as productive as other people because it’s hard for me to do anything involving a quick transition of focus. Sometimes I feel like I can only do 40 percent of what other people can do in a day and see 25 percent of what other people see. I don’t think I can be an artist with the trajectory I wanted because the industry is too fast-paced. But that doesn’t mean I can’t figure out another way to sell my work.
I think having autism gives me a unique perspective that people don’t come across every day. I’m trying to figure out flexible work and how to recognize tolerant people so I can focus my energy on the good things I have to offer the world.
Figure out who will accept you.
A lot of us are charismatic in small doses. That gives people high expectations. But when we can’t be “on” consistently enough to meet those expectations it feels like we’re letting people down. There are some people you can be around all the time and others who are only able to deal with you on good days. That’s okay. Every friendship has a different purpose. Sometimes you fit with someone so well in some ways that it makes up for all the others.
Relationships are harder. I’ve had the best luck with other people on the spectrum. People break up with me early on because they say I’m weird. Or I break up with them because I can tell they wouldn’t accept me in the long haul. One guy ended things because he couldn’t stand my ruminating. He said I asked him the same questions over and over. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be comfortable in a relationship where I’m not allowed to do that. I could sit here years later telling people what a jerk he is, but he isn’t. I’m sure there are things he could endure in a partner that I never would.
Being a thoughtful, reliable person sets you apart in itself. Trust me, there’s someone out there who’ll deal with your panic attacks if you’re a good listener. Just think of the many people out there who don’t like to compromise. People who might vaguely want to become better people but find it easier to get a sort-of-spineless person to put up with them. If these people can have a relationship they’re okay with most of the time, chances are you can, too.
Don’t let people treat you badly.
A lot of us are easy prey for abusive partners and “friends” who want to make everyone around them as miserable as they are. I dated a controlling guy in high school who subtly tried to change my opinion of my family. I was vaguely aware that he wasn’t a good person, but I was so flattered by the attention that I put up with it until my parents wouldn’t let me see him anymore.
More recently I was talking to this well-dressed older guy who told me how many people talked to him in public. I said nobody talked to me. “Because you’re weird,” he said, and he invited me to get a drink with him. I didn’t go because I knew what he was trying to do. Picking at someone’s sore spot to get laid or to make them emotionally dependent on you is just about the lowest thing ever.
Please. Two of my friends committed suicide because they hadn’t dealt with their illnesses properly. You might be ashamed, but there’s way more shame in hurting people who need you because you don’t want to admit that you have a problem.