If a mentally ill person speaks, and people choose not to hear her, does she actually make a sound? No. Outside of my actual symptoms, I think the worst part about having a mental illness is losing my voice.
To me, having managed it with moderate success for several years, Borderline Personality Disorder is now just a tiny part of my existence. Occasionally, it gets a bit bigger and demands more attention, but I combat it with strategy and technique, and put it back in its place. It’s like having an allergy – avoid the triggers and things are mostly fine. To me, my mental capacities and thought processes regarding the world in general, are now pretty sound.
But other people don’t see it that way, and that wouldn’t matter, except that they’re the ones doing the listening part.
Because I have a mental illness, anything I say can be attributed to it and dismissed as the crazed ramblings of an unhinged mind. If I have an opinion about something, it doesn’t have to count, because it’s tainted by madness. If I have a solution to a problem, people will smile, nod and entirely disregard what I have said. People will literally talk over me. People – and I am not exaggerating here – will actually tell me that I am wrong about something so patently obvious, just because it is me that has said it. This phenomena is not entirely dissimilar to what is commonly known as “Mansplaining” – when men assume that a woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about, simply because she is a woman. Except that this type of disregard is so much more damaging than that. This type of disregard completely strips a person of their ability to communicate.
Imagine standing in a sound-proof room that has a wall made entirely of glass. The whole world is on the other side of that glass, talking amongst themselves. You have something to say that is of the utmost importance, and your goal is to make somebody hear it. You scream at the absolute top of your lungs. You pound on the glass until your fists bleed. You scream, shout and wail, and none of them hear a thing. They just keep talking amongst themselves. You have no voice. Nobody hears you. How do you feel?
Frustrated. Isolated. Alone. Hopeless.
You may as well just stop talking.
This is a terrifying sensation. It feels like being buried alive, and the people around you are the ones tossing the dirt in the hole. The reason it is terrifying is simple: if nobody can hear what you are saying, how can anything get better? And the most frustrating thing of all is that you’re not even feeling ill. In fact, you’re doing relatively well. But that doesn’t matter – you were diagnosed with a mental illness, therefore you don’t get to speak. But then a more terrifying realisation strikes. If nobody will listen now, when you’re feeling well, what happens when you inevitably have a bad day, or a crisis? If nobody is listening, how do you explain what is happening to you? How do you ask for help? And when it’s too late, and you’re way down at the bottom of the rabbit hole, they’ll gather round and say, “But she never said she was struggling!”
If you are very, very lucky – like me – you might have a person. One single person that listens to you, and more importantly, actually hears what you’re saying. On occasion, like mine, these magical people might need reminding, but generally they’re tuned in to the right frequency. These are people to cherish, as they are all too rare. These are the people to remember when you are summarily dismissed by everybody else in the world.
I have a mental illness, and I have as much right to be heard as everybody else. Not everything I say is affected by BPD, and if you don’t have the skill to tell the difference, that’s your problem, not mine. I have opinions – they are mine, they are informed, and I will express them. Sometimes, my solution to the problem works and, while this may come as a shock, I can be right just as often as anyone else – even though I also happen to have Borderline Personality Disorder.
Perhaps this is why I write. It is a way to communicate with a world that routinely removes my voice because I am both a woman, and I am mentally ill. What am I screaming at you from behind that wall of soundproof glass? “STOP DISMISSING PEOPLE.”
To borrow the words of the great Dr Seuss, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.” A person should be heard, one hundred percent. Even when they’re crazy.