A few things I’d like the world to know. (On coping techniques and prejudice)

I suffer from several (diagnosed) mental disorders. With those often come along anxiety and panic attacks, which I also suffer from. A lot of people don’t understand what that means, what consequences for quality of life it brings and how crippling and disabling it can be. Personally, I don’t really mind them not understanding. It’s a very abstract concept, to be sick and not yet be physically harmed in any way. What I do mind is the fact that people judge what they can’t understand. They don’t take it for what it is or try to understand as much as possible, do research and talk to people about it, they simply judge and express an opinion that they are not qualified to have. They are allowed to have it, yes, but they are not qualified to speak on the topic. Especially when it comes to coping techniques, I have experienced seriously judgmental people.

And I thought I’d explain.

Here are some of my coping techniques and how people have reacted to them. It’s a tale of caution; trying to show my fellow humans to Think, then Speak and not to be too fast to judge someone.

I wear leggings a lot. I also wear them outside a lot. I wear them to go grocery shopping, to run errands. And I’ve seen the stares and the pointed fingers and looks. I’ve heard people say “Oh, wow. She probably had no time to do laundry, as lazy as she looks” or “Looks like a slob, that one”. Now, these comments might already be seen as rude, based on the fact that people judged me just because of my looks. They’re rude because people see the leggings or yoga pants and immediately think of laziness, even though that might not be the case. Maybe I could live with the rudeness. Say to myself “Well, sometimes you are, in fact, a bit lazy. Just let them talk.” But they’re not only rude, they’re also very hurtful to me. You see, there are a few reasons why I wear leggings. 1) Often times, I can’t wear anything else. Because my skin starts to crawl when I even think about putting the fabric on my skin. Because sometimes my skin is so sensitive that anything I wear makes me have itching fits. Because sometimes, my skin doesn’t feel like it belongs on my body and if I were to wear jeans, for example, which can be quite rough and stiff, would only amplify the feeling. Which then usually results in the aforementioned itching fits (scratching my skin until it turns red, raw or starts to bleed), anxiety and general uncomfortableness, like nausea and headaches. My legs, arms and neck are the zones that are affected the most, so I try to wear things that are comfortable to me. Hence the leggings. 2) I have an eating disorder and often feel “not at home” in my body. I’ve had issues with my thighs for years. Wearing leggings, outside, helps me to grow stronger in the belief that I am okay in my body. Whether parts of it jiggle or not. This is not a simple ‘Hrmpf. I wish my thighs weren’t as big, I should work out” life-improving thought. It’s more like a….”I don’t want anyone to see any part of my body oh my god I can’t breathe someone get me out of here” situation.

So yes. Maybe I am lazy sometimes. But I do have fresh clothes at home, I do laundry regularly and I am not a slob because I choose to be a bit more comfortable. This is how I cope and I will not apologize for saving myself.

Another thing that I often do, is listening to music while out and about. I will wear headphones so I don’t disturb other shoppers et cetera and I always only wear one earbud, so I can hear other humans who might be calling my name or saying hello. I also only wear one earbud for safety reasons. To be able to hear the traffic, for example. Now, I’ve often conversed with people wearing my earbud, listening to music. And I have just as often been asked to turn it off, take out the earbud or even had it taken out (ripped out) for me. Of course, these things happen while I’m simultaneously receiving weird looks or angered stares. Here’s my problem: I understand that people assume I am not listening. I understand that people think I’m rude or showing disinterest. I understand that people want my full attention and don’t think they’re getting it. But they don’t understand that the only way I am even able to listen, is by using this coping technique. They don’t understand that I am not showing disinterest but in fact showing all the interest I can, thanks to the music in my ear. They don’t understand that the only way that I am able to give them any attention at all, and without falling into an anxiety or panic attack, is by listening to the music in my ear. Now, you might be thinking “Well, how the hell should I know?” and you are right to do so. So I’d like to tell you that “I need this. Sorry”, if you ask me to stop the music or take out the earbud, like I’ve told quite a few people before. I won’t say more when you ask me during the conversation, for your and my own protection, but I shouldn’t need to anyway. Something I apparently still have to do though is to remind my fellow humans that I am giving you all I’ve got. I’m giving you all the interest and attention that I have got in me when I am talking to you and we’re having a conversation. If I didn’t, there would be no conversation. And now that you know that I’m giving it all I’ve got, please do the same instead of forcing yourself or your societal views on me, making decisions for me by touching my things (‘making me listen to you’ by turning off my music) or touching me. My decisions are not yours to make, my body is not yours to be touched just because it is there and can be touched. The same goes for my things, like mobile phone or mp3 player.

This is sometimes the only way to be able to have human interactions, carry out conversations or exchange niceties. I’m giving it my all and I am not being rude. And even if I was by your definition, I’d rather safe myself and be rude about it than drown in my own anxiety. This is how I cope and I will not apologize for saving myself.

Sometimes, I don’t drive. Sometimes, I only go grocery shopping or run errands when someone I know is with me. I have often heard things like “I wonder why she doesn’t drive, you think she even has a license? Old enough, though”, “Think she lost her license?”, “I know she has a license but it took a long time till she got it. Maybe she’s afraid?”, amidst laughter and funny looks. Not to mention the comments I’ve heard about going shopping with my Mom or Dad. “D’you think she still lives at home?” “Maybe she has no money.” Here are the facts: I do drive. And I drive very well. I’ve never had a ticket, never been stopped for speeding. I always obey the law and traffic regulations. I don’t speed. I’m great at parallel parking and I often manage reversing into a spot in one go. It’s true that it took me a long time to get my license – nearly 2 1/2 years – but that’s because of my illnesses – not being able to go to classes, take driving lessons, having to cut driving lessons short. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Not to me. Not to my parents. It didn’t even matter to my driving instructor, who is very good at what he does and was an enormous supporter of taking it as slow as I needed to and taking the decision when to drive into my own hands. And believe me, he was there for it all. He was right there in the passenger seat when I suffered from panic and anxiety attacks or had a nervous breakdown or broke out into a crying fit. I appreciate him, his support and his patience. Because he taught me that driving a car comes with a lot of responsibility for myself and others and the feeling of not being up to it, whenever it may creep up, should not be treated lightly. So even though it took me longer to get my license, I do drive and I drive as well as anyone could, to be honest. I’ve never changed any habits learned during the lessons. I crawl through the zones that even the police are too impatient not to rush through. So there. Not driving doesn’t mean that I am afraid of driving. Or that I can’t do it right, that I am bad at it. It means that I have learned, through years of therapy, when to say that I am not feeling well and need help. So I might need someone to drive me to the drugstore or wherever, but at least I don’t drive with brainfog or a severe panic attack and am endangering others. I think that’s a pretty good thing.

Now for the part of going out with mental support; Mom, Dad, Sis. Yes, sometimes I can only go out when someone else is there with me. That has nothing to do with the fact that yes, I still live at home or how my monetary situation is. Not to mention the fact that that is a sore spot for me since I am not, in fact, even able to work or move out. But they don’t know that the reason I sometimes only go out with a companion, is that I’m often in such a dark place, that literally anything could throw me into a panic attack or itching fit. And I want someone there to help me out when that happens. I want someone there who sees the signs and will get me out of there as fast as possible, even when I might already have frozen in terror. Which is another facet of learning how to ask for help, courtesy of years of therapy.

So while you might say I am not grown up or independent enough, I’m answering with this: I am independent enough to ask for help and I think that’s a pretty grown up thing to do. I am independent enough to look for ways to live an adult life under the looming darkness of a crippling illness. And I think I’m doing pretty well. And if you’re still not convinced that it’s maybe a good idea for me to have someone with me, just imagine me saying this: it’s not my job to make you more comfortable with something you’re not suffering under. It’s my job to make myself comfortable. And if that means going shopping with my Mom or having my sister drive me somewhere, then so be it. This is how I cope and I will not apologize for saving myself.

I would like to mention that this is not an attack or a war cry. It’s an explanation for my fellow humans. I felt like there were a few things that needed to be said and explained. Thank you for reading this far. I appreciate it.

At this point, I’d also like to thank my friends Mel and C. who never push and never pull. Who see that I sometimes need to take the day second by second and never tell me to do it differently. Who support me and catch me when I fall. Thank you. I love you, guys. ♥ 

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