Sometimes I know that I am not seeing reality.
A few months ago I woke up in the morning and I had gained 30 pounds overnight when I looked in the mirror. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew that what I was seeing wasn’t there. I couldn’t stop seeing it.
Today, I spent hours thinking that I must be pregnant, despite the fact that I’m on one of the most effective birth control methods out there, and I’m hardly someone who takes risks with my sexuality. I knew it wasn’t true, that I was seeing something that wasn’t there, but still I spent hours reading up on the symptoms of a pregnancy, then an ectopic pregnancy, trying to understand what could be making my body cramp up so badly (fun fact: probably the IUD that’s keeping me not pregnant).
I will keep having moments like these, moments in which I know that I am (hallucinating? delusional? unstable?) not connected to reality in the way that other people are. I’m sure there are many moments when I have not seen the world accurately but I haven’t known that. But these were the times when I was fully aware of the fact that my senses were playing tricks on me. It was like seeing an optical illusion, but the only trick was that I have depression, anxiety, a broken brain.
It’s incredibly scary to realize that you can’t trust things that look so much like reality. Most of us don’t have to go through our days with reminders that eyes and ears and memory are utterly fallible. Not only is it scary, but it leaves me with a profound distrust of myself, something that can quickly lead to further depression and anxiety.
I don’t know what to do with this information. I don’t know how to bring myself back to a sense of reality, other than checking and checking and checking with other people to see where my perception radically differs from other people’s. Not only is that exhausting, it’s also not foolproof.
I suppose that’s the important realization though. Every person sees things in a distorted fashion at some point in their lives. All of our senses break down in some ways, or we interpret things oddly, or we simply require another perspective. Distortion is not unique to people with mental illness. Reliance on other people is something that we all need to do, and it’s the way that most of us come to our best approximation of truth: we use our own senses and logic, but pair it with information and corroboration from other people. Of course this takes effort, time, emotions. Being skeptical and as factual as possible are hard.
Some people feel like they don’t care enough.
What being mentally ill throws into sharp relief is that some of us don’t have a choice about whether we need to do this hard work or not. The consequences of allowing some of our thoughts to get distorted is depression, anxiety, self harm, extreme caloric restriction. It is healthier to see things somewhat accurately, and so instead of relying on others because we want to put in the work of understanding the way things are, people with mental illnesses rely on others because the alternative is a brain that treats you like shit.
In some ways, I get hope from that. I get hope from the fact that the ways my brain fails also force me to work harder, to reach out to other people, to be more connected than I would be if I could skate by. In other ways, it’s awful to know that you don’t get a choice about relying on others.
It’s also nice to know that sometimes being mildly delusional doesn’t keep me from living my life, and more often than not really loving my life. Usually that’s a word that only gets used for people who can’t function, or to discount someone’s opinions and ideas, or their life experiences. But we all have small delusions. They don’t have to keep you from your life.