I’m sitting on my unmade bed, surrounded by folded piles of clothes that just dream of being lucky enough to make it into and actual drawer. My flaky mud mask was due to come off about 20 minutes ago. I need to get ready for church AND a trip out of state tonight AND a trip to Disneyland tomorrow morning. But instead I am writing this, because, it is all of a sudden feeling urgent:
A year and a half ago I had a horrible thing happen to me. It’s something that I’ve been private about until now.
Somebody sung happy birthday to me. Well, actually, a group of somebodies- a whole cultural hall full of them.
The only additional context you are getting is that it was as well-intentioned as “Happy Birthday to you”‘s usually are, but that it was extremely embarrassing to me. I had pleaded with the initiator not to announce that it was my birthday, but he ignored my request. This is understandable, since most people resist these kinds of things even if they really want them. I on the other hand, am very good at saying exactly what I do and do not want. At the conclusion of the sining, I gave him the dirtiest look I could imagine, gave the group a slightly less dirty look, turned around, walked to my car, and left. Oh, and I started crying before I made it out the door.
From there, the night devolved into an emotional crisis. I felt embarrassed and depressed, and then felt upset with myself that I felt so embarrassed and depressed. I was inconsolable, and experienced just about every negative emotion one could imagine within the space of about two hours. I would think that I had soothed myself, just to spontaneously break down a few minutes later. I knew that what happened was not a big deal…actually, a “normal” person would have felt happy to be recognized. So what the f*** was wrong with me? And why couldn’t I let it go? Also, it should be known that these emotions had not been nearing the surface as a result of some previous experience- they all stemmed from the singing episode.
I happily joke about the incident to this day- it’s funny, isn’t it? Or ironic at least? That someone would fall apart like that over something that was supposed to be positive?
This event, of course, is not significant in and of itself, but I began to notice a pattern. Every once in a while, turmoil would arise in me out of seemingly little more than thin air. It would usually start with feeling hurt or offended, then depressed, then hopeless, then angry, then mean, then suicidal. I would start researching the “highest bridges in Arizona” over things like not getting invited to a party…whose host I hardly knew and probably honestly wouldn’t even mind if I showed up. I never sought any kind of professional help because I knew that by the time I accessed this help, I would likely already be feeling better. I also don’t trust therapists, but that’s for a different blog.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, I didn’t know Juliet was quite this crazy,” (which I hope you are, to be honest), you are probably in good company. I’m not usually falling apart, after all- at least, not falling apart like this. I, of course, experience disappointment and discouragement as much as the next person, but there is a very distinct nonsensical nature about these kinds of episodes. They have triggers, but there is no predicting what the trigger will be.
About a year ago I figured that it was about once a month or so that I would have one of these “freak outs”, and they lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I then began to realize that it wasn’t about one a month- it was exactly once a month, and that I couldn’t remember it ever happening while I was on my period. And then the lightbulb went off:
I had horrible, terrible PMS.
I had always thought that PMS meant that you were a passive-aggressive b!tch who didn’t want to be accountable for her own words or actions. I had never even considered the possibility that I had PMS, because I was always nice to the people in my life. Truly, my angst always goes inward.
Well, I was wrong, and it’s not just PMS, it’s PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), which is basically a severe form of PMS, often marked by extreme episodes of moodiness.
This is what I have, and I’m grateful to know that there is a cause of perceived as just losing my mind. It’s a real, physical problem, linked to the onset of an objectively observable bodily function.
I’ve written about mental and emotional health in the past, and I’ve always attempted to distance my personal experience from my ideas. To be bland, I didn’t want people thinking I was mentally ill, even in writing about removing the stigma of mental illness. Hi, my name is Juliet Miller and I’m a hypocrite.
But writing about this disorder doesn’t instill the same fear in me. Why would I be ashamed of having arthritis, or the flu? My condition is just as real and non-chosen as those things are. There is a predictable beginning and end to it, and, as mentioned above, it is linked to objective physical events. Because of these facts, I see it as being more similar to breaking your foot than to having other mental illnesses, as far as how willing I am to talk about it.
But this is wrong.
Mental illnesses with no or less obvious physical traits are just as real, valid, and deserving of care and understanding as any illness that manifest entirely or partially in the body. This experience has revealed an important bias to myself: I still have a hard time distinguishing the illness from the person. I sometimes discredit a person’s claims to having a mental illness because, honestly, I don’t think they’re terribly competent. I have thought to myself, “it makes sense that she’s depressed” or “her anxiety really just makes her more annoying.” I’m so embarrassed to be admitting this. I struggle to shake the idea that mental illness is a personality flaw, regardless of how many times I’ve told myself and others that this isn’t the case. I have several people who are close to me who struggle with mental illnesses of all kinds, but I see them as the anomalies, and not as adhering to the rules of what it means to be depressed or anxious or obsessive compulsive or bulimic.
I might feel crazy for a few hours to a few days every month, but that defines me as much as having allergies defines a person. And even if I felt crazy 28-31 days every month, that still is not defining to me, or to anyone else. It can be hard to distinguish mental illness from normal “ups and downs” in ourselves and in others, but there is a difference, and it usually just takes the tiniest amount of kindness and openness to separate the person from the condition.
And I hope you don’t define me by the 1st-4th of the month.