Mental illness is like fingernails down the chalkboard of my skull

The scrape of fingernails rattles through my brain as my mental illness claws its way around the inside of my skull. I wince and turn away, towards the television and I throw every particle of my being into focusing on the blinking colours and movement on the screen. I turn the volume up to drown out the plaintive caterwauling inside my brain.

I often look back on my life and wonder where it went wrong for me. Truthfully, it probably wasn’t any one situation, but a combination of genetics and an unstable childhood. Regardless of what happened or what didn’t, this is life and like many other people suffering with mental illness I just make do with what I’ve got.

Mental illness is seeing other adults, your husband or your parents, having hushed conversations about how best to deal with you. Other people proclaim to know how best to take care of you, removing your own agency and your own autonomy. It is a powerless feeling to feel your eyeballs at the back of your skull seemingly staring through your whole head as if it were a tunnel. Sound is strange and feels like it is coming from a long way away as people smile at you like a child and ask if you’re sure you’ve taken your medication today.

Mental illness is sitting in a room with a box of tissues on your lap as a group of stony faced psychiatrists listen to you wailing for five minutes before slapping a diagnosis on you. Mental illness is so, so many tissues. So many swollen eyelids from nights spent crying into the dark. Its sitting in a psychiatric emergency waiting room for 3 days before getting a bed, and a shaky smile as you hold out the box of tissues to another patient crying in the chair opposite. It’s the feeling of sitting at a computer, staring at the keyboard as it feels like you zoom backwards away from your hands on the keys, getting further and further away from your limbs.

There is comfort in feeling like you’re being taken care of, I suppose, but mostly it feels dehumanising to have your adult loved ones talk about you to each other as if you were a child. You feel transported back to when you’re seven years old and being treated like you’re not even there, not even able to be involved in discussions about your own life and experiences. Your mother reads a book all about your illness, and tells everyone about you and your illness, and yet fails to see herself reflected in the pages.

I’m high functioning now, and I haven’t been inpatient at a psychiatric institution for over a decade. My mental illness is still there, dragging its fingernails down the inside of my skull, and I do my best to talk louder to drown out the sound. Sometimes it’s all you can do.


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