Translations Of Mental Health Disorders Into Everyday Language
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Health and Wellness

Translations Of Mental Health Disorders Into Everyday Language

Useful translations for loved ones.

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Translations Of Mental Health Disorders Into Everyday Language
Richard Beck

"I'm sorry, I can't go."

I mean it. I physically can't get out of my bed to take a shower, pick out clothes, and drive. I am sorry. When I agreed to make plans, I was optimistic about spending time outside of my own head in the company of someone I care about. This time I'll really go to brunch/a movie/hang out and watch TV/get drinks after work I think to myself as I mark it down in my planner. Inevitably, the morning of the event my resolve weakens and my energy drains at the prospect of facing the world.

I'm not canceling because I'm lazy, I'm not canceling because I don't like you, and I'm not canceling because I'm flaky. I'm canceling because it takes more energy than I have to even get up and go to work every day...by the time I'm finished I don't have anything left (and I still have to do chores, take care of my dog, and run errands). I'm lucky if I have the energy to even change my clothes before I collapse onto my bed to stare at the ceiling for a few hours. Usually I prefer to reserve my energy for big events like weddings, birthday celebrations, and concerts so that I can really enjoy myself and not bring down the mood.

"I'm so sorry I haven't called or texted. I've been really busy lately."

I mean, I'm 28 years old with a full-time job and several other responsibilities, so I really have been busy in the sense that I'm telling you. Not too busy to send a text, you're right. My mind has been busy, though, worrying during every waking second, boggled down with paranoia and desperation. I can't call you or text you because I don't have room in my brain for much else. In fact, I've been so anxious about the fact that I haven't stayed in touch that it has prolonged any attempt to get in touch with you. Please treat me gently when I tell you this, because the thought of having this conversation has made me lose sleep.

"I'll just have water."

I am on a cocktail of medications: SSRIs, SARIs, benzodiazepines, NDRIs, you name it. So no, I will not be imbibing in a glass of wine every Thursday after work. First of all, I probably wouldn't go to happy hour anyway because I can't wear sweatpants and be alone. Secondly, mixing a depressant like alcohol with all of these medications is pretty counterintuitive to the maintenance of my illness. You will have a very messed up human being to babysit if I do drink with you, and I will probably feel like an anvil got dropped on me the next morning. Do not pressure me into drinking with you, no matter how little you plan on drinking. I just can't take the risk.

"My stomach/head hurts."

Did you know that mental health disorders can have physiological symptoms? Depression and anxiety hurt pretty badly sometimes. If I'm telling you this, I can't really answer a barrage of questions about what I ate, whether I'm running a fever, or if I'm drinking enough water. If I'm anxious, my stomach is probably churning and if I'm battling through a depressive episode, my head is probably pounding. Offer Tums or Motrin and tell me a joke. I swear it helps.

"I'm really distracted by [insert excuse here], it's going to be impossible to get this done!"

No, I just can't focus because my mind is going a mile a minute, my heart is racing, and I don't have the mental strength to fully think my task through. I need to take a walk or a nap, drink some water, and eat a snack but I will resist this if I'm facing a deadline. I will probably also start crying uncontrollably until you walk me through a set of realistic steps to complete my task. This could range from a work project, to homework, to paying taxes, even down to making it to a party on time. Give me small goals to accomplish and help me through the first few until I'm calm enough to proceed on my own.

"I don't care, whatever you want to do is fine."

I am really apathetic about which movie to watch or what kind of takeout we should order. I've spent too much of my day worrying obsessively over whether my co-worker's comment means she's mad at me, and now I don't have the energy to make decisions. Please don't insist that I make the final decision, because my mind is literally blank and as bad as apathy is, it's a welcome respite from the blanching pain of anxiety. Just give me a set of choices. Even if I don't seem wild about them, soldier on. I'm not going to be wild about anything tonight.

"I didn't get much sleep last night."

Or the night before, or the night before that, or really in the last two weeks. As tired as depression has made me, it has also kept me up. I might fall asleep at a reasonable hour and be wide awake at 3 a.m., or I'll toss in turn in a half-sleep with Kafka-esque dreams waking me up every hour. Or I slept so hard that I feel like I didn't sleep at all. There is no perfect medium or sense of normalcy here.

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