How Trying to Explain Mental Illness to Friends & Family Rarely Goes As Planned

Lately, I have been noticing that one of the things I find difficult (and there are many) about living with a mental illness is the fact that unless someone has personal experience with it, they likely will not understand. Sometimes I realize I have explained the same thing to someone 10 times and they still do not understand. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like most anxiety disorders, is very hard for others to understand because it differs from person to person. Everyone has their own fears and triggers and I completely understand that. But it becomes extremely frustrating when you ask someone not to do very simple things because it will trigger you and they continue to do them anyway.

My husband and I are currently in a living situation which makes my mental illnesses worse; we are currently living with my parents. In the spring/summer, a few months away, we will start seriously looking for a house to purchase and our move out “deadline” is August. I know that when we have our own space again, a lot of the things that trigger my OCD and anxiety now, won’t be an issue. I was explaining this all to my husband after he got home from work today  because I know that he is one of the only people, besides my therapist, who would understand why this would agitate me so much, as he also suffers from an anxiety disorder. His answer to me was, “You know that no matter how many times you explain it, they aren’t going to understand. I am sure they are listening when you explain it, but because they just can’t understand it, they forget about it, which is why you have to keep explaining it over and over.” I, of course, agree with him on this statement, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. or anxiety-provoking.

One of the reasons I think that people don’t, take me seriously when I try to explain my disorder or my triggers to them, is because so many people use mental illnesses as adjectives. Or state that they suffer from such and such when they have never actually been diagnosed with anything. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says, “I’m so OCD about .  .”. First, people who truly suffer from OCD usually have a very difficult time speaking specifically about what their triggers are. (I can write posts like this without giving specifics and it doesn’t bother me, but I can’t write out a blog post talking about my specific triggers and sometimes it’s even difficult to talk about them out loud.) Second, OCD doesn’t mean that you need your hand writing to be perfect, your bookshelves organized a certain way or your house always spotless. These things of course CAN be a part of an individual’s OCD, but unless you are having obsessive thoughts about those bookshelves that cause you extreme anxiety  or compulsive behaviors, you don’t have OCD. The media has almost romanticized Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which is another reason I think people either don’t listen or don’t take me seriously when I try to explain something to them. The same can be said for any of the many anxiety disorders; people use the word anxiety very freely when they are truly just referring to stress. Don’t get me started on how little people know about PTSD, that in itself is an entirely separate blog post.

If you have someone in your life who suffers from a mental illness (and you probably do since 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental illness sometime during their life) make sure you are really listening when they talk. I guarantee it’s extremely difficult for them to talk to you about it in the first place, no matter how close your relationship. And if they feel that you are not paying attention or not taking them seriously, it could damage your relationship. As well as making them feel like they don’t have the support system that they thought they did. I know that not everyone is a good listener, but really try your best to listen to what the other person is truly saying or explaining to you. I promise that it will not only help your relationship, but it will probably make that individual feel like they truly have an understanding support system.

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