Connecting with other human beings can be very difficult for me and for many living with mental illness. In my private life I rarely make a point to connect with people I don’t know. I live in a tiny house with four dogs and am an hour away from two of my children and many friends. This self-imposed isolation has many benefits, the most important being the hours of silence I can share with my keyboard.
There are few activities I like more than writing and reading. One of my many husbands threw up his hands, when we were in a therapist’s office, and said, exasperated, “Jessie’s idea of a vacation is lying on the couch READING!” This is still my favorite way of passing time when not writing. And my dogs don’t mind.
My little Service Dog – sub-heading Emotional Support Dog, Snitz, provides me with a valuable service when I’m out in the world. It’s Snitz who people approach. They pat her and talk to her and then look at me and talk to me – no patting allowed. Snitz provides a buffer that I appreciate. If I’m speaking to another mentally ill person they probably appreciate the Snitz buffer too because we can approach each other carefully. I’ll be traveling without Snitz in September because she’s still recovering, and limping, from her wounds inflicted by my neighbor’s huge dog and travel is hard on her. I’ll see how it goes.
A friend asked me the other day why I don’t like crowds. I told her that I can feel the energy coming off people and find that energy overwhelming. I do my best with a few people or alone – with my dogs.
There are important times to dis-connect when out there in the world. I remember years ago, when I was quite fragile, I attended a dinner party. After struggling to sit at my place and make conversation I bolted for the door. I found a quiet stoop to sit on down the sidewalk from the party. My future brother-in-law came out of the restaurant to find me. I will always love him for what he did next; he did nothing. He squatted next to the stoop and didn’t say a word. Somehow he knew just what I needed: quiet. Most people don’t have that kind of sensitivity.
If I’m surrounded by family or friends I disconnect early in the evening and retreat to a quiet room to read. I take my meds at 8pm every night and this act of habit wraps me in a routine that no one interferes with. But, and this is a big but, I do love movies and if there’s a movie playing I’ll just dash to my meds, take them and return. Movies are my weakness!
Connecting and dis-connecting are both important concepts for those of us living with mental illness. I have found that I don’t need to broadcast the fact that I live with mental illness to those I encounter in my life. Friends and family (and you readers) know and they’re the most important people in my life. I love where I live and I love being able to dip in and then out of the city an hour away where two of my children live. I get a tingle of excitement when I approach the city and a rush of relief when I leave. I am very connected to the world through my computer and phone as I guess most of us are these days. I love the quiet of email.
I have found where I function best and that’s in the mountains. Here’s to everyone finding their best place and learning when to connect and when to dis-connect. These are important concepts for controlling your mental illness and living a full and satisfying life.