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It’s Not Me, It’s Just My Brain: An Open Letter

Dear acquaintance,

I never called you back.

We had such a good time talking about music and exploring the city the first time we met. You paid for my coffee and we agreed to hang out again that weekend. But when you called me the next day, I just watched the phone ring. You sent a few texts, but after a little while, you stopped trying to get in touch with me. You said you were confused as to what you had done wrong.

Dear friend,

I didn’t make it to your birthday party.

I promised I’d do everything in my power to be there, but the night came and passed and we didn’t see each other. You were heartbroken. The next time I saw you, weeks later, there was a lot of pain in your eyes. The people in your life treated me like a villain for what I had put you through.

Dear ex-boyfriend,

I didn’t enjoy our trip to the hot springs.

You wanted to take me on a fun outing to a place you knew I would enjoy. You bought me dinner, a cocktail, and a pass to the pool, but I hardly said a word to you all day. When I broke up with you a week later, you said you were hurt that I had such a joyless time on a trip you had gone out of your way to design for my happiness.

Dear everyone in my life,

You have felt pain because of my actions, and for that, I apologize genuinely. I understand it’s not your responsibility to uphold my half of each of our relationships. You can’t be held accountable for all the times I haven’t responded to your messages, or I’ve missed our appointments, or I’ve rained on your plans. It’s not your fault.

But it’s not my fault either

On paper, my tendency to ruin relationships with neglect and negativity makes me seem like the party at fault. I understand that point of view. But it’s a wholly uninformed perspective, because it doesn’t account for why I inflict such social damage.

Dear acquaintance:

When we sat down for coffee, I felt a little awkward. I decided to explain my strange behavior rather than leave you guessing about its cause. I told you I suffer from an anxiety disorder. I tend to freeze up or say odd things around new people because unfamiliar social situations cause me a lot of stress. I confided in you that I have a hard time answering the phone or responding to messages because of the pressure I feel to reply.

You told me you understood and you’d be there for me when I got sick.

Dear friend,

After we had known each other for a little while, I confided a sensitive secret in you: I suffer from major depressive disorder. I told you nervously that I have experienced terrible bouts of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts since I was eleven years old. I carefully explained that these episodes occur spontaneously and often without much warning, and if they’re determined to drag me down, there’s not a lot I can do to stop them. I have to stay inside and put my life on hold, sometimes for months at a time, until they pass.

You told me you understood and you’d be there for me when I got sick.

Dear ex-boyfriend,

When it became clear that we liked each other, I knew I had to tell you about my terrifying disease. I knew that there was no way to avoid its influence on our relationship, and even though just hearing the name of it might cause you to walk out on me, I owed it to you to tell you that I suffer from borderline personality disorder. I told you anxiously about what that means: my almost total lack of self-image, my severe sensitivity to every emotion, the disease’s ten percent mortality rate – and my unavoidable tendency to hang on to bad moods. I assured you that if I ever seemed upset for no reason, it wasn’t your fault; my disorder was just acting up, and I would get past it given enough time.

You told me you understood and you’d be there for me when I got sick.

Dear everyone in my life,

I know you have the best intentions for me, and when I disappoint you, it causes you real pain. For both our sakes, I wish there were more that could be done to avoid that. I do need your help. Without my friends, there’s no way I’ll make it through depression, anxiety, and BPD. Despite my actions, I do value having you in my life.

However, when you promise to care for me through my suffering, I assume that means you’ll be there even when you don’t like the way my illnesses impact you. “I’ll be there for you when you’re sick” doesn’t mean “I’ll be there for you when it’s convenient for me” or “I’ll be there for you when there’s no risk your sickness will hurt me”.

When my symptoms start to impact you, you take my behavior personally and focus on the pain my illness causes you instead of the pain it causes me. Remember that whatever you’re going through because of me, I’m going through it an order of magnitude worse. You’re only getting a vicarious taste of my diseases, whereas I have to live with their effects in full force all the time.

Relationships are about helping the other person, even when it’s not easy. Being close to someone requires a measure of sacrifice. Loving them doesn’t always make you feel better about yourself. Maybe you have a slim Goldilocks zone of misery you’re willing to help me with, but my problems don’t exist exclusively within your Goldilocks zone. In fact, they usually exist everywhere else.

Accept that before you tell me you understand and you’ll be there for me when I get sick.

3 thoughts on “It’s Not Me, It’s Just My Brain: An Open Letter

  1. Dear Miss Misery,
    An In Your Face blog, Heartfelt passages that eloquently tell it like it is! No fluff, just your message of mental illnesses. My son had Bipolar Disorder, Shizoaffective Disorder and Borderline Pearsonality Disorder, and Addictive Personally. He died by suicide on April 12, 2014 When I started reading, I immediately recognized you! Thank you so very much for exposing your true self and being a Beautifully Broken girl. I hope to read more of your posts regularly.

    Like

    1. Hi Jill. Thanks for your kind reply. I’m very sorry to hear about your son. No one should have to struggle against those diagnoses.

      I’d like to know if there’s anything I can do to support NAMI, since I can see you’re affiliated with them. I’ve worked with one of their university chapters before and it was a great experience. If you’re looking for writers, let’s talk!

      Z

      Like

  2. Dear Zoe, you are a very talented writer. Even more talented then your own father, the accomplished astronomer Phil Plait. Only if you would use that talent for something, anything, except this obsessively self-centered topic. You are young, your perspective is correct but still, you are fundamentally wrong. Unfortunately, disease is not exceptional, it’s very common. It’s the illusion of the age that makes you think your problem is unique and exceptional and that it’s worth spending all your time, energy and talent dealing with it. You look around, all your friends and colleagues seem healthy and happy. It’s just an illusion caused by the world’s perspective of a very young person. In the end, I cannot help but feel sorry for you, sorry for your disease but outright scandalized that so much talent is waisted on a frivolous topic. Yes Zoe, it’s friovolous and it’s frivolous because this is not you. You are much better than this. Much to talented for this. I hope that one day people will talk about Zoe Plait. Zoe Plait the poet, the painter, the musician. Because it would be very sad if they would talk about Zoe Plait, the blogger.

    Like

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