Monday, November 24, 2008

What Do You Do: Are You Valuable?

A few days ago I went to the optometrist. A task I have been trying to get myself to do for more than a year now. Fortuitously, or not, my dog tried to eat my husband's glasses and I ended up at a glasses repair shop that had optometrists on site, so I booked an appointment and, because I have an intense sense of responsibility, despite not wanting to go when the time came to show up, I went and saw the optometrist anyways.

That is not the point of this post. Part of the point is WHY I do not want to see any health professionals outside my pdoc. It is because after the greetings, the first question out of their mouths is always, "are you healthy?"

My head always swirls with this first thought always being, "I am desperately unhealthy if you include mental health as part of health. Then, "do they need to know about that?" Then, "well it would be lying to say I was healthy, should I lie?" Then, "but I don't want anyone to know I am WEAK" (argh... i.e. all that fear of discrimination, sense that I am doing this (my depression) to myself. It's my fault. If I wanted to change I would. I am such a loser for being like this." Then finally, "if I tell anyone they will think all these things about me too."

So I falter, and do not know how to answer the question. The Optometrist picks up on this and pushes from another direction, "Are you on any medications?" I feel so stressed out now, because as soon as I tell him my medications he will know I am a complete loser. I become hot, and I can feel my face become red. Embarrassment sets in. I list my medications, "Prozac, Tegretol, Valium, and Dexedrine". It is obvious to him now, that my hidden secret is out: I am mentally unstable. I feel little in the room; an "unperson".

Why? I do not feel this about anyone else with a mental illness. Just me. I don't get how I can be an advocate in so many ways for people with mental illnesses, yet feel as though I am less because of mine. I know that a huge part of it is that I feel devalued. I feel because I am not working I am incurring a huge debt to society. I am less worthy than others. I am, in fact, less than what people expect a person to be. These thoughts are drilled into my head. I can try to get rid of them. I can try to move beyond them by writing like I did in my last post, but they are always nagging me. They never go away.

Last night I thought about this picture. It is me, as a child, feeding the pigeons. I am certain that people found me valuable then. I am 100% sure that a little girl feeding the pigeons, a little girl doing what brought her joy, was a beautiful sight to others. I am sure no one was watching me and thinking, "That little girl should stop all this fun and enjoyment and get onto something more serious in her life". I am sure others would have seen me as valuable despite my not working.

What is it about children that makes the inherently valuable in a way that adults are not? Why would we never ask a child, "WHAT do you do?" Rather we might ask them, "What do you LIKE to do?

Why are adults so readily judged by the question, "what do you do? Why do we judge ourselves that way? Why am I obsessed with getting a job? Why can't I get that a job may follow a period of doing things I love to do, things that create meaning and purpose in my life. Why can't I get that a job is just one important aspect of life. Why can't I learn, or believe that a job CAN be simply a means to an end? Why can't I manage to give less power to the idea that a job is the what creates meaning and purpose for me?

Part of it is societal norms. Almost the first question out of a person's mouth when they first meet you is "What do you do?": As though with that information they will know everything they need to know about you.

When I was a banker I dreaded this question, because saying "I am a banker" elicits all kinds of stereotypes about who I am, and I was not those stereotypes, or if I was those stereotypes were the parts of me that I hated the most. The entire time I was a banker it was as though I was being the opposite of how I saw myself. The opposite of who I wanted to be, who I imagined I would grow into. I dread the question even more now that I am off work.

I have always fancied answering the question, "What do you do?" in another way: "I draw, and paint. I like to dance and listen to music. I love watching quirky crime drama's. I have a pretty good voice and I love to sing. I like the idea of tradition, but believe we need to envelope new ideas to. I write a blog. I absolutely love to read and learn. I volunteer at a mental health arts facility. I love to hang out with my sisters. I love my nieces and my sisters. I enjoy going out for breakfast with a friend, or going for long walks on the beach or in the woods. I love to garden, canoe and go camping. The problem is, for a long time, I have had trouble consistently doing and enjoying any of the things I "enjoy".

Of course, I love my sisters and nieces, but leaving home to visit them is frightening and exhausting. I am always afraid I won't be able to manage being away from home. I no longer garden, or hike, or camp, or canoe...I cannot muster the energy. I cannot seem to read. Yesterday I tried to read a book that I started a month ago. I knew I had read some of it before, but could not remember where I had read to so I began again. I remembered parts of chapter one and then nothing until I came to Chapter 6 (page 63)...I had read all the way to there before and remembered nothing except that I had read a part of chapter one. How is that possible? Anyways, my point being I don't even truly enjoy all the things I enjoy anymore.

I just don't get why, after years, and years, and years of therapy I can't accept my predicament; accept the life I have fallen into; accept that I am a different person and somehow learn that I am still as valuable as I was when I was that little girl feeding the birds.


Anonymous said...

Aqua, this is really really spooky. I've spent most of the day writing a post near on identical to this, because of YOUR last post. I haven't finished it just yet, because I was umming and ahhing whether to post it or not. If I decide not to publish it, I'll email it to you instead. It is quite uncanny! Tuned into your wavelength!

Lola x

s said...

I always think it's sad that so many people have the nicest clothes they will ever have when they are babies and don't even know.

Handsome B. Wonderful said...

I don't get how I can be an advocate in so many ways for people with mental illnesses, yet feel as though I am less because of mine.

I'm the same way. It's weird but we mentally ill are pretty hard on ourselves.