Mental Health Stigma Creates a Double Life

04/14/2015 12:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

We all know that people with mental illnesses are treated differently and in some cases even discriminated against.  However, another issue is that due to this treatment many times those of us who have a mental illness begin to live a double life.  We can't fully be the person we are in our comfort zone because it would most likely not be acceptable.  I can't speak for all people with mental illness, but I can share my story.  My story is probably fairly common for those of us with mental illness that are considered "high functioning" and possibly for others as well.

My entire life, I have struggled with being different and feeling differently from others around me.  Yet, for the most part, I do not appear to be different.  My disabilities are mostly invisible.  While I no longer seek to hide that I have mental health diagnoses, I do often find myself trying to behave like other people when it is not natural to me.

For example, as a blogger I have an event coming up.  I imagine that if I were not a person with three mental illnesses and some physical issues as well, I would be quite excited about the event.  However, because I am entering into unknown territory with this event, I am on edge.  I haven't been able to sleep well and have had nightmares.  My obsessive compulsive disorder has been giving me obsessive thoughts about what may or may not happen.

The reason I begin to lead a double live in these scenarios can vary.  Sometimes it is because I fear being discovered as a "crazy person" and then being considered a phony.  Sometimes it is because I fear that I will need a break to calm down my nerves and it will be difficult for me to ask for accommodations.

So while I'm not proactively hiding my mental illness, I am attempting to adapt to the situation and pretend that everything is going just fine.  Yet it isn't.  In a world where I would receive all of the accommodations I need (and some I desire), I would have an entire day to relax before the event began.  Then I would have another day where they would walk me through everything that might happen during the event.  They would show me the setup of the room, they would have me practice everything, and they would give me more than 24 hours to reflect upon it.  I would have an assistant provided to me that would take notes and organize everything for me in a document that I can visually read since I struggle with short term memory loss.  This would also put my obsessive compulsive disorder at ease.  They would also run through the entire event to be sure that there was no chance I might encounter something that would trigger my post-traumatic stress disorder.  Lastly, they would be sure that I had the ability to get eight hours of sleep, had at least two hours prior to having to be ready in the morning to relax and do whatever I want so that I could ease myself into the day.  They would also provide me meals catered to my multitude of food allergies.  And in the middle of the event, I would be able to take a walk in nature to balance my mood.  All of these things would help me to keep my bipolar disorder in check.

Unfortunately, I have to live a double life.  On the one side, I smile and pretend to be excited about the event.  On the other side, I have deep fears and anxieties about how things will go.  And during all of this, I am worried that someone will figure out that I am faking being a functional human being.

The preparation for this event is overwhelmingly exhausting both mentally and physically.  During the entire process I have regretted even requesting information about the event.  I have regretted continuing to be in contact with them.  Although they are paying me for the event, I keep questioning whether or not the torture I am going through is worth it monetarily.  For someone that doesn't have all of these struggles, I'm sure the pay is sufficient.  For me, you couldn't pay me thousands of dollars to feel that it is sufficient.  I keep comforting myself in knowing that this will help me gain more exposure for my blog, which is a small business.  It can't hurt to be involved in this event if I look at it from that perspective.  Yet the anxiety I feel keeps reminding me that it may not be worth it.

On a positive side, when I participate in things like this there is always a period of time in the middle of an event that I have a window into a normal life.  I get to feel like I am accepted and that I could actually pull off being a functioning member of society.  I've fooled many people in the past to believing that I wasn't a completely strange person.

What gets me through situations like this event is remaining grateful that God has provided me this opportunity, that I should pray about it, and having faith that God has a plan for me in all of this.  It is not only encouraging to know that God listens to me, but that he knows the pain of this broken world because he lived in it once.

And when the event is over, I will most likely retreat back to my life of what normal is to me.  I will be able to get all of the sleep I need, easily eat the foods I need, and set my own schedule.  I will be able to do things that are familiar to me so that I have less anxiety.  I will be able to lead a life where I don't feel like I'm trying to fool anyone, mainly because I will limit the amount of interaction I have with other people (at least until I fully come out of the somewhat depressed state I am currently experiencing).  I will be able to relax again and will have conquered yet another situation in my life that for some might have caused butterflies in their stomach but for me was a major feat.  I can be proud of myself for marching forward even in the face of my secret adversity.

This post originally appeared on my blog.