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Can One Function Too Well?

Posted Mar 21 2013 1:21pm

While I'm recovering from back surgery, Greg's mom has been staying with us, ostensibly to help. However, I'm certain that having my tension level about to explode out of my brain every day is not helpful to healing. She's a get-on-your-knees-to-scrub-the-floor type of cleaner, not a gently-shove-the-kitty-around-the-floor-to-pick-up-dust type of cleaner. While I greatly appreciate having a spotless home, I do not, however, appreciate someone telling me my utility room isn't pretty enough and then proceeding to put away everything in different "more efficient" spots. I didn't know utility rooms were supposed to be pretty, really? (Definition of utility from the Dictionary.com site "... designedchieflyforuseorserviceratherthanbeauty,highquality,orthelike....").

It then occurred to me, while this woman may have heard a mention of the fact that I have bipolar disorder, she has no idea what that means. She's also never seen me in the throes of an episode. What she sees is the woman who makes, keeps track of, and takes her to all her doctor appointments. The woman who keeps track of all her medications and makes sure they're refilled on time. The woman who, in the midst of an unobvious-to-others manic episode made over 15 loaves of bread, a couple chicken pot pies, chicken noodle soup, chili and other miscellaneous foodstuffs for the freezer over a period of two weeks before surgery. To her, I'm a very competent and awe-inspiring woman (her ideal of me is quite difficult to live up to). 

After I blew up last night because I had no idea where to find the cat food or the laundry detergent, I decided it was time to explain to her that I'm not the superwoman she thinks I am. Unfortunately, I was faced with an absolutely closed mind. I heard "oh, no dear, you're fine;" "no, I don't believe you;" and "everybody gets a little depressed sometimes." I explained that I've worked hard over the past few decades developing coping skills and tools that help me function. I have such simple ways to do every day tasks, that when they're in place and working smoothly I don't even have to think about them. Things like doing the laundry, feeding the cats, preparing meals, cleaning, and bathing all have systems in place that help me do these things seemingly effortlessly. I told her there are many high-functioning people with a mental illness who rely on their finely honed day-to-day routines to keep things running smoothly. Then she said "I thought mentally ill people were only highly-skilled in one area." That's when I realized this woman's perception, like most others, is based on the media. She sees movies like A Brilliant Mind and assumes all people with mental illness must have some sort of genius in one particular field, but are totally screwed up in the rest of their lives.The whole time I'm speaking to her, she has this unbelievably confused look on her face. Finally Greg just said "don't move her stuff or she can't function." To which she replied "Huh" with an even more confused look on her face.

When I speak or write about my mental illness to others, it's not because I want sympathy or pity, I simply want understanding and respect. I am not ashamed of my limitations. As a matter of fact, when I really look at what it takes to be me, I'm quite proud of myself for how far I've come. But my carefully developed systems need to stay intact. I need to be able to reach to the same spot a thousand times to find the same laundry detergent, or whatever tool I'm expecting to be there. I can adapt to change, when necessary; and I am open to learning new ways of doing things more efficiently if it's a significant enough change to match the learning curve required. 

Is it possible to become to well-functioning? Do we need remind people now and then that we're really not as competent as they think we are?

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