By it’s very nature, mental-illness is incredibly inward looking. Trapped inside your own head- replaying your thoughts and doings, over and over again. You analyse yourself like a book; searching for answers in your individual tangled web of sanity (or insanity as the case may be). Often due to the nature of your illness, you lose the bigger picture. You struggle with rationality and see things only from a perspective that places yourself uncomfortably in focus. You worry for an eternity about conversations or actions, that were trivial to others. Your vocabulary shifts and it includes ‘I’ and ‘me’ a lot more than it used to (even though it’s probably apologetic). Friends will ask you how you’re feeling, your parents will want to know about tiny minute actions in your day, your therapist begs you to focus on your emotions and your GP needs you to focus on how you‘re doing physically. All you think about is you. And you feel like a fucking narcissist.
Typically speaking, we don’t like narcissists. People who are self-absorbed are considered bores or worse, dramatic. It goes against the unwritten British code of honour, in which we swear to reply “I’m fine” under any circumstance, even if you feel like the grim reaper personified. You were probably pretty self-loathing anyway, but now you’re a self-absorbed narcissist too. Fucking fantastic. All of a sudden you’re over-thinking some more: should you say this about yourself? Is saying the real reason you don’t want to go out, going to cause a scene? But what if you’re uncontrollably emotional and you wear your heart on your sleeve? What if your face reads like an AA guide to human feeling. To keep shtum and suppress it? Or to embrace your emotional needs and risk some iffy labels and judgement?
We’ve got much better about talking about our feelings and admitting we’re struggling with illness in the last few years. It’s more accepted, more well known. The epidemic of the millenial is being mentally unwell. Clueless commentators like that dreadful Hopkins woman, would have you believe that the sudden swelling of mental-illness discussion, is due to our generation needing to play the victim. That it’s become another badge to wear with pride, like a man bun or a blue-tick on Instagram. All it is is another fad, like being a new-romantic in the eighties.
But obviously that’s bullshit. I think it’s born out of a genuine and collective sigh of relief. A domino effect of people initiating the conversation. Crawling out from under their duvets to seek comfort from others. Sure, maybe we are more self obsessed than those before us, but aren’t we the children of a generation who tried and failed to hide their mental illness. Only to collapse, to self-implode- suddenly and drastically when it reached an unexpected boiling point. This subtle stream of self-reflection, is surely a bit healthier than that.
Mental illness doesn’t affect everyone, but it does touch everyone, so the more conversations the better. The more self- reflection, the more chance you have to learn. A problem shared is a problem …or whatever. Unburden yourself and be free. But for fuck sake do it in the right way. Don’t corner your unsuspecting friend in a bathroom at a house party and bloody hell, don’t start a blog (lol). Start with writing a diary, a private pocket notebook of narcism and graduate by having an honest and frank discussion with the people around you. Who knows in your own analysis of yourself, you might help someone else.
So, for the positivity and sense of freedom it can give you, but also acknowledging societies preconceptions of personal discussion, I award ‘being self-absorbed’ an honourable three stars. Totally and legitimately a cool thing to be.
And if you still feel self-obsessive to an extent where it’s getting you down, go and stand on a mountain for a bit, that’ll shrink you down to size.
Or watch an episode of the Kardashians, yep, you don’t feel narcissistic now do you?
Look out for my next blog post on why it’s cool to remain totally fucking silent (probably).
Illustration by the very talented Ginevra Mandelli