The Me They Don't See
By Sakinah Kaiser
“I’m busy, can we catch up later?”
“Sure”, I say. But later never comes. And neither of us will follow up. I’m used to this with my friendships. We’ve slowly drifted apart as time went on. I don’t know much about their lives. I’m becoming a hermit now. And the world seems so fast paced. I don’t understand it or even recognize its rules anymore. I’m like a stranger in a place that’s loud and unfamiliar. My house feels safest for me, but I long for company and companionship. I feel like a burden for mentioning my needs to my friends.
They want me to get out more and come to where the activities are. Nobody stays at home it seems. At least, not like me. I feel isolated and weird. I simply can’t connect with people anymore. But no one notices my inability to socialize or to be around large groups of people. I waste away in my house, living like a nomad. A rare visit lifts my spirits momentarily. They’ll all forget me, I say. Describing my fear of being lost forever if no longer in plain sight of the crowd.
Someone quickly shushes my anxiety. No, we wouldn’t do that, everyone loves you and you have too many friends. You won’t die alone, that’s only your insecurity talking. Stay positive.
I try. But I’m a shell of my former self. I crawl further inside myself with each passing year.
They’re losing me, can they feel it?
“The kids have practice, talk soon?” Ok, I murmur. But soon never seems to materialize. Days pass into weeks, into months. Now years. We barely know one another anymore. She doesn’t even know my latest address, I think sadly. But then no one does. I haven’t had company in so long. I’m ashamed of my solitude. And I crawl a bit further into the darkness. I’m scared I’ll never find my way out. But I don’t tell anyone.
“I can’t right now, is it something important?”
“No”, I say. Not wanting to be a burden. It was important, actually. I’d been feeling down and despondent. Worse than usual. I wanted to chat with my old friend and just reconnect. Maybe the kinship would have helped lift my spirits and make me smile. I miss our carefree laughter. But I know everyone is busy and has a family. I feel annoyed at myself for even thinking anything self-focused. Other people struggle just like I do. I know this. But I have trouble processing other’s hurts with my own. And knowing how to juggle being solely responsible for me while not losing sight of the world around me. It stings when my friends are disappointed in my ability to multitask or think beyond my own circumstances.
I’m only one. And my burden grows heavier by the day. Not that anyone has noticed or stopped to help. It would be nice to not feel criticism for being me. The me that is flawed, mentally ill, but trying to flourish nonetheless.
My plate is full and my resources quite limited. How do I live life beyond this brain which abandoned me and now needs care? Beyond my circumstances?
This brain is my fourth child, I can’t just put it aside or neatly place it in a box. It demands constant attention and nurturing in order to heal. I’m caring for this sensitive brain much I did my children when they were little.
But no one would understand this comparison. Why do I feel so attached to my illness as an identity anyway, they’ve started to wonder? Move on, they urge. Heal. Live again. Please stop wallowing, we all have something.
Yes, I say. But my something is hated, it’s denied, it’s misunderstood, it’s feared, it’s stigmatized, it’s talked over, it’s refuted, it’s laughed at and mocked. It can put me in danger from those who wish to put me down, rather than treat; it can force me into prison cells and inpatient units against my will, my something is so many terrible things in one. Doesn’t anyone get it?
My loneliness is exacerbated by the feeling is of disconnected goals and misunderstood ideals. I only want to feel stable and understand who I am now. I haven’t dared dream of life beyond that. I’m too afraid. This isn’t enough for most people and they frown in disappointment, thinking I’ve given up. I haven’t, and then again would it be so bad if I did? How much is too much, I often wonder.
I’m slowly losing myself day by day. And they’re losing me too. Can they feel it? I don’t think they can. I begin to slip away more with the passing seasons. Spring mania, winter depression, a mixed episode thrown in here and there. The years blend together, and I grow tired of the dance.
“I’m off to travel!” She says excitedly. “We’ll catch up when I come home, for sure this time. Water the plants, would you?”
If I’m here, I say quietly. “What was that?” “Oh nothing. Have a safe trip.” I cry in the car on the way home. She sips a cocktail on her flight, none the wiser. The distance between our worlds is more than just a plane ride away.
*Watching from a distance*
“You’re too emotional!” He shouts across the timeline. “Learn to be sweet.” “I would be if, oh never mind. You’re right.” She cries in her room hot tears of shame. Why couldn’t she just be normal.
They’re losing her, can they feel it? Maybe. But do they even care? Probably not.
That night she takes stock of what’s left in her life. It’s not much. She feels lost and discarded but then glances over to her mirror. This is it, she sighs. We’re all we have. She points to the mirror. Forces a smile and wills herself not to give up.
She takes out a marker to write herself a poem. It’s a word of encouragement and a letter of love.
This is what they don’t see. When everyone leaves or has written you off as a failure, the one person still standing is you.
Sakinah Kaiser is a writer, blogger and mental health advocate. She is currently writing her second book about substance use disorder and addictions. She hopes to get her degree in addiction studies in the near future.