What is ‘good mental health’? I know I don’t have it, I know I’m aiming for it, but I don’t know what it is. Is it one of those terms like the word normal which has so many meanings in so many contexts to so many individuals that it’s almost impossible to define?
Some aspects of my condition are obviously not symbolic of good health – panic attacks, for example are not healthy, nor is depression, paranoia or being so spaced out you don’t know where or who you are. Those things we can all do without but there are some aspects of my condition that I can’t help but wonder about.
Dissociation is a natural mental function, it serves to protect you and helps you multi-task. On a simple level and one that everyone can understand, dissociation is what allows you to drive home at the end of the day whilst thinking about a million other things that you need to do, have done, will do, people to talk to etc etc. When you get home you can’t remember the journey at all, why? because you didn’t need to be fully conscious to make that journey, you’ve made it so many times it has drilled into your subconscious and unless something out of the ordinary happens like a crash or a traffic jam or a diversion, you don’t need to give it your full concentration and you can think about other things. That is a form of multi-tasking, also known as auto-pilot. Your brain can do many things at once, but only one or two things at a time can be in the spot-light of conscious thinking.
On a more complex survival level, dissociation kicks in during any shock to the system such as trauma or grief. If the worst happens, such as a family member dying suddenly, the grief can be overwhelming. This is natural and you need to go through that grief, but you can’t straight away because there’s the funeral to plan, the legalities to sort through, people to speak to, all of this requires you to function and if that tidal wave of grief hits you, you won’t be able to function for some time. So you dissociate from it. Most people say they go into shock, they go numb, they “just get on with it”. If you didn’t do that you wouldn’t survive the legal and social processes that come with a death in the family, I guess the measure of a persons mental health comes from the balance between dissociation and feeling; after the funeral, when they can finally give in to their grief – are they able?
Many other factors will dictate what is healthy and what isn’t; social class, gender, age, culture, religion, ethnicity, all of these will determine how much you are expected to show and express or hide and deny, reactions to painful situations will vary from person to person but the expectation and required self-control will be dictated by the society that suffering individual is in. I often think what would my life have been like if I had lived in different age? Society today is both open and judgmental, I’m encouraged to talk about my problems but I’m not guaranteed acceptance, however if I can ignore the criticism and just be myself I will be applauded. I can raise awareness and speak openly on this blog but if I reveal my identity I risk confrontation and rejection from some of those who know me. It is a society of extreme contradiction where everyone can be themselves yet everyone is held to a strict code of normality based on what is considered “healthy”.
600 years ago my life would have been seen in an utterly different light. After my young experiences I would have been encouraged to forget, to hide, to deny the feelings and pretend it never happened. The controlling and abusive relationship I went through several years ago would have been considered normal, unfortunate that I couldn’t have affection but no cause for complaint. The ending of that relationship would have been scandalous rather than cause for celebration. I may not have been considered a happy and enviable woman back then, but I wouldn’t be considered unhealthy, ill or in need of any help. Sometimes I wonder if that would have been an easier time for someone like me, if the openness of today’s society somehow works against me in the sense that I know how bad things can get, I know that what happened to me was not normal was not acceptable and was in fact horrific, I know that I’m not supposed to think and feel the way I do. By telling me I do not have “good mental health” you are in fact feeding my condition, setting me apart and making my journey that bit harder. Yet to say I’m fine and normal would be denying what happened and the effect it had, invalidating my experience and making me unimportant so to be fair to you cannot win! And nor can I. All either of us can do is continue down the path our society has made, fight for changes where we need them and hope for the best.
I think dissociative disorders are some of the hardest mental health conditions to live with because we need awareness and we need help, yet by nature we need to hide and try to forget and we can’t have both.
I apologise if this has been a rather rambling post I have many thoughts and idea’s tonight and can’t quite get them in sync. Hopefully these thoughts will make sense to someone!