Protected, Life In a Plastic Bubble
Have you heard of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? From 1976, the film stars John Travolta and is about a boy who was born with a dysfunctional immune system. Contact with normal, unfiltered air might kill him, and so he has to live in conditions that can only be described as like an incubator. If he emerges, he might die. As such, he has to live his life inside that bubble, protected from the things that might cause him harm or kill him.
Now why the bubble? What could that possibly have to do with mental health, I hear you ask? After all, it’s not as if we are contagious or like the world outside will kill us if we come into contact with it. So what is it?
The answer: protection.
More often than not, when I talk to people on our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Imgur accounts, I hear stories that have very similar themes. People open up about their mental health conditions and others start to treat them differently. Granted, not everyone does so, but there are definite examples of when people treat them differently. What am I referring to? Simply, those friends who will distance themselves and rarely talk. Others who will almost shun them because they “have a mental health condition”. In this case, however, it’s more specifically those that suddenly treat us as though we’re fragile.
To Protect Us
Do you find that people start treating you as though you’re made of glass? After you’ve said, “Yep, I’ve got depression/anxiety/bipolar/etc”, it’s as though you’ve suddenly become that boy in the plastic bubble? People who would confide in you suddenly stop doing so. Others who might use you as a sounding board for their problems, or who might come to you for advice start to look elsewhere.
Slowly, one by one, they all abandon you. Why?
For your protection.
Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s what we need. We have the struggles of our own mental health and own life events to worry about, do we need the added pressure of other people’s lives on top of that? Not always, no. For some, that might actually succeed in making them feel more anxious. But is that the case for everyone? I don’t believe so.
There are two points that I want to make here, ones that I firmly believe in and hope that everyone else will have heard of at least once:
- We are exactly the same person that we were before we disclosed our mental health conditions to you.
- We might be sick, but that does not mean we’re weak.
Have you seen those words on social media or heard them from someone? I know I have. But what do they mean for us? Us, as friends and family members of people who suffer.
I’m the Same Person
Believe it or not, I’m exactly the same person I was before you knew about my mental illness. For the majority of us, once we are diagnosed, we don’t normally go shouting our condition from the rooftops. Stigma tends to keep a pretty good wrap on that one! If we’ve told you we are struggling, whatever that might be with, the chances are we’ve been suffering for a few weeks, maybe a few months or, if we’re really secretive and private, a few years! So why should we be different now?
Realistically, we’re not. We are the same person. You just know a different aspect of us, the same way you might come to my house and suddenly discover I love Star Wars and Star Trek. I don’t shout about it or advertise it, but it’s a part of me. With that in mind, why exactly do people stop sharing problems with us or hide bad days from us? To spare us?
Protected From Problems
I can understand that people would want to protect us from their problems. After all, there is always that fear of making things worse for us, especially those of us who struggle with mental health. The line “but I don’t want to make you worse” is often dragged out as the reasoning behind someone declining our offer of help. It’s understandable that people would feel this way but is it justifiable?
Granted, there will be times when we can’t handle someone else’s problems on top of our own. We all have those days where everything is going wrong, where we can’t handle everything being thrown at us. I get that frequently in my journey. That doesn’t mean I can’t support you, even in a limited capacity. Protecting me from your problems isn’t necessary. If I can’t handle it, then I can’t handle it but realistically it won’t make me worse. My mood might dip for a moment or half an hour or something, but it cannot and will not make me worse than I already am.
This is definitely an approach subjective to each individual, but I find hiding those problems for fear of making me worse can actually be the cause of that feared harm. If I pick up on the fact that someone is struggling but hiding it from me, it kicks my mind into overdrive, telling me they don’t value me, that my help isn’t good enough, that I can’t fix their problems. The list goes on. Even though I know these aren’t true and that the problem, in this case, lies with me (in what I’m thinking), it doesn’t stop them from coming. I still fear the reasoning behind why you’re keeping the problems from me.
So What Am I Saying?
What am I saying? At the end of the day, keeping us inside that plastic bubble will prevent us from growing. How can we learn to cope with different stressors in addition to our conditions if people keep things from us and prevent us from helping? For those of us who find relief in helping others, how are we meant to find that relief? While it’s definitely a subjective approach to each individual – as some won’t be able to handle it – it’s something that people need to consider seriously.
As Cheryl has stated previously, perhaps we are never meant to be complete but, instead, we can be broken together. Even in our collective weaknesses, we can find strength and get each other through. We don’t have to be whole, we don’t have to have it all together or know where we’re going. It’s OK.
We don’t have to be kept in that plastic bubble to survive.
We can be broken together.
So please, don’t feel like you’re burdening us. You tell us we’re not a burden, well neither are you. So can we just be broken together?
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