I have been accused of several crimes, socially unacceptable behaviours, and a litany of outrageous transgressions during my mental illness.
While the majority of the genuinely grotesque periods of my mental health disorder where shadowed by the gates of a locked-down unit. Many of these shameful acts were outside in the community and very much visible to other people. The covert and overt nature of how my displays range from public to private have to do partly with the disease process. More so, the visibility of my transgressions is rooted in the setup of the mental health system.
Given the mental health hospital system only has open beds for the most severely disordered. My displays were rather public when left to my own devices if I was stable enough to go without an inpatient stay in the hospital.
Back to the intended topic: When is sharing too much? To get to the root of it all, one must ask, too much for who? I have had several friendships which have been damaged, if not lost, to the ‘targeted’ expression of my activated mismanaged mental health symptoms. Meaning, my friend was the object of periods of acting out when my ability to cope with these symptoms was overwhelmed.
Recently, a friend said to me: ‘Max, you expect people not to have feelings about how you behave when you are manic, or psychotic, or both. That’s absurd.’ My friend suggested that although my friends may not judge or be critical of me when I act out. My friends certainly feel a certain way about the times when I lose my shit. That, despite our status as friends, people are still are human. Like most humans, friends must process their feelings before a relationship can return to its normal position or baseline.
While I understand that my behaviours impact other people’s feelings and that these feelings must be processed. I don’t know how irrationality and other illness symptoms can ever be taken as genuine expressions of my character and who I really am.
My long-term friends have experienced my psychosis in its full-bloom and without warning. I experienced the horror of psychosis firsthand. If given a choice, I would never experience it again or have ever experienced it, to begin with. Instead, I was fated to experience it. I didn’t have a choice in this matter. Each of my friends has the choice to walk away from all of me or provide me with unconditional support. I didn’t have a choice, but my friends still do.
When you have a chronic illness, your symptoms persist without end. As so-called ‘supportive’ friends, how can you pick and choose when you feel strong enough, capable enough, to be there for me and support me? If I don’t have a choice about living with this disorder, why should you have a choice about being a good friend or writing me off?
The socially unacceptable behaviours I gestured to earlier are simply too much for some people. They can be quite disturbing. I can separate the difference between the person from the diagnosis – the friend, from his illness.
Nobody gets a free pass on their behaviour. I never asked for a free licence to misbehave or a thumbs up of approval: ‘Hey, Max, you were a great person even when you were psychotic.’ I didn’t ask for anything like that.
All I ask for is an honest interpretation of the reflective work I have completed. This thoughtful work is by no means suggesting I be exonerated of my transgressions. Any suggestion of this nature is a bald-faced lie.
Ultimately, if my story doesn’t benefit you, put down the book, and ask me not to share anything further with you. Unless you make it clear what your needs are as my friend and reader, I cannot help how you are impacted by the narrative and my choice to share my life with you.
Back to the question, can a person share too much? I have said and will always say no. Full disclosure, when appropriate. How do we know when it’s right? When it benefits the other person. When should I fear disclosing? When a person can’t give you unconditional support.
In the end, unconditional or just a friend. Supports should clarify how available they can be for you and what their limits are as friends. Never be ashamed of your history. In cases like mine, when supports cannot handle the level of support asked of them.
Just be careful, and tread carefully. So, is what I said too much?
Maxwell Guttman teaches social work at Fordham University. He is also a mental health correspondent for Psychreg where he shares his insights on recovery and healing.
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