We live in a world that judges us on how we look. Our body shape, our clothing, and any sign that we somehow deviate from what is “normal”, expected, or otherwise considered acceptable. Mental illness is not always overtly obvious, but sometimes the effects of it are. Hygiene may go out the window, and we emerge from our homes in dirty sweats and greasy hair. Illness may slow us down or speed us up. Eating disorders and other mental illnesses can affect our body shape, as can psychiatric medication.
I have a lithium-induced tremor, and I’ve been surprised by how often people comment on it. My tremor is worse with intentional movement than at rest, and this gets noticed often when I am paying for things in shops. Clerks may come out with a condescending “take your time” or a concerned “are you ok?” If I’m at a coffeeshop and carrying a wobbly mug to my seat, this will often elicit comments, either from staff or other customers. I’m not sure why it’s anyone’s business, but it makes me feel very conspicuous. I have a mostly invisible illness whose treatment has visible side effects. I’m lucky that the antipsychotic that’s worked best for me (quetiapine) has a low potential to cause movement-related side effects like tardive akathisia.
Yet it’s hard sometimes to remember that I’m lucky. One of my nursing jobs involves administering injections and teaching clients how to self-inject medications. My hands are very much on display. My tremor is worse with intentional movement than it is at rest, and I worry that clients will think I’m either nervous or incompetent. I don’t really like either of those options. I usually take propranolol before doing this kind of work to put a damper on the tremor, but if I’m tired/stressed/caffeinated the propranolol doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot. I’ve seldom had clients comment, and if they do I brush it off as too much coffee, but the rest of the world seems to feel quite free to comment.
Another way I’m lucky is that I’ve never experienced a disordered relationship with eating. I haven’t always been happy with my body, but it hasn’t impacted my relationship with food. I’ve written before about illness, meds, and weight, but what comes to mind now as I’m writing this is questions about pregnancy. My meds have caused the weight to pack on disproportionately on my lower abdomen. The proportions have shifted around over time, but there was one particular summer that I was asked multiple times about my non-existent pregnancy. I’m of the opinion that you should never ask a woman about being pregnant unless it looks like she’ll probably give birth tomorrow. When others commented on my “pregnancy”, I felt like I had totally lost control over my body. I felt really offended, less because of the very real psych med baby I was carrying around and more because others felt they had the right to talk about my body.
When I recently made the decision to add Botox to my depression treatment plan, a friend mentioned that they had thought about getting it cosmetically. For some reason that made me feel icky. And it’s not (at least I don’t think) so much that I would judge someone for getting a cosmetic procedure; it’s more that I don’t even care enough to wear makeup, and the thought of doing something to my body for cosmetic reasons seems utterly bizarre. Maybe the issue is that I worry others will judge me for getting Botox.
This post has been a bit all over the place, but I guess my point is that we are judged. No matter what we say, what we do, or what we look like, others will judge us. We can’t stop it, much as we might wish to, so all that’s left is managing our own reactions. And sometimes that’s much easier said than done.