MH@H Mental Health

Mental Illness and What I Can and Can’t Do

puzzle pieces leaving a person's head

Mental illness makes it very easy to focus our attention on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. I also tend to disqualify (at least in relative terms) what I can do and place greater importance on what I can’t.


Many of my cans revolve around blogging and writing. Blogging and other writing activities take up a huge chunk of my life, and I’m quite content with that. Sure, I have the odd insecurities now and then, but it’s always an area that falls firmly in the can do category.

Another thing I can do is be a guinea pig mom. I’ve got five of these little monsters right now, and they have a very happy existence. They love that I don’t work very much, because it means that food could be forthcoming at almost any time of day. I would prefer it if they didn’t think 1 a.m. was an appropriate time to get food, but if the alternative was not having them, I’d continue taking the 1 a.m. wake-up call.

In general, adulting is something I can do, although there are certainly some more specific functional deficits. I’ve been totally self-sufficient since I was 23, and I’ve been a homeowner for 15 years. Of the two long-term boyfriends that I’ve had, one was a student with no income (and more importantly, just an ass) and the other was on disability assistance because of his mental illness, so I was always the most responsible adult.


A lot of my can’ts revolve around work. It’s something I’ve struggled with quite a bit, but I’ve started coming to terms with the idea that it just is what it is, and trying to push myself isn’t helpful.

Another big area of can’ts is interpersonal relationships. With a single exception, I can’t do friendships (I’m referring to in-person, not online), not that I have the slightest bit of desire anymore to do so. I can’t have the kind of relationships with my family that I used to have. I have a hard time dealing with even basic interactions with people. If the grocery store did away with self-checkout that would be a major disruption in my life.

It seems I can’t go back to the interests I used to have. Eating out at a restaurant? It’s the equivalent of going through the cashier checkout at the grocery store.

Finding balance

I definitely appreciate my cans, but somehow the can’ts just don’t seem to want to fade entirely into the background. I guess with that kind of thing that acceptance is the way to go. It seems unlikely to change substantially any time soon, so best to let it be what it will be, and just keep on doing my cans.

How do you find balance between your cans and your can’ts?

The rainbow model of mental illness symptom and functional domains from Mental Health @ Home

For more on variability in functioning in chronic mental illness, check out the rainbow model.

35 thoughts on “Mental Illness and What I Can and Can’t Do”

  1. I loved your post very much! <3
    It's true, when we focus on what we have and what we can do, our life seems so much better. But mental illness is like a blindfold tying our eyes. (I am a teenage girl, and often have bouts of teenage depression. Life seems so hard then and almost meaningless.)
    Thank you for such a great post!

  2. Like you, I try to focus on my cans (that sounds dirty lol). I can have a full-time job ~ because I’m lucky to have one where I don’t have to “people” too much. I also have part-time supplemental work I do at home. This means I can support myself to live alone, for now, which makes me happy. I focus on that, my kitty, and my good relationship with my daughters (I don’t see them much because they don’t live nearby). I can’t do close friendships where a lot of in-person time is expected of me, and certainly not dating where I’d have to be available for constant meals and sex. Gahhh. Just the thought of it makes me anxious. I lost a writing buddy girlfriend a few years ago when I couldn’t go on a hike she organized. It was just too stressful. She never spoke to me again.

  3. hey there, loved your post ! I’m also writing a book about this topic. the key is do not allow the can’t to take control and just focus on what you can do !

  4. I loved this post and I agree so much with you. I also always tend to think more about the things I can’t. It’s okay to not be able to do all things. We can do lots of other things well 💗

  5. I too am better with freindships online than in person. I mean, I do have two people (roommate & my frined JT) in my real world, but they too can be overly stimulating, and I prefer being alone.
    If it weren’t for Peanut, blog, and having to go to the supermarket, I’d be a lump.
    My biggest can’t bother’s me the most. That’s not being able to handle chronic pain in legs & back. There is no balance in that area.

  6. Great post! I don’t really have any online friends. I do sometimes struggle with my in-person friendships, mainly due to my having high standards for myself and others. I am very blessed though in the friendship category! I guess I am able to have in-person friendships (mostly people I’ve known a long time), which is good. I just need to back off of some of my expectations of them.

  7. One of the biggest challenges I face is setting boundaries. For most of my life I didn’t feel I could do that and when I did, inevitably something really bad would happen or someone would leave. I’ve been learning how to set boundaries over the past eight years (since hubby passed away) and that’s taken away a whole raft of “can’ts” for me. I will never enjoy people. It’s just not in my nature, but now I don’t feel I have to explain my phobia and dislike of the majority of people that I encounter (not on line). Like you having friends is a tough thing. I don’t make them easily and I lose them extremely easily, so I usually think “why bother’. I don’t trust people either and that’s critical to being and having a friend I think.

    So how do I balance what I can do and what I cannot? I just take each day at a time and each situation as it comes. Do as much as I can, but I don’t push the limits.

  8. Great post , but it makes me feel so sad for you that you feel like you have to hide from interpersonal relationships. If you could just talk to real life people like you talk to all of us, wouldn’t that work? You seem very knowledgeable, what about going to a psychologist? Maybe he or she could help you work through some of your can’ts. I get that its good to focus on your “cans” but I hate that you have to hide from the world.

  9. Lovely post and really made me ponder. I love friendships but can often get too overexcited and frighten people off. I just love being loved and giving love which sounds a bit weird but I guess we all do really.

  10. Great post!! I have a lot of the exact same can’ts: the need for the grocery store’s U-scan, and an extreme difficulty eating out.

    What beautiful guineas! I got excited when I scrolled down and saw a lovely photo of them! 1:00 AM? Furry little ingrates. 😛 Big Woof does the same thing to me early in the morning, before I want to get up. It starts with a gentle lick, and that gets followed up with a huge paw to the face. And I’m like, “UHHHH. BAD WOOF.”

    One reason I feel sad for you is that you don’t have anyone nearby like I have my dad. I wish you did!! 🙁

    I have a handful of in-person friends myself, but you know what winds up happening? I interact with them online instead of getting together! 😀 Never discount online friendships, I say!! But one way I made some in-person friends was by taking up ice skating. Maybe you could try it!! (Wear a helmet and pray.)

  11. I always or at least most of the times I focused on the can do’s. Lately I discover so many can not do ‘s, it scares the living daylights out of me and keeps me in perpetual tears. But I will and can… Think I will do my own experience post on this. Thanks for this post. I always try an read your nlog first🌹

  12. Congratulations on completing your book Ashley.

    I feel like I have a more difficult time making friendships in the real world as I grow older as well, and work is usually my biggest source of anxiety too.

    That’s why I want so badly to get into business for myself one day so that I can completely sidestep that anxiety. 😑

    Great post. Your honesty is refreshing.

        1. The massive beard seems like it would be likely to attract critters like ticks. Books with a twist of Lyme disease… The shotgun sounds more reasonable, though 😉

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