I tried for YEARS to pass. I tried very very hard. And while I was discovering my other identities… my queer/bi identity, my Geek identity, my kinky identity… those I could pass if I needed to, or I simply didn't care to pass. But I had never figured out, even when I knew I had to pretend to be normal and act like I didn't have problems, that what I was doing was trying to Pass in regards to my brain.
I have read about passing over the years. Mattilda's Nobody Passes is good reading on the subject. But it never occurred to me until right now that I have my own intimate passing story as well.
Hello, everyone. I'm a person with psychiatric challenges. And for DECADES, I tried to pass as non-Challenged.
As I said earlier, it was expected of me to pass. Mother made me perform up to societal standards, and I got chastised sometimes (it felt like all the time) when I didn't/couldn't.
Now my mother realizes the extent of my Challenges. (She knew about them before but didn't know they were strong enough that we should stop trying to make me stand up to societal standards.) However, she taught me how to Pass. And in some ways, I've learned very well. I'm quite good at passing sometimes, in some environments, in some ways. I can pass well enough to get a job. I can pass well enough to keep it for a short period (months to a small number of years). I can talk to you, and you'd probably just think something was a little off… I can't really hide the ADHD completely.
There are people who have known me for years and knew little to nothing of the depression that plagues my existence. When they find out, they are surprised, incredulous, and sometimes in complete doubt. Part of it is the nature of my brain… social situations make me feel good and pull me out of my depression. Part of it is the passing.
We must pass, we are told. It's not an option… it's an imperative. And I believe everyone with a mental illness is told to do it. Depressed people? Keep working and put on a happy face. Bipolar folks? Temper those moods… take the depressed advice and add on top of it controlling your highs. You can't let anyone know you're flying right now. Peeps with schizophrenia? Man, you gotta hide that shit… your crazy terrifies people. And on and on and on.
Now of course, some of it deals with other people's boundaries. You can't harm other people. That's fine.
But we are expected to keep up a façade. Not let people see it on us. And we are expected to be able to keep functioning at the same level as everyone else, or a mildly modified level. "Sure, we'll make reasonable accommodations, but WE get to decide what's 'reasonable', and if we simply don't feel like doing it, it's not 'reasonable' anymore." Fuck that noise.
Passing HURTS. It does. The expectation has given me anxiety problems. Not being able to pull it off gives me guilt and depression problems. And this constant struggle to just be someone I am not… it wears you down. The one time I passed the most, I ended up having a drinking problem. And even then, I got let go from my job for not passing enough. Corporate America is the Great Passing Entity. You MUST PASS or else you're out.
And let's say you do pass. Let's say you are able to do something society expects of you. How are you rewarded? A "thank you for doing that. you can relax now."? No. It's held up as proof you CAN pass, and then you're expected to pass even more. You are rewarded for passing with the expectation of more of the same. It never ends.
Forcing yourself to do things when you can't hurts. It hurts SO MUCH. And it's traumatic too.
Forcing yourself to appear to be fully functional and normal hurts. In part because then you are expected to be fully functional and normal. In other part because you have to keep up the charade of being someone you're not.
I'm not passing anymore. At least, I'm not passing as an imperative. If I want to pass as something, I'll give it a go, but I'm not going to try to live up to others expectations of me. I'll do what's right for me and my health. Self-care and care from others is more important than being "good" or being "normal". At least, that's what I'm going to try to do. (Good luck with that, really.)
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