My Mental Illness is a Problem for Men

More than it’s a problem for me.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

I have anxiety issues. I have trauma issues. I have bouts of depression.

I have…accepted these things about myself. I fought it for a long time…as a “phase” or as something temporary. As something to be rejected.

Now, I understand that I have to work with myself and my own mind. And for the most part, others accepted it, too. I don’t have to explain why I don’t want to go to movies or have balloons at my birthday party. I don’t even really have to explain why…I don’t want parties. I state my preferences and, for the most part, they’re respected.

Except when a cishet man is involved.

Then, instead of being a person to be accepted, I am a thing to be fixed.

  1. The belittling approach

“How could you have mental health issues? You’re too pretty for that.”

Something I have literally actually heard. Ah yes, because I am desirable, my mental health is an obstacle.

We see this over and over again in different ways. The independent woman has to change her mind so the guy can get the girl in the end. The “crazy” girl is hot but…not good for a relationship. So the only way around this is for the girl to be…not crazy.

And what’s one way to do that? Well, emotional abuse, maybe?

Belittling a person is one technique. I could be explaining, rationally and calmly, what my needs are, just to hear a scoff.

I might say something like, “Before we watch this, I need to research it to make sure it doesn’t trigger me” or “Can you watch this first, so I know if it’s safe?”

And then I’m met with ridicule. “Do you really need that? That will ruin the movie for me. We’re supposed to watch it together!”

Surprise, surprise, his desire to experience a movie his way is more important than my trauma being triggered.

Now, I hold my ground…but I didn’t used to. I used to be a much bigger people-pleaser than I am now, and I wouldn’t want to “upset” the other person. Of course, this resulted in my being triggered, and then feeling unable to express that I felt triggered, because I would be subject to…more ridicule.

It’s frustrating when I’m clearly expressing what I want…and a man’s technique for fixing me is by mocking needs and a process that I’ve developed to help me enjoy life.

2. The tough love approach

If you want to watch me straight up leave my body, try the tough love approach.

Making loud sounds until I stop being startled is something men have tried…so often that it’s exhausting. Yes, eventually, I stop jumping. But it’s not because I’m cured.

It’s because I’ve gone numb. And my startle reflex will come back in a couple of hours…and it’ll probably be worse.

Also, the “tough love” approach kills all my love. Once a man tries to fix me with tough love, I simply never trust him again.

Tough love is different from communicating with me that maybe my avoidance is controlling my life. This is why people employ tough love…it’s a misguided form of exposure therapy.

The main difference is, there is a right way to do exposure therapy, and that is with consent, agreement, and by gently encouraging someone to face their fears.

When you skip the consent and understanding parts, you’re just traumatizing someone even more.

3. The interrogation approach

Cishet Men love the interrogation approach.

“Do you really have trauma issues? Why? Were they really that bad? Was it sexual in nature?”

There’s something a little weird about it…something that almost seems like a fetish. Are some of these men getting off on the idea of me getting sexually assaulted? The answer is…some of them, looking back, yeah. Probably.

They want information. Not to help me, but for their own fantasy, or for their own ego.

What did I go through? Was it really bad enough that they think I deserve the title of trauma? Was it sexy? Did I fight back?

I don’t need to prove to anyone that I “deserve” my mental state. It is what it is, and I know my mental health the same way I know my own body.

Here’s the truth.

I have accepted that I have trauma issues. And I can still have a job, and friendships, and even relationships…with the right person. But the trauma is still there.

Men often think the trauma has to go away before I can be happy. That’s not true. I dare say I’m happy even now!

But I need to be respected as a person. I am not a Disney Princess who is absolutely pure and sheltered, and I don’t need to become that to be a person worthy of love.

There is an idea many men have that a woman helps them on their own hero’s journey. And how can I help them on their journey when I’m working on my own?

But the truth is, I need people who accept that I’m on my own journey, and will be, before, after, and during our relationship. I have surrounded myself with those people…but those people who show me that radical love and acceptance are very rarely cishet men.

My mental illness is a part of who I am. It’s not everything. I am still my own person driving the wheel and working through this struggle. But I can’t plan on a life without it. I need to make my life happen with this problem instead of imagining there’s some pure me waiting on the other side of my struggle. I have to accommodate myself.

I need someone who will help me continue to work through it, for my entire life, not someone who is trying to force it out of me like an exorcism. Not someone who thinks I should just need a little bit of time before becoming “normal.” Not someone who thinks if they give me enough gifts, I’ll “act right.” I already know how to “act right” and it doesn’t help me at all.

I need acceptance, understanding, and patience.

I am okay with my mental illness, with the concessions I need to give myself, with the ways my life might look different and with my varying needs. I know when I need time to myself to recover. I know that even when COVID is over, I’m perfectly fine with never entering a crowded movie theater again.

I’m okay with myself.

…But are you?


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