Quarantine has made a lot of people get back in touch with each other, and in the year before quarantine, I delightfully seemed to keep ending up with sudden messages from old, out of touch friends.
This always begs the question—what do you say?
Sometimes I start where we left off and bring them up to speed; sometimes I focus on whatever it was that brought us together to begin with; sometimes I give a summary of my life now and backtrack where it would be confusing.
Often, mental health comes up.
Relatedly, a pretty frequent experience for people in the queer community is that before any of you realized your gender, sexuality, so on, your group of friends bonded together over something else and all, later, turned out to be queer.
Mental health I think frequently goes the same way.
Two out of the three people I was closest to in high school turned out to be bipolar (and heteroflexible). The general group I went to for writers turned out to contain more mentally ill queer people than not. My closest Internet friends were often eventually one or both. (Once, when I mentioned I was living with my girlfriend to an old Internet friend who got back in touch, I had a moment of hesitation; she responded that she was marrying a woman that weekend.)
This is true time and time again.
This begs another question—if something can draw you to certain people before you know what it is—is it unlikely to be a surprise when someone you used to know turns out to be mentally ill later in life? Is there a way of just knowing that something is off before diagnostic checkboxes get checked and labels get slapped on? If I mention my mental health as of late to someone getting back in touch, should they be that surprised?
Some of my diagnoses were belated. My autism symptoms were nigh life long, arguably my anxiety too. My schizophrenia manifested for the first time years before it was diagnosed, also at seventeen, and as I poke more at how the average person connects to reality and daydreams and mental processes, there were always at least internal signs of… a predisposition? Something not quite right? More than maybe an overactive imagination or the proclivities of a writer?
Hindsight’s 20/20 and normalcy of any kind can be a hell of a blinder.
Once, in middle school, I found myself breathless with worry, and wondered—for a very short moment—if I was having a panic attack, which at the time was this abstract concept some of my Internet friends talked about. I immediately brushed it off, thinking, “I can’t be having a panic attack; I don’t have an anxiety disorder because I’m not mentally ill.”
That simple moment of thinking of mentally ill as a huge phrase—so easily brushing off this identity that simply could not be mine—convinced me I was fine. Maybe I was having a panic attack; maybe I wasn’t. I did not have what I think of as my first proper one for another year. I accepted what that was fairly quickly once they were handing me papers at the ER that reassured me I wasn’t having a heart attack at thirteen.
The idea that I could be something that wasn’t heterosexual had not even crossed my mind as a question until I was fifteen, despite obsessions with female fictional characters of a very specific sort, uncommon feelings for some female friends (mostly ones who later turned out to be queer themselves), romantically coded daydreams that seemed to come back to the female characters quite frequently.
Yet, all it really took was feelings for one girl that skyrocketed beyond what an internal heteronormativity blinder could hide, that took a veil off of years of emotion and threw it aside for the future.
I don’t remember first developing my suspicion I was autistic, but I was self diagnosed before I saw a psychologist. I was probably researching mental health issues for my more known ones, and came across a diagnostic list that sounded very relatable and brought a lot of ohhhhh at the hindsight. I think I continue to frequently find more moments of ohhhhh still—oddly, because I seem to have finally fallen into a crowd more neurotypical than I am—and when they don’t relate to a thing I do—I go ohhhhh. So that’s a me thing.
When I first started having psychotic symptoms, they were episodic and tied mostly to severe panic attacks. Schizophrenia as a label I also don’t remember first accepting, realizing, but I assume it came as I had or realized more symptoms that came outside of the purely episodic; I also was self diagnosed with this before I saw a psychologist. This, too, I still frequently have revelations about. It was just recently I found out how the average person’s daydreams work, and that they sound a lot less like psychosis than mine, once described. But, who thinks to describe some of these things, until you have a reason to ask? The more I know, the more reasons I have, the more questions I ask.
I think that’s the only real way to lift the veil, to realize things before it is even further in hindsight.