Watching my mom struggle with the delusions that were a part of her illness made me aware at an early age that it is possible for our thoughts to sometimes mislead us. Even those of us who do not have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia find ourselves creating stories to explain what is happening around us and trying to interpret the actions of others. In fact, I’ve heard about some recent studies that have shown that it is natural for humans to try to fill in the blanks when presented with only partial information, and this often leads to false conclusions. This propensity is compounded when one is struggling with any kind of emotional or mental illness.
It can become difficult to distinguish between the reality of a situation and the stories our imagination conjures up when we are feeling vulnerable. A headache suddenly becomes cause for concern about a brain tumor; a person we pass in the hallway who is deep in thought must be angry, a D on our child’s report card means they’ll never get into college; or a spouse who comes home late from work must be having an affair. These seem like extreme examples, but when one is exhausted, stressed, and/or suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mental illness, it is harder to counter these thoughts with something more realistic.
I used to pride myself on having great intuition and being able to figure people out. It was something I learned to do early in life as a way to survive in a chaotic environment. It was important to be able to quickly tell what kind of mood my mom was in so that I could protect myself. Over the years I noticed that these traits had carried over into all of my daily interactions, as I tried to read others’ moods and predict their actions. It led to a lot of unnecessary strife and I found myself going overboard trying to avoid conflict, or overreacting to minor things. As time went on, I realized that this came at a great price and I learned to question what I was telling myself.
Ultimately it is a great relief not to feel like I need to figure everything out or read someone else’s mind. It frees up the energy I need to make better decisions and enjoy myself, free of constant worries.