Is It Mental Illness? Or Is It Just My Personality?

There’s a fun game I like to play. It’s called “Is It Mental Illness? Or Is It Just My Personality?”

I thought we might play together today, instead of keeping this delightful game selfishly to myself.

Ready? Here we go.

Lately, I’ve been pissy. <– That, right there, is a true truth.

Lately, I’ve been pissy, and mostly at Greg because a) he’s the luckiest, b) he’s in the closest proximity, and c) he thinks I’m the type of animal who eats from a trough, which he continues to insist he doesn’t think at all, but I believe I’ve made my case.

Now, about my pissiness, my family would say, “So? How is this any different than normal?” But that’s just because my family is mean and full of terrible people. Yes, technically I’m mouthy, and technically I’m mouthy with great frequency, especially where mouthy = opinionated and verbally demonstrative. After all, the Bible says whatever you do, do to the best of your ability, so I’m obligated by Christian duty to use my mouthiness to its full potential. Yes? Yes. That’s theologically clear. But I do try, honest, to use my mouthiness for good as much as possible; words of love, words of joy, words of kindness, words of peace. I’ve even learned, in recent years, to be OK with my volume — which is LOUD — and to own, more and more, the Power of Voice. The Power of Vulnerability. The Power of Using My Words — of Knowing Things and Not Knowing Things out loud and in public — as if it’s OK to be both human and divine, made of magic and mess, grace and grime intermingled.

However, the truth is, I sometimes… occasionally… move past the Magical Mouthiness and the Messy Mouthiness and into a sort of Prolonged Pissiness produced by Inexplicable Rage, which is, well, less than ideal.

And then I bottle my rage, seal it, and bury it deep, deep inside, where it cannot harm me or others. Except when it leaks. Which it does all the time because rage is corrosive and does quick work on both the bottle and the seal. That’s when the rage bubbles to the surface and breaks in adorable little pissy pops. *pop* *pop* *pop* … mini-rage bubbles bursting beautifully. Iridescent, shimmery, and suffocating the wildlife, just like an oil sheen on the ocean. Just as persistent. Just spreading everywhere, you know? Impossible to clean.

Now, my friend Heidi, who ruins everything, is trying to teach me how to be mindful; how to accept my feelings as they come; how to judge them as neither good nor bad; how to recognize and acknowledge them — Hey, look! I see you’re here to visit, Rage… or… JOY! I’m so happy you’re hanging out today! — before deciding what to do with them, or before, say, jumping Rage in the back alley, wrestling it to the ground with a switchblade in its kidney, shoving it in that bottle, lowering it into an unfathomably deep grave, covering it with dirt, and whistling while I walk away, pretending not to be bruised. So, sure, sure; Heidi’s way may be better, more healthy, and less brutal in both the short and long term, but my way is FASTER, friends. I think we can all agree.

Unfortunately, as we have discussed previously, inexplicable rage can be depression in disguise. UGH. And blerg. And boooooo. The trick, then, is to figure out what is a normal, human amount of pissiness to experience, and when have I plunged over the cliff into the eternal, turbulent sea of unmitigated fury? A sea where I sit my sexy siren self upon the jagged rocks with my hair whipping in the storm-driven wind, hungry for blood, and sing the song that lures my loved ones to their deaths? So. You can see where this gets complicated.

Usually, when I’m trying to decide whether my pissiness is a symptom of my mental illness or just, you know, my awesome personality, I use the Toast Test.

See, Greg has a very specific way of buttering his toast. First he takes the teeniest, tiniest bit of butter — a modicum of butter — an particle of butter — on the very tip of his knife and spreads it on a speck of toast. Then he studies it. The layout. The structure. He does a mathematical analysis of the next spot to put butter. Writes algorithms. Considers the best foundation for laying the next fleck. He conducts a study. He publishes his results in a peer reviewed engineering journal. He builds computer models. And then he takes another teeny, tiny bit of butter and applies it to a new granule of toast. Then he repeats. And repeats. And repeats ad infinitum, scritch, scritch, scritching that butter onto the toast. It takes days to butter toast. Weeks. Veritable years, I tell you. Whereas I do nothing annoying ever. The way I butter my toast is a model of grace and efficiency.

Logical Beth believes people should be free to butter their toast however they like. Reasonable Beth believes this is an inalienable human right. Rational Beth believes we needn’t come to marital or household consensus on the Correct Way to Butter Toast, nor do we need to Belittle Those Who Do It Wrong, even if they do it really, really, really wrong. Sensible Beth believes we Live and Let Live and We Love Each Other, Always, Anyway, even if we have different Toast Convictions, and, in this way, we shall not smother each other with a pillow.

Pissy Beth believes none of these things. Not a single one. And Ragey Beth feels the scritch, scritch, scritching inside her skull.

The Toast Test, see? When murder-by-pillow feels like a super reasonable alternative to witnessing the buttering of toast, it’s time to up my meds, friends. Or past time. You know… WAY past time.

Unfortunately, Greg hasn’t had a hankering for toast in, like, FOREVER, so I’ve been pissy but I have NO WAY TO KNOW whether this is a flare-up of the mental illness or just my darling personality.

I suppose I could simply ask Greg to make himself some toast, but I think he might do it quickly and with suspicion, so it kind of ruins the test.

In conclusion, there have to be ways OTHER than toast buttering to play this game. WHAT ARE THEY? Is it mental illness? Or is it just my personality? I’m on a need to know over here…

Delightfully yours,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
21 comments
  1. I am all for taking medication if it’s right for you and it works for you. However, there’s another way to look at what you are feeling. Maybe it is a completely natural reaction to the problems you are facing in your life right now – physical illness, housebound because of your son’s problems, having to give up a job that you loved so that you can help your family, your oldest child so far away (on a journey that requires belief in physics/angel-support), the loss of the safe place of your church. I think there would be something seriously wrong if you were not having a few “issues” right now (especially since we have all seen Greg’s toast video now). If only family doctors could prescribe a whole load of at-home support because it seems to me that’s what you really need, not an increase in your meds. If only your fairy godmother could wave her magic wand. Please keep writing to us. xo

  2. I feel fairly confident that either Greg or one of the kids must do something comparable to toast buttering (for me this is open mouthed chewing BTW). Try to imagine the toast. Does your rage boil even imagining it? For me, anger is the first sign of depression too, but, as you know it’s a slippery slope. When in doubt, with no other mitigating circumstances, I’m usually having an increase in depression. Perhaps it is the same with you?

  3. My inexplicable rage is an anxiety disorder in disguise. So glad you shared your experience! Great post!

  4. […] it mental illness? Or just my personality? I asked you yesterday, and today I’m happy to report I KNOW THE ANSWER, at least as far as the toast is […]

  5. I take the easy way out and just never go off my meds or decrease dosages save a few blissful sunny days surrounded by beauty and loved ones in a sunny-land. My test is this: would you rather be dead than doing what you are doing right now? Do those thoughts come more hours than they don’t in a 24 hour period? Has it been more than 2 weeks and nothing herbal etc is helping? I’ve been on and off enough times not to dare try it in OREGON. EVER. AGAIN. Because: life.

  6. OH MY GOODNESS!! I have found my tribe. All of you. Beth and her Toast Stress. All the commenters. We need to meet in real life and be best friends. Except I have found that funny people need some friends who laugh really hard and maybe aren’t even that funny themselves. What would happen if all hysterical people were in 1 room together? Can we find out – soon please? Made my day. I’d even drive from Canada.
    Here is my humble offering as a token of friendship in advance.
    http://www.lightlyfrayed.com/confessions-warped-sense-of-humour/

  7. So much love, my friend.
    Sharing this with my poor fiance. Fortunately, I make his toast for him most days…

  8. Seriously, though…I’d kill my husband if he buttered his toast that way. Also, I find that the extreme pissyness is directly related to me being depressed again. Like, usually I feel irritable, and then I feel bored or just miserable, and then I feel empty. After a few days, I am usually aware of a full blown depression. It takes days before I recognize it.

  9. I am so sorry you are feeling pissy… but oh my goodness this post just tickled me. I was laughing out loud so hard that my kids looked up from their beloved screens to ask me what I was laughing at. “Scritch. Scritch. Scritch.” DY-ING.

    Thank you for being funny. And for writing. And for all that you share.
    And tonight, for saying that you’re working on owning the parts of you that make you YOU. I find I am an OVERSHARER and I often walk away berating myself for being so open so quickly with people. But really, that’s just what makes me ME. I share. I overshare. I let myself be vulnerable right from the beginning. “Hi. I’m Shelly. Nice to meet you. Here are all my FLAWS.”

    You’re the best.

  10. My test if the driving test – if I get upset about the way he drives (LIKE AN OLD MAN) and I get upset about the route he takes – then it’s usually meds.

    Right now I’m in the, ” I forgot my meds 2 days in a row and just found my son is being a turd to me for months because kids are being turds to him – so now I have to deal with the teacher and the principal and the stupid kids parents BUT HOW?! Because I don’t ‘got this’.” Right now I just to turn all communication off, shut down, and sleep. Sleep for days. But kids need food and I guess me.

    Waving in the dark.

  11. I’m playing this game too. There aren’t enough bad days in a row to make me certain that it’s a meds issue, but they aren’t as rare as I would hope for it to only be a personality issue. And then there’s navigating the maze of who do I speak with who would know and also be able to prescribe. My baby is 13m so my OB isn’t necessarily the right choice although he initially prescribed them and continues to sign off on refill requests. And I have yet to actually go to a therapist despite picking one out twice whereupon insurance changed before I could actually get up the gumption to call. Plus I vaguely recall that only psychiatrists can prescribe so then I let myself either for longer while I debate if I should pay out of pocket for one.

    Anyway, much waving over here.

    1. Let myself *dither longer….

      *shakes fist at autocorrect*

    2. Your general or family practitioner should be able to prescribe them, if you have one of those. That’s who prescribed mine. On my FP’s recommendation, I went to therapy, then did antidepressants. He checked in the month after, then twice a year, to make sure things were going ok. He also ran blood work first, to make sure the depression wasn’t caused by anything else, like hypothyroidism, or anemia, or a vitamin deficiency.

    3. In Oregon a family practice doctor can prescribe anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications. I don’t know about rules where you live. I hope you get whatever help you choose.

  12. Me too! Meeeee tooooooo!!!!! Just today, I took the leap… I asked my PCP for a prescription for Lexapro. Tired of the daily tears, tired of wanting to punch my loving husband in the throat (though, REALLY HE DOES SOMETIMES KINDA DESERVE A LITTLE THROAT PUNCH), tired of the feeling of “OOOOH NOOOO! Everything’s not JUST RIGHT! PANIC!”
    We shall see if these little pills do any kind of magic, or if I (and my people) will forever be cursed with what turn out to be just charming personality quirks.

  13. Um, I vote Meds. Having just taken stock of my own mental well being with my doc. My take is, if I can control it, it’s my stellar personality. If IT’S controlling me it’s those nasty chemical imbalances!! But I’m totally on board with the horrific toast scritching. Slather, don’t scritch!

  14. In a similar boat. I missed (hehe) my meds a few days in a row, and noticed I felt much better. Like coming out of the fog of mom brain better. My eye sight that has been getting worse (which is horrible because I knit and I am trying to start to get paid to knit, so seeing clearly is important right now, plus the whole driving with kids in the car thing), and it was better sans meds. However, with multiple brain scans coming up and a history of not handling stress well (as in panic attack drifting into a heart attack), I think I should be on something, because just being a mom is hard enough. But now there is business, and homeschool that is almost done except for the child who cheated her way through a third of her English class so she will be in this grade FOREVER, and hubby’s job stress with the potential of brain surgery because life must have been getting too dull. Waving. With peanut butter on my toast. And on my counter. And in my carpet.

  15. Waving
    Sorry, not much help. Kind of drowning here. Not in pissiness, but it’s deep and confusing and exhausting and no one eats toast in my house. Oh, maybe I do. With a lot of butter, please. So. Waving. You’re beautiful, and we’re lucky to be able to read you. All of your personalities included.
    And hug too. In case of.

  16. Completely relate to the scratching of the toast inside my brain. I too am in the midst of playing the game of mental illness or personality. Luckily for me, my husband does a lot of super annoying things so I don’t have to wait for him to make toast. I can use the Random Objects in the Washing Machine test, or the Leave Your Chair Pushed out into the Middle of the Room Instead of Pushing It In Like Even the Three-Year-Old Can Do test or the You Promised this Renovation Wouldn’t Spill Into The Entire House This Time test. Which has allowed to me to conclude that it may be a little from Column A (depression masked as raged), Column B (just my sparkling personality, but also some of Column C which is that my husband needs to get his poop in a group.

    1. Poop in a group… POOP IN A GROUP! You just made my life. I actually hollered and spit food out of my mouth!

    2. That whole “not blaming only myself” thing?
      That’s good things. A little of column C for everyone. <3

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