[Picture credit: Una and the Lion: Briton Rivière (1840–1920)]
My mum gets lonely.
She’s mean to her friends and family, even on her so-called ‘anti-psychotics’ and ‘mood stabilisers’ (which consequently do not do what they say on the tin). She likes to play the victim and to gain attention in a negative way. For her, bad attention is better than none. She seems to be fuelled by negative attention, accusing every man and sundry of sexual assault – popping home from Tesco: “I was raped up Tesco”, and she then carries on with the hoovering.
She’s accused very good friends of the same. Friends who have listened to her, lent her money, and foolishly believed her fables until they became the latest rapist protagonist in her story. My sister, her carer, has had enough of the lies, and unfortunately they are just that as my mum herself knows they aren’t true (they are not the result of a psychotic episode).
She is pushing everyone away, and G/god knows we have all tried to relate to her, to understand and help her, but there’s only so much sh*t people can take.
And yet she complains she is lonely.
I get lonely – but it seems a different kind of lonely.
Other people make me lonely. Being alone is not a lonely time, until I think about how others are out in the world relating to one another, chatting, hanging out, understanding one another – and I am not, cannot, and consequently do not.
When we look at any neuro-divergence (commonly and incorrectly referred to as ‘mental illness’) it can be seen as an imbalance or disruption, not in brain chemicals (the research does not support this), but in relationships with others.
‘Psychosis’: can be seen as an inability at times to see and experience the world in a way that can be shared with others. Yes, for someone who hears voices that others cannot there is a real difficulty in relating to other people, especially if others do not acknowledge how very real those internal voices are to the voice hearer – yet this does not imply illness, but a difficulty in relating.
To understand this, consider your own frames of reference for understanding your world, and those who share the same frames of reference:
“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him” (Wittgenstein, 1986, p.225).
If we do not share the same frame of reference, the same nuances in human experience, then it becomes a problem to relate to that ‘other’ – shared language or not.
And this imbalance in being able to relate continues:
‘Depression’: seemingly a result of the perception of relatability to others – others are “better than me”; “I cannot contribute to others’ lives”; “nobody cares about me”. These feelings and perceptions do not exist in a vacuum, but in relation to other people, their perceptions of us, our worth.
‘Anxiety’: is most obvious when you consider social anxiety, fear of what others think of us, how we might embarrass ourselves around others, how uncomfortable others make us feel. And so others are avoided.
‘Autism’: and to my loneliness. Other people make me lonely, being around others for whom I am the lion in the interaction – I share the same language, but don’t share the same frame of reference, or interests, or abilities. Largely I seem to be perceived as the odd lion – I have been told so many times in my 33 years that I am ‘stand-offish’ and ‘unapproachable’ – using the same language too. The humans who say this share the same frame of reference, use the same language to convey my difference, my ‘otherness’, in relation to them.
I can’t do small talk. I don’t have an interest in the banality of who’s seeing who, what people are doing for their holidays, the ‘water-cooler’ gossip. And so I avoid it, and to be honest, due to my ‘stand-offish’-ness I tend to be ignored or avoided anyway.
And so, when my mum feels sorry for me that I am working alone again, at home, up to my eyes in thinking about how to reduce differential mental health stigma, imagining I must be so very lonely – I am not. It is my relationships, my relating to others that makes me lonely.
There are rare moments, few and far between, when I meet another lion/ess, another neuro-divergent, with whom our frame of reference is on par. I found a little pride of lionesses in my female autistic group, but by our very nature it is difficult to keep up regular moments of relating.
And so I look forward to the ever approaching day when I leave humans behind to live alone in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps I will find some rogue and relatable lions, but until then, I shall endure the pain of not being able to relate to those neuro-typical humans, being that odd lion on the fringes – trying to be alone, but not lonely.
Wittgenstein, L. (1986). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed.). (G. E. Anscombe, Trans.) Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Ltd.