The Juggler

My therapist and I are both very visual people, so to explain symptoms or other problems to her I often use analogies. This week I used the analogy of a juggler, and it worked so well to create a “visual”, that I wanted to share it here.

Juggling mental illness symptoms while trying to be "normal".

The Analogy:

The person suffering from mental illness is the juggler – and the symptoms they experience would be the balls (this could be hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, etc). Every day, to function, stay out of the hospital, go to work – the juggler has to keep these balls in the air. If one or two fall, it’s a “crash”, and the juggler can (carefully) pick up the balls and keep juggling – but if the juggler tries to pick up the balls that fell and ends up dropping all of the balls, then it’s a complete mental breakdown (often hospital time).

Medication can either eliminate some of the balls, or make the balls easier to keep in the air, but it doesn’t keep them from falling from time to time. Sometimes, the juggler has other things to worry about – such as hiding the fact that they are juggling these symptoms from family and friends, or even strangers – and this makes the juggling even more exhausting. Unfortunately, it’s still a day in, day out chore.

For me, that is an example of what living with mental illness is like. Mental illness does of course affect each person differently – but I often feel like a juggler who is pretending not to juggle while trying not to drop any of the balls. This makes socializing especially difficult, and explains why I need time (often a day or two) to recover after spending time with friends.

Isn’t Pretending Making Juggling Harder?

After reading this, you may be thinking – just stop pretending! Don’t hide your symptoms! Sometimes I even think thoughts like that to myself. After all, don’t I want to advocate for understanding for mental illness? Don’t I want to create awareness?

Maybe, after all of this time, I don’t know how to stop pretending I’m okay – but really, I’m scared to stop. How would my family react if I told them I could feel spiders crawling over my skin? How would my friends look at me if I told them there was a man standing on the street corner holding a knife, that it wasn’t safe to walk that way – when they saw the corner was actually empty?

I’ve learned to distinguish between my reality and theirs – and those times I have been unable to distinguish between the two, I’ve been hospitalized. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the man standing on the corner, or feel the spiders on my skin – I still do – but I can tell myself they aren’t real. Maybe, by not telling my family and friends the reality I deal with, I am keeping the two where they belong – on their own sides of the very deliberate wall I’ve built.

Yes, it is hard to juggle all the while pretending I’m not juggling – but it’s also hard to endure the incredulous stares of family or the disbelieving whispers of friends. It’s hard to endure those closest to you not believing you when they are told what you go through.

Do you relate to the juggler analogy with your illness? Have you decided to tell those closest to you what you experience, or do you pretend you aren’t juggling?

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