When Self-Awareness Is a Problem (With Others)


To be an intelligent1 human being, one must first be as self-aware as possible. This is the root of intelligence—it is what separates us from other animals and life as we know it. Within the human race, smarts tracks self-awareness—though it can manifest itself in good or evil—smart is smart. I am smart. I also have mental illnesses.

Before I move forth, I want to make it clear that I am not here to judge anyone’s intelligence based on characteristics which may point to self-awareness or a lack thereof. The point of this article is not to rank anyone, especially me. I am part of a community of people with mental disorders. I don’t throw stones.

That being said, I find myself to be extremely self-aware. I think that shows in that I am able to write about my afflictions while sill having them. It is important to note that self-awareness explicitly does not track the ability to solve mental issues inside one’s head. That is important here.

I have studied me more than any other subject, and I do a lot of research—even if for relaxation or as a hobby. I like to know people and their flaws, and I can step outside myself and see mine as well. Again—I can see, I most often cannot solve.

All of this forms a package that makes up me, and I am generally fine with it. I want my mental issues solved, I am working with fervor to do so through many avenues. But I accept who I am as a package and do not think I constitute a “bad” person—for lack of a less generic term2.

However, when I find myself in the outside world, my self-awareness of my mental disorders causes cognitive dissonance in those around me—especially those without severe or even moderate mental health issues.

There is a prevailing attitude—that truly helps no one, but is part of the human condition—that if someone knows about their flaws they should be able to solve said flaws. If someone knows they are a thief, they should be able to stop stealing, and so on and so forth. Same with mental health issues: if I know I have obsessive irrational thoughts, if I know they are irrational, I should be able to not think about them.

In fact, I get that explicitly a lot: “why don’t you just not think about ________?” Fill in the blank on something I am completely obsessed with that is completely irrational to be obsessed with. It is hard for others to understand that while I am completely aware of my irrational obsessions and anxieties, I cannot stop them. They exist in an area my brain cannot control. Please note, I have never asked someone to un-break their arm.

Then we get into even murkier waters with the notion that I am using my mental disorders as an excuse for acting out. People have said this to me! As if I am getting any benefit from being obsessed with something, without the ability to turn it off, and must take irrational actions to stop the thoughts in my head. Why would I want that?

Of course there are some ways people see me as maybe taking advantage of other mental health issues I have. If my anxiety reaches a certain point of overwhelming me (and note, that point is pretty high now, but it happens) I will often do things like sleep three to four hours into the workday. Lazy, huh? The truth is—and I could be rather sarcastic here, but I will not—I want nothing more than to be awake! I love life, in essence. “In essence” being key here—I am not loving life at all when avoiding the world underneath my covers. No, I am not comfortable overall, I have just acted on my fight-or-flight—an chosen “flight.” I am in bed swimming in a sea of anxiety I wish on no one.

My OCD is at its core a selfish disorder. I am obsessed with things inside my own head, and that is indeed selfish. I cannot change the definition of the word “selfish.” However I cannot control the fact that with my obsessions come compulsions. I need things to be “right” and I often fight to get these things “right” so that I have a bit of comfort away from the intrusive thoughts in my head. It is selfish, but all I am asking for is a level of comfort most people take for granted—the base level of human comfort. Nothing more than that. I don’t envision the Perfect World being one in which I am the dictator and everyone else is subject to me. No, I am just asking to be able to carry out my compulsions to quiet my own brain, which is yelling at me constantly about irrational needs.

I admit this does make me hard to get close to. I don’t know what more to say about that, other than I truly appreciate those who bear with me and remain close to me. I’ve had people leave very long-term relationships with me because they couldn’t understand the dynamics and dimensions of this aforementioned selfishness—that there are different types of selfishness. And we’ll stop with the “woe is me” before it goes on further, but it must be said: my type of selfishness is pretty easy to ignore at the very least. It is truly all in my head. One can just let me be, and all will be fairly ok. Not perfect, not at all. But not abusive by any means.

There is also an opposite notion that people ironically (relative to the points of this article) have about those with mental illness—is that none of us have self-awareness of our diseases. While this is true in extreme cases—and when true causes a lot of damage—it is most often not the case. But this opposite thought about mental illness makes it even more difficult for those of us with self-awareness. If the mentally ill, by nature, are not self-aware—who am I? Am I lying? Am I looking for an excuse for actions deemed crazy, selfish, and other merciless things?

Thus my place in the world has two conundrums I must face: my self-awareness being odd to others, and the notion that people like me should be self-unaware to qualify as truly mentally ill.

In this world, it sucks being both intelligent and mentally out of order


1 Ironic quirk about me, I can never spell “intelligent” correctly. I always, for decades, have spelled it “intellegent.” I cannot stop this. I have no mnemonic device. So… yeah, that’s kinda funny. To me, at least.  [BACK]

2 Sometimes it makes sense to look up synonyms for words like “bad,” and sometimes words this generic get the point across just fine. Thesaurus addiction is a bad thing. (See how I did that?)   [BACK]