Living with mental illness- Eye contact, personal space and sensory issues..

In life, people expect you to look at them.  Not just a glance when you first meet them; but if you are interacting with them, then it’s expected that you periodically look at them so that they know that  you’re still listening. I find this so difficult. Just them looking at me I find difficult – I feel like their eyes are boring into me. It’s invasive. It’s too personal. It’s unbearable to me. I feel vulnerable. Eye to eye contact is harder the closer the other person is to me. The people I am close to in life understand my difficulties and I have learned to be able to withstand eye contact with some of those people through years of familiarity. However it’s very different with the general public. It’s a tough one. It’s an ongoing project for me – I don’t want to appear odd in social situations …


This brings me to personal space. Everyone has an amount of space around them that is comfortable for them. Mine just happens to be very large! Being in a meeting or support group type setting where chairs are arranged next to each other or around a table, then this is my idea of hell! Especially if I am sandwiched between two people. It makes it worse if they look at me (which is an entirely normal thing for people to do!) I struggle being on public transport too, due to general social anxiety. However when busy, and people are more closely packed, or even worse when it’s so busy that everyone is standing (on a bus or train), it’s another hellish situation for me. In fact it’s been a long time since I used public transportation as it’s such a difficult thing for me. I get anxious and develop that fight or flight feeling and I feel very confined, claustrophobic and it just feels unbearable. People taking up my space is just a big no no. It also occurs more generally, in crowds, lifts, cinemas and supermarkets too. People getting too close to me can also trigger my OCD Intrusive thoughts but this is a topic for another blog entry.


Sitting at a table to eat with others is very difficult too. I can literally only withstand it with the few people that are closest to me. It’s due to my personal space issue, but also just the act of eating in front of people. I really don’t understand why I don’t like it but it’s unbearable. Again, those close to me understand and often if I’m at my parents’ home and extended family are there, then they will eat at the table and I’ll eat in the lounge. It’s more difficult when out for a meal but I’m very choosy who I eat with and try to find a more discreet area of the restaurant or café. Also I’m very selective about what I eat – I wouldn’t choose a soup for example as with the tremor I often have, the soup would not make it to my mouth! I have an horrendous memory of meeting my first partners family and being vegetarian at the time, a lovely broccoli and Stilton soup had been prepared especially for me! I tried, I really did, but we were all squashed around a small table and I publicly humiliated myself by spilling soup everywhere each time I tried to get a spoonful to my mouth! In the end, I just blurted out something about not really being into soup. Very rude and very embarrassing!

This brings me to sensory issues that I have. Mostly it’s from sound – Anywhere that’s busy will trigger my sensitivity to noise. It feels like I can’t process everything that is going on around me. It also happens if I’m somewhere where the tv is too loud, for example. Especially if people are conversing at the same time and also naturally if I’m involved in the conversation. Crowds or anywhere that that has layers of conversation trigger me. Sometimes it’s such a relief to get home where I live alone and can control the volume of what’s going on around me. I also struggle with bright light, especially those bright gaseous strip lights that are often found in kitchens (I have one in my kitchen). Also they have them in supermarkets – I’m not a fan of those! Supermarkets are places I avoid (I get my food delivered), though perhaps I should just buy some noise cancelling headphones, wear some sun glasses and suck it up, social anxiety or not! (I really hope my care coordinator is not reading this or she’ll be dragging my sorry arse there!!)






All of these anxiety triggering situations will often lead to certain behaviours in me that calm me down, but I think I’ll leave those for another post! I still have much to say! These first few blog entries may seem a little random but as I continue to write, readers will start to understand in more detail how BPD/EUPD and OCD affects me. Also I really want to discuss my experiences with how the general population and healthcare providers can view these illnesses and hence the treatments I have experienced, good and bad. Including time in both psychiatric hospitals and regular hospitals.  Medication is also something I’d really like to talk about. So WARNING, I will be getting on my soap box!!


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