37 ‘Socially Unacceptable’ Things People Do Because They Live With a Mental Illness

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Haley Quinn

When you’re struggling with a mental illness, social situations can sometimes be challenging — especially when certain thoughts and feelings manifest as “socially unacceptable” behaviors (aka behaviors society deems “weird” or “inappropriate”). These behaviors are not inherently “bad,” but whether they stem from symptoms or are used as a coping mechanism, they can be hard to casually explain. And because the causes of these behaviors are “invisible,” it can be even more difficult for others to understand.

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share things they do because of their mental illness that might be considered “socially unacceptable.” Because while it’s easy to judge or misunderstand others’ actions, no one should be made to feel isolated, uncomfortable or ashamed of what they’re going through. 

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Calling in sick to work a lot, and bailing on plans last second. If people don’t see anything physically wrong with you, they don’t understand why you can’t work/maintain your commitments.” — Lisa M.

2. “Not showering often. I will only shower like once a week, and most people think that’s gross. But it’s too big of a task for me to do more than that.” — Jayla F.

3. “‘Ignore’ friends messages. I never do it out of nastiness, I sometimes just don’t have the mental strength to deal with anyone or I forget to reply or something. I do need to work on this because doing this only pushes people away when they are just trying to be there for you and be friendly.” — Yasmin G.

4. “I disassociate and people think I’m just not listening to them, or that I’m rude. No, I just feel like I’m not even in my own body anymore.” — Kayla C.

5. “I don’t stay silent about my borderline personality disorder (BPD) and past — I’ve literally been reprimanded for speaking about my own mental illness, but self-invalidation to make others comfortable 24/7 is not my job nor is it anyone else’s with mental illness.” — Kristy M.

6. “Spending a lot of time on my phone in public places/events. It’s not that [I] don’t enjoy others company or I’m being rude, it’s more that I need something to fiddle with to cope with social anxiety.” — Alexis A.

7. “Not making plans until the last minute, changing plans last minute and/or not being willing to commit to plans because I don’t know how I’ll feel.” — Andy M.

8. “I haven’t worked in seven years and make my mental health recovery my full-time job. People like to say I am lucky because I don’t ” have to work,” when in reality, I really couldn’t.” — Amanda C.

9. “I’m recovering from an eating disorder and I don’t have many foods I can eat without getting an upset stomach. I take my own food out with me and eat every two hours or so regardless of what everyone else is doing and when they are eating. It always feels uncomfortable but I need to care for myself.” — Leah F.

10. “I always have a stuffed animal with me, most of the time he’s in my bag, but if my anxiety is really bad that day or I’m not feeling well he comes out as a comfort item.” — Jayden R.

11. “I bail on plans at the last second — a lot. People think I’m ‘lazy’ or avoiding them, but in reality I dread leaving my house for anything other than work.” — Kimberly K.

12. “I have a routine and I stick with it. I will not do anything spontaneous. I have to make plans at least one week in advance — I prefer a month or more. All this is because I have to psych myself up to go out and deal with people. If I don’t have enough time to prepare myself for an outing, I will have a panic attack.” — Desiree N.

13. “I feel most comfortable keeping the hood up on my sweatshirt when in public so my face is somewhat hidden. My mom tells me to pull it down because the store will think I’m trying to rob it.” — Gina B.

14. “I talk to myself and my co-workers think I’m mumbling under my breath about them — so much so that I was written up for being “toxic employee,” partially because of me talking under my breath that was assumed to be about others when really I was just repeating the list of tasks I had to do. I’m always on the defense because I know people are constantly judging me.” — Jenni H.

15. “Constant dancing, bobbing my head or wiggling my torso.” — Saddie B.

16. “I unintentionally shut people out. I would rather just keep to myself. I always will say something in the wrong tone and offend someone.” — Trisha S.

17. “I have an empty pill bottle filled with blanket fuzz that I’ve picked and saved over the years. I take them with me a lot and pull out fuzz balls one by one and roll them around between my fingers. It helps focus my attention when I’m reading or taking a test, and it keeps me grounded when I’m particularly anxious. I’ve gotten all sorts of strange looks from people and I’m pretty open to share why I do it.” — Nicole P.

18. “I avoid phone calls. I need alone time. I don’t always text back. I hate holidays, so I don’t go along with my friends and they find it annoying. My mother drives me to places, and I am almost 30 years old. I am still studying because I face stages when I can’t function and go to university.” — Thaleia G.

19. “I won’t talk to strangers even if they say hello. I do not feel comfortable at all with them. Makes me feel guilty but I just can’t.” — Danielle M.

20. “I have a really hard time not being snappy when someone asks me a question. I don’t intend to be rude or hateful it just comes out that way.” — Brooklynn S.

21. “People sometimes get offended when they offer me free food and I decline. It’s not that I’m super picky or don’t appreciate the offer, sometimes it’s just my nerves are too bad to think about eating. Certain foods make me uncomfortable too, since I used to struggle with an eating disorder.” — Alexis A.

22. “I burst into conversations with people who are not really there. I have bipolar I with psychotic features, and the meds that helped control that aspect had horrible side effects for me. I will just start talking out loud about things that make no sense, and people just kind of frown and tilt their heads at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ It’s mortifying and I truly hate it.” — Jen B.

23. “I don’t care as much about my appearance. Even though I’ll keep exercising and showering, I won’t care if my hair looks messy, if I wear the same clothes for three days straight, or if my room looks like a tornado hit it. I just can’t care about anything except getting work or homework done, and I barely even do that.” — Jacinta M.

24. “I sweat uncontrollably. I have to change clothing throughout the day, use talc powder and carry kitchen paper (the extremely super absorbent one) with me everywhere. People stare because of it which then makes me sweat more.” — Katherine L.

25. “‘Tuning out’ when other people are talking. Someone can tell me a whole long story and I will literally not know a thing they said. I’m not being rude. I am just trying to hold myself together and sometimes that takes all my energy.” — Kristina M.

26. “I mark ‘interested’ or ‘going’ to events I’m invited to and then not go. I mean to go — I want to go — but because of my anxiety and depression, I usually can’t manage to leave the house.” — Melanie S.

27. “Because of my anxiety I hum or whistle, and I definitely click my pen. The repetitive motion is relaxing, and the humming and whistling can help quiet my intrusive thoughts. If I’m thinking of lyrics in my head, I can’t think of the bad things.” — Tori H.

28. “I almost fall asleep in my university classes sometimes. Because I’m on such high alert, it exhausts me physically. I look like I’m bored so I’ve had to explain to my teachers that it’s because I have an illness and not because I don’t care. It makes learning pretty difficult.” — Kari T.

29. “I sit silently in social environments, listening to and observing every group of people within earshot and eyeshot. I don’t really feel like I’m welcome to join any group of people I’m around.” — Katherine C.

30. “Poking people, even gently. I get really bad impulse control with my borderline personality disorder (BPD), but manage to channel the violent thoughts into gentle poking. It’s still seen as unacceptable.” — Mel K.

31. “I ask too many questions I know the answer too, cut people off when they are speaking and talk too loud. I act overly silly and immature.” — Jessica S.

32. “I tap my head several times in a rows when I’m frustrated. It looks like I’m smacking at myself but I’m trying to settle my thoughts.” — Lindsay W.

33. “On my bad days I have a hard time looking people in the eyes when talking. I will look almost anywhere else and I fidget the whole time.” — Adrienne H.

34. “I leave unexpectedly. I don’t mean to offend you or make you worried, it’s because I can’t handle the situation and I feel like I can’t control myself.” — Becki I.

35. “When my anxiety spikes, I laugh at absolutely everything. People think I’m being a jerk, but I’m actually panicking.” — Raquella B.

36. “I cry a lot, even when I don’t want to. I try to control it but sometimes I can’t handle the emotions and I just cry.” — Brittni R.

37. “I wear headphones when out in public just to avoid having to talking to someone. If I see someone I know before they see me, I can walk past them pretending I don’t notice them.” — Mirka O.

What’s something you do either to cope with or because of a mental illness others may find “socially unacceptable”? Tell us in the comments below — and remember you’re not alone and deserve respect, no matter what.

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