What Is the Waiting Experience of a Mental Illness?

April 27, 2020 Nicola Spendlove

We're all doing a lot of waiting recently due to COVID-19 restrictions -- but how does it compare to the ongoing waiting experiences of those with mental illness? Read on.

We are in a period of waiting at present, with a big portion of our lives being on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. This got me thinking about how much waiting is involved in life for people like my brother who live with mental illness, and how this differs from our current collective experience.

Our Waiting Experience Doesn't Mean We Understand

I've had a lot of personal disappointments because of the current restrictions, as have we all. A play that I wrote was due to open in March, but this couldn't go ahead. A friend canceled her wedding. Numerous trips have been called off. If I may be selfish for a moment, this really sucks. 

However, it would be completely inappropriate for me to tell my brother that I now understand how he felt when he had to defer yet another college semester or take yet another leave of absence from his job.

Our Waiting Experience Is Less Lonely

Although we are socially distanced from others, everyone is in the same position. Sure, I can't tutor the drama classes that I so enjoy -- but it's not as if another teacher is stepping in to take my place. I don't have to be concerned about being usurped or forgotten about in my field during this waiting chapter, but these are very real worries for my brother when he takes leave from work.

Waiting and mental illness is often a solitary experience. I will never forget the heartbreak my brother felt when his original college friends posted photos of their graduation on Facebook. He felt that they'd left him behind.

Our Waiting Experience Carries Less Stigma

I have no qualms about discussing the reason my play was canceled. Why would I? COVID-19 restrictions are nothing to be ashamed of, and don't reflect on me as a person in any way.

All this is also true of mental illness. However, my brother feels a huge embarrassment when he tells others why he's in the seventh year of his Bachelor's degree ("What Is Stigma?"). Most people just don't know what to say when you tell them that sometimes you're too depressed to get out of bed in the morning.

Empathy for Others' Waiting Experiences

While this waiting experience might provide us with an opportunity to reflect and build empathy for our loved ones with mental illness, it doesn't mean we understand their lived experiences. Waiting and mental illness is a very different ballgame to waiting and COVID-19.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

APA Reference
Spendlove, N. (2020, April 27). What Is the Waiting Experience of a Mental Illness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Nicola Spendlove

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