By Amy Crellin
Apparent competence refers to outwardly being able to cope and seeming in control, while inwardly being completely lost, or mentally unwell. It does not necessarily have the ability to span all situations however, people may be able to shake off depression one day and but not the next. It is inconsistent. It can be dangerous as others may fail to recognize what it happening for what it is, false competence, until it is too late and things blow up in a crisis. Since others cannot always understand or appreciate apparent competence, cries for help are often ignored and people are assumed to be incorrectly “quite well” which further complicates the risks that are associated with this situation.
When you are as talented as me at being “OK” when you are not, why wouldn’t you use it to your advantage when trying to get out of hospital, or off medication for example? I really struggle to be honest with myself and others. Why would you say what was really going on just to condemn yourself to a longer period spent on section? Here is why, because apparent competence is not competence and will one day fall through, and you will be back where you started or somewhere worse. Harsh but true. Why on earth would you let on though, in a psychiatric unit what is going on good or bad? If you are happy you are high, if you are sad you are depressed and if you are having a bad day then you are irritable. The real reason you need to be truthful to the world, and break down the apparent competence is if you don’t you will never get the help you need, you will only get the help you are acting like you need.
I have learnt this lesson the hard way, I never wanted to have to say it but I think I have earned the label now so maybe I should, I am a revolving door patient. In and out, in and out. I have complex mental health needs, that I have talked my way out of before. I have staged a miraculous recovery on over ten occasions, it is like I reach saturation point in a situation and have to find a way out. Apparent competence is always the route to go. Talk the talk, walk the walk… And walk out of hospital a short while later, another admission rendered useless. I wish I could go back to the first admission and use radical acceptance, to take stock of my situation, accept it is appalling, but commit to getting on with it as best as I can, for as long as it takes. However I suppose my little sixteen year old head thought she knew better, she didn’t, I do now.
Apparent competence has not helped me but become my worst enemy. It pushes people away from you and enables people to be lazy with you. “Oh she is always fine, I won’t bother checking her” or “She says she is distressed but I’m sure she won’t do anything she is always OK” I have slipped through net because of apparent competence and always ended up worse off. I sometimes get treated differently to other patients; staff tell me things they shouldn’t because I seem to be the “together” one, the one they can confide in if they have a problem at home or a grievance with another patient or colleague. The shoes of someone who is practiced at apparent competence are full of responsibility, you have to step into them and keep up the pretense everyday, and when it all falls apart everything looks worse. If you raise your baseline, to look better or more well, when you crash it is going to look awful, and to get out of the problem you have caused for yourself you are going to have to use apparent competence again, it is a very vicious cycle.
The way out of apparent competence is not easy, and even if it isn’t an automatic reaction it can be very hard to drop, however trying to get in touch with your real feelings and emotions is important, even if you cannot impart them to everyone, find a few safe people with whom you can share what is really going on for you. If you have to use apparent competence for example you have children or a job, try to set aside at least an hour a day as “me” time where you can be true to yourself and your feelings.
*Image credit: @Fusillo.Foto
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