(Allie Brosh’s blogs are the only thing in life I relate to…except for maybe Daria at her best and BoJack Horseman at his worst)
For this article I focused more on depression and anxiety as opposed to other mental disorders. All respect to those who speak honestly about their struggles.
I was there when mental illness became “cool.” I saw articles applauding brave celebrities for coming forward with their invisible battles. I saw when people cared about sensitively using the word depression and not in reference to the avocado toast that just ran out at their brunch spot. I was also here when people started writing those articles about how depression shouldn’t be cool or romantic. I actually wrote one myself for this blog. And for the most part I stand entirely behind it.
I’m here to discuss something that surprisingly does not or has not happened with mental illness in the media.
I’m here to discuss how mental illness never lives in the present.
In fact almost all articles on mental disorders live in the past, in that people who express their own fight with diseases such as depression and anxiety are always in a recovery stage. The survivors, or the writers on their behalf, constantly refer to their disorder as an incredible obstacle they have overcome.
Those responsible enough to acknowledge that most mental diseases can never fully be cured, just controlled, still fall victim to the story of a person and their treated mental illness as a “perfect ending” more than a piece that makes up the entire puzzle.
Depression is a good example to discuss this in more detail. And that’s not just because I suffer from the disease but because many people do (an estimated 300 million around the world according to WHO). Also with depression, unlike some other diseases, there seems to be more at stake.
Formerly getting diagnosed with depression takes a lot of work. You have to suffer just enough but somehow find the energy to make your way to a doctor’s office or a therapist to really flesh out your problems. Then if there is still more that needs to be done in order for you to live a productive life you begin with crucial steps. Meditation. Exercise. A dose of anti-depressants. And all of this is not done lightly, it’s a process that can take months, but realistically years, to accomplish.
And sadly it continues in much this same manner until you die.
Don’t get me wrong. That’s not every case of depression. Just in say chronic persistent depression that occurs from genetics or simply luck of the draw.
In some situational depression (a parent dying, an inability to find employment) all these useful steps I mentioned before can help someone move on from their despair and let them live the way they used to, where all in all they had the ability on any day to feel excited about their life.
But in cases like mine, and a lot of people I know, the depression will still linger even if all these steps are accomplished. The constant cloud will simply become a small passing one as opposed to a dark distant thunderstorm.
And that’s where the articles about the “end to depression” or the “end to mental illness” become reckless.
Articles that focus on popular individuals or even the average Joe which start at the end of their journey fail to accurately acknowledge the pain and suffering of an initial episode or relapse.
For the inspirational article wrapped with a bow, the everyday reader wants that happy ending about how the person who almost killed themselves ended up finding the love of their life or the career of their dreams. And perhaps most importantly for the person actually considering suicide, reading about someone’s success with Prozac when they are iffy about taking a drug every day that could ultimately save their life does matter and should not be brushed off as journalist fluff.
But unfortunately it’s not real to life. And I worry it alienates more than helps those in the thick of it.
Because in order for all people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or even anorexia to begin to take the step to recovery they need to be reaffirmed they are living the worst of the illness. The bravery of asking for assistance or mustering up your thoughts into action comes from knowing that some part of you can relate to the deepest hole you can be thrown in. You need to know that someone else might have it just as bad. Not in a misery loves company way but in the sense of forming a community.
Turning towards inspirational stories of happiness/recovery with glossed over passages about the sadness, especially in that whimsical tone we read which too often starts “back when I was at my most depressed, rock bottom…and I didn’t have the hope I have today” perpetuates the harmful way that mental illness alienates you when you are a full-fledged member. Reading passages like those convince you that you can never be that successful person in the future because he or she reminiscing on their miserable moments must not have been in as bad of a place or they must have more resilience than you.
Although there can be no perfect article about struggling with mental illness, if there had to be one it would be the disgusting horrendous truth about the real dangers of people living with them by people living with them.
Maybe that is exactly what we need. Real. Brutal. Full of heart.
I’m waiting for the day when a brave anorexic woman talks about how she has not eaten in two days. And how as she writes her article, in present day, a dress a size to small motivates her to not eat despite the rumble in her stomach. I wonder when national websites will post think pieces from a man who states honestly that he has spent forty five hours in bed before Wednesday because his depression can’t motivate himself to do anything else and there is a good chance he will continue the trend tomorrow. I’m curious as to the direction our conversation about mental health will have to take before I read a real life account about someone stating that they worry they won’t be around next week for their family because they can’t do it anymore.
And these fictitious articles will not live on Tumblr, the anonymous internet where people can encourage eating disorders or suicide. Instead they will live very publicly on more credible sites or in books that allow people to see them as needed documentation of the struggle of mental illness.
If done respectfully, articles from the present and articles about relapse depict a more realistic side of the up and down struggles of being happy.
Of course this does not mean I dismiss all those who came forward to tell their story when they could have just as easily not relived the memories of their emotional (and sometimes physical) battles.
I instead want to highlight from experience the startling part of finding some recovery in a mental illness is realizing you forget what makes up the mental illness itself. And this is threatening to the possible return of symptoms that can surprisingly still feel like a shock even after going through them time and time again.
For those who understand this, the warning in our head we hear at the end of any media piece that we think eradicates our disorder demands to be shared with all who are similar to us. This doesn’t make us cynical, it makes us realistic about all the possible “what ifs…”
Speaking about mental illness through people currently experiencing it can be a unifying experience for those in the roughest of times. Instead of placing emphasis on fixing an entire problem those who suffer will be able to look at more of the physical ways that anxiety or depression can present itself (insomnia, over-eating, lack of showering, paralyzing negative thoughts). In reading about these daily struggles survivors/victims can learn coping mechanisms that are hyper-focused instead of the broad lie “I’ll get better one day.”
Our world, especially our country, enjoys seeing the Cinderella story. In our own lives we speak passionately about someone overcoming every obstacle. We love an underdog making something of themselves. But we don’t like to see it before it becomes a movie. We don’t like to see the first-hand pain some people endure, even those in our own lives.
Often people close to those with severe mental health disorders ignore the blatant signs of those they love who are suffering. It can be because they don’t have enough knowledge about that particular disease, in other instances it can come from the hope that denying a situation is as bad as it is means it is really not as bad as it is. Perhaps in some way looking away until the person is better is sparing themselves the responsibility of facing it head on or giving the other person a warped sense of respect. Then of course there are those who acknowledge stress as a lack of motivation and something they will “snap out of.”
Personally highlighting disorders at their worst, encouraging people to share any of their process, can stop bystanders from remaining inactive and instead give them tools to be a part of someone’s recovery.
It can erase the respect people bestow on someone only when they finish the journey and not while they are going through it.