As many of you know, I've been living with and managing mental illness for most of my life. Anxiety and depression have been my constant companions and powerful foes. Yet, this post isn't about my struggle. As the country shines a light on mental illness today for the purpose of reducing stigma, I too focus on bringing awareness to the disease of the mind.
People often say that living with mental illness is no different than living with any other type of disease yet I tend to disagree on some account. When you have a physical illness, like a broken leg, you know that eventually it will get better. You know that regardless of what you think, the bones will knit and heal. It is acceptable and accepted.
Not so with a broken mind.
A broken mind tells lies. A broken mind doesn't make sense. A broken mind scares people and makes them fear you. They don't understand that a broken mind has lost the capacity to manage emotional pain. They don't understand that with a broken mind, it's extremely difficult to heal within the same framework that makes you unwell. No, a broken mind is managed, for healing the mind requires thoughts and sometimes those thoughts are just too elusive to reach.
We live in a society that doesn't allow for emotions. It doesn't allow for us to be sad or sensitive or afraid. It makes us feel less-than, not enough, and weak. We've been conditioned to call emotions illness when really they are healthy expressions of release.
We've stopped talking with each other, really talking with each other, when talking alone has the power to help us heal. No, we shun visiting a therapist or counselor as that might be perceived as weak.
The disease is not so much about mental illness as it is a societal disease. We see each other as "other" when really we are all just trying to survive, to simply be. We are human. We make mistakes. We feel sadness and grief when people die and we feel very real fear when our lives feel threatened. How could we not all feel anxious and depressed in the society that we live in? Yet, those feelings are increasingly pathologized and medicated as well.
So how do we heal from the disease of our mind when so much conspires to keep us unwell? How do we find relief when our thoughts and feelings keep us prisoners, inflict torture, and make living sometimes too hard to bear?
We start with gentleness and compassion. We set aside self-judgment and self-recrimination and we admit that we are sad or weak or lost and get comfortable with our truths. We dig deep to find the courage to face our greatest pain. We challenge the thoughts that keep us bound in our nightmares. We believe that we are strong enough to battle any demon that our minds throw at us in the knowledge that we are the puppet-masters behind the curtain of the lies.
We breathe, one breath at a time if we have to, but we continue breathing to physiologically calm ourselves down. We distract ourselves in times of great darkness so that the darkness will not sink us down to the point of no return. We reach for faith, what ever that means to you, in order to believe that there is something greater than ourselves. We eat "brain-food", walk, dance or move to create chemicals to ease our suffering and we turn to water, a bath or shower, to heal us in an intangible way.
Most especially, we let go of others judgments of us and be the emotional, sensitive, imperfect human beings that we are. We're all doing our best. We're all just trying to survive in a society who's demands are simply too much for some of us to bear. Does that make us ill?