This is an article I was intending to write two weeks ago, and then last week, and then, well, who knows when I would have gotten around to it. See, I had been stuck in one of my little ruts. My issues aren’t serious, really, but they can make it difficult to be creative. Yesterday, the tragic news regarding Robin Williams appeared, and my first reaction was to scrap the article for a while; I didn’t want it to appear I was piggybacking on the lead news story du jour in an attempt to drive traffic.
The more I thought about it though, it might be the best time for it – because at least right now, people are listening, and they’re talking, and they’re taking time to think about mental illness. Sadly, that window will close somewhat in the coming days and weeks. Hopefully, Mr. Williams’ death will leave it slightly more ajar than it was yesterday.
I am biased as all hell, but the most eloquent way of summarizing mental health issues I’ve ever seen came from my mother’s journals :
June 22nd, 2002 :
“No one has a perfect body – so how can we expect to have a perfect mind?”
It is gut-wrenchingly clear to me now, in transcribing her thoughts [with her blessing before she passed], how much she had battled depression. Nearly every entry contained a harrowing summary of her thoughts that day or a passionate resolve to fight for her happiness; most days included both.
Sprinkled throughout her observations and prayers are gems like the one above. They make me cry, they make me smile, and through them she continues to teach and be there for me despite having left this world.
I cherish this posthumous support of hers, because I have had my own struggles with mental illness over the past couple decades. Unlike my dearest Mom, my demons are named Anxiety and Panic. As anyone who has dealt with any of the three knows, though, Depression always hangs out with those guys. You rarely run in to one without eventually meeting the others. They’re like the Kardashians, I suppose, though arguably more pleasant.
Mental illness carries much less stigma than it did even ten years ago. Still, though, the chasm in comfort level pertaining to candid discourse of physical illness versus mental illness is staggering.
We are bombarded with advertisements for products to lose weight, get six-pack abs, and get rid of headaches, pimples, or our natural hair colors. Our Facebook feeds are littered with images and humblebragged updates of our friends’ Crossfit progress or marathon results.
We are comfortable sharing these physical aspirations and goals to a point that borders on over-sharing. At the same time, discussion of mental health is virtually nonexistent. Surely our friends and family have, in their more reflective moments, stumbled across nuggets of wisdom like my Mom’s in their personal quest to find happiness – why aren’t we sharing those?
Why do we know the details of our friends’ current diet, but not the medication they are taking for their depression, and if it is working for them? I can’t help but think that our aversion to discussing which methods or medicines we are utilizing in our personal fights against mental illness is, ironically, a very large part of why we need to employ such methods or medicines in the first place.
If there’s anything that every person can agree on, whether suffering from mental illness or fortunate enough to not be, is that understanding helps. Sharing our emotions feels nice. There is arguably no greater reprieve from our perceived solitude of suffering than another soul who listens and understands.
It won’t change overnight, but we can all try a little harder to ask those around us how they’re feeling. Let’s all just… fucking… talk… about our feelings, just a little bit more than we did before. In seeing understanding in someone else’s eyes, we see hope. And we can all use a little more hope.