Showing my age here, but ya know that scene in the 1989 classic “Say Anything” starring John Cusack where he says to Constance, “Why can’t you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?”
Turns out, pretty hard when you have a mental illness like depression or anxiety. You can try to stop it, you can try to calm the metaphorical voices in your head. (Literal voices would be schizophrenia, which is a whole different topic.) And it might even be possible to stop the voices. Ah, but with help. Either with meds, or with therapy. Someone smarter than you who went to school and studied these things can help you. Someone who has an arsenal of tools in their toolbox. Jedi mind tricks you can play on yourself. But you can’t do it alone. Not really. Not if you actually have depression, not if you’re actually dealing with anxiety, having a panic attack. You can’t just “decide to be in a good mood” when you have a mental illness.
“Sure you can. Just be happy. Change your attitude. Happiness is a choice.” Some of you still believe it is a sign of weakness to be depressed or to have anxiety. And truth be told, I don’t blame you because I get it. The reasons for your disbelief are complex. For some of my guy friends, it’s the culture of “toxic masculinity” that tells you that “real men” don’t cry, let alone have depression. “Yeah right, ‘depression’ sure ok.”
The culture of toxic masculinity is killing our boys and men by the way, but that’s a topic for another day.
For others, you simply will always believe mental illness is nothing more than a character flaw. You will readily believe that something in your brain can go wrong causing you to develop Alzheimer’s. You accept that neurons can misfire and cause dementia or schizophrenia. You break out the science jargon when explaining the “love chemical” oxytocin. And you’ll accept that soldiers can get PTSD from watching women and children die. But depression? Anxiety? PTSD in a non-military person? Suddenly things change. Suddenly anybody that claims to have depression is just “sad” and needs to “get over it.” Depression is just “lack of will power.” “Laziness.” “Not praying enough.” “Everybody gets sad sometimes. Just be happy.” Someone having severe anxiety is “just lying,” or is “weak.” “My dad used to beat me within an inch of my life. And I turned out fine.”
To that I say great. Fantastic. Your brain isn’t misfiring. Your fight or flight response doesn’t get stuck in the on position. Wonderful. In truth, our brains are more powerful than any super computers. And sometimes our super computers fail. Yet you won’t believe that those very same super computers that invented geometry and theoretical physics can go through a traumatic experience, trigger a predisposition, misfire, and cause depression or anxiety, or that something other than war can cause PTSD. Just like bad habits can trigger heart disease, trauma can trigger mental illness. Something turned that switch on for me, and not for you. That’s all.
Mental illness is even more complicated than we know. We are learning more and more every day. It’s real, it’s complicated, and it’s not a matter of simply “being weak.” This theory states that neurogenesis, or the creation of neurons, helps cure depression. It says that the reason SSRI’s work might not be due to raising serotonin levels, but rather in promoting neuron growth! Or this study that shows how stress in your environment can lead to inflammation in your body, which can lead to brain changes and the development of mental illness.
This study shows that anxiety might be inherited from your parents and actually changes your brain right from the start. Finally, this study shows how environment, background, brain function, and stress hormones can all overlap and lead to depression and other mental illness. The point here is that mental illness is real, really complicated, and can’t be simplified down to “being weak.” Some of it is brain stuff, some of it is situational, some is your environment. We just don’t know, and are learning more and more every day.
But some of you don’t believe. Your life experiences and perhaps *your* brain’s wiring have led you to a place where mental illness isn’t real. And that’s alright. I’m just grateful for my ridiculously supportive wife. My family. My friends. My friend Dese’Rae, creator of Live Through This, which focuses on suicide attempt survivors. Jenny and #TheBloggessTribe who just “get it” and I love that I never have to explain anything to them when I panic about something that I did just fine the week before.
Mental illness can feel overwhelming. Debilitating. Terribly lonely. You will feel like you’re the only one going through this. Nobody else gets it. You, and only you, have experienced pain like this. But that’s not true. Millions of people around the country have broken brains. Hundreds of millions around the world.
And the good news is that you can do something about it. And no, I’m not talking about praying it away or smiling it away. Not talking about “….decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?” I mean, it can’t hurt to pray or meditate. But it won’t cure a mental illness. No, what we can do about it is that we can talk about it. We can bring awareness. Awareness and facts. Remove the prejudice and bias, the stigma, that many in society have against mental illness. Show people that we’re not crazy or “just weak.” And on a micro level, we can talk to mental health professionals, and we can take SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). If we choose not to do that because we’ve heard it fails for some or makes things worse for others, there are other options and ideas. We can realize and accept that this is real, doesn’t make us “weak”, and is fixable. It won’t be easy. When depression tells you that all you want to do is stay in bed all day because “why bother?” or when anxiety makes you afraid of everything, it won’t be easy to get the help you need. But you can do it. One step at a time.
As for me, all I can do is lean on friends and family when the darkness comes, keep taking the meds, see the shrinks, and hope the clouds stay away until they don’t.
If you are having a mental health crisis and need someone to talk to, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 #depressionlies #fuckdepression #MakeChesterProud #TheBloggessTribe #NeverAlone #mentalillness #PTSDAwareness #anxiety #BeThe1To #ReasonsISpeak #StopSuicide #sicknotweak #EndTheSilence #EndTheStigma #AFSP #NSPW #TalkingAboutIt #NotAshamed #320changesdirection #IAmTheChange #IKeptLiving
Thank you my friend. 🙂
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This was definitely very well written! It’s very true that no one brain is the same and all are complex. We are all very unique in our personalities which means our “treatments” won’t be the same either. I do wish the stigma around mental health was different. A lot more people would not only be more compassionate towards other who simply can’t help it, but it would also allow more people to reach out before it’s too late, before all hope is lost. I hope you continue to blog even on the bad days. This was truly an amazing read and found it very helpful! Thank you!
Thank you for your kind words. Comments like these certainly help me continue writing, even on the bad days. It feels good to know I’m #NeverAlone in my struggles.
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