This might be the most random piece of Internet reading that I’ve ever put together. However, I feel that it’s an important piece of random Internet reading, not because mental illness is such a hot topic amongst the bored, lonely people of modern society, but because unless you’ve actually experienced it, it’s not something that you can truly understand. Before I go on, I would like to save time and avoid back tracking through the funhouse of my memories by posting a link to another article I wrote about my history with mental illness in, “I’m Fine, I Promise: Some Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, Suicide, 13 Reasons Why, and Chris Cornell.” I just want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not just another Millennial with a Liberal Arts Degree and access to a blog. I labor in the trenches of anxiety and depression, and until recently – had the delusional thought that I was the only one resisting the onslaught of giving up.
Before we move on, let’s talk statistics. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million or 18.5%) experience mental illness in a given year. Of those adults, 1 in 25 (9.8 million or 4.0%) experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activity. In the American youth, 1 in 5 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder before the age of 18, and that percentage has increased with each passing year. And what are we doing about it? We’re writing young adult novels and creating television shows that make mental illness seem normal, we’re perpetuating ideas of self-importance, and we’re turning vital discussion topics into train wrecks you can see from outer space. We’ve buried our ability to empathize in hashtags campaigns, social media videos, and an overwhelmingly dangerous need to be relevant. Why is this happening?
I have a few theories, but I’ll get to those in time.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making serious attempts at doing this thing that us Millennials have labeled as “adulting” because practice makes perfect . . . or so they say. I set plans in motion to eat healthier, play less video games, exercise, drink less, and manage my time a little better. I ate a salad last week, but other than that I’ve failed miserably at all of those things. Then I started to ask myself why I couldn’t accomplish such simple goals. It’s not like I’m training to run a marathon or trying to become the CEO of Whole Foods. I’m just trying to be a little healthier, more responsible, and maybe a little more social. The more I thought about it, the more I spiraled into the haunting realization that the reason I’m stuck in between being and becoming is because I don’t know who I want to be. Somewhere in the last ten years, I lost something vital to my life . . . I lost my identity. I lost it in the expectations of my parents. I lost it in the social pressures of my friends and peers. I lost it in the aftermath of heartbreak. I lost it beneath the weight of anxiety and depression. And in the midst of it all, I stopped trying to push back the dark and instead let it consume me because it was so much easier than fighting it.
So why am I writing this? When I was in high school, and things “got bad” my grandma used to tell me stories about people she admired when she was younger. Many of them were celebrities that few people would know today, but they inspired her, and she inspired me, making her stories well worth the time it took to listen to them. There was one night and one story that stood out to me above the rest. I was fourteen at the time, and my dad and I had taken her out to her favorite place to eat. At some point during the meal she had started to tell me a story about a comedian she used to love – whose name I can’t remember – and she said this, “He reached the point where he wanted his life to end, but he kept going. Do you know how he did it? He laughed himself back to health.” I’m paraphrasing that conversation a little, but the message is still the same. It’s impossible to just get over mental health issues. Contrary to popular belief, nobody stops being depressed or anxious because they decided to. Healing is possible, but it takes time and relapses do happen. I had a bad one during Christmas. However, like the comedian my grandma spoke of, I know that I can’t just give up – as much as I’d like to. Over the years, I’ve found solace in writing. I’m horrible at having real life conversations. I can never get my words to match up with the things in my head, and because of that I don’t socialize well. When I write, everything makes a lot more sense, and my thoughts flow onto paper in a way that my words could never flow into a conversation. And for a while, I found identity in those words. I wrote a book, got a degree in journalism, found some sort of purpose. Then I lost it. I got a new job, and found myself in a place where it was so much easier to be like everybody else than it was to be different. I wanted to have friends, I wanted girls to like me, I wanted to exist in a setting of peers that placed themselves high above the world and the questions that propel us into a deeper understanding of who we are and why we’re here. And because of that, my passion, my gift, my drive sort of fizzled out.
Again, why am I writing this? I don’t want to be a blogger. I always make fun of bloggers. I’m a huge fan of that old Marvel proverb, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just because you have a following and a platform to say something, it doesn’t mean you should. I don’t have much of a following, so I don’t feel like I’m contradicting myself. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my grandma’s story about the comedian who “laughed himself back to health.” I suppose I’m writing this because I want to “write myself back to health.” Truth is, I’m tired. It’s not a physical exhaustion I feel. It’s an exhaustion of the society we live in and the way people think and treat each other. I’m tired of the endless bickering based on political beliefs. I’m tired of the shrines we’ve built to the gods of self-importance. I’m tired of our inability to dialogue about anything without offending somebody, or even attempting to empathize with what others are experiencing. I’m tired of having to burry myself in the trends and ideologies of others just so people will like me. Most of all, I’m just tired of being tired. I’m not doing so well lately, in terms of being a functioning human being. Some days are better than others, and some days I wake up feeling this profound sense of loss, like my life will never be what I wanted it to be when I was younger, like I will forever be stuck in this phase until I succumb to the shackles of nothingness and disappear completely. So, naturally, I decided to start an ongoing blog series called, “I’m Not Okay, but I’ll Get There.” In this blog, I promise to avoid politics, to be completely honest, and to hold nothing back. I don’t want attention, and I certainly don’t want sympathy. If at least one person reads these words and connects with them, I’ll feel like it was worth my time. To know that you’re not alone can make all the difference in the life of somebody who is struggling.