Today we have Adam Oster here, talking about his own experiences with depression and social anxiety.
I’m going to go right out and say it: “You are all completely nuts.” All of you, and all of me, and anyone else out there too. That’s right, because mental illness is a pretty easy label to fall under. In fact, most of you are already probably aware of this due to your own self-diagnosing of narcissism or depression or arachnophobia. Mental illness is everywhere. It’s impossible to get around. Many versions of it are things we feel we can ignore. Sure, I may have an irrational fear of needles, but all that means is I just hide whenever they try to give me that booster shot, right? It’s not that my brain is broken, it’s just a stupid little thing it does from time to time.
But what if your brain doesn’t work the way you think it should? Or, more importantly, what if the way your brain works makes it completely impossible for you to live in the modern world?
I’m lucky, I’ll admit it. I suffer from chronic depression with a hefty chocolate topping of social anxiety. It can cripple me at the worst of times. But I’ve also got this little voice in the back of my head. An optimistic voice that keeps telling me that tomorrow could be better. Some may see this dichotomy of ideals as something that may be capable of causing a brain to up and explode. Sure, one part of me is telling me that nothing will ever work out for me, that no one really loves me, that everything is basically pointless, while another part of me keeps saying, “Chin up! Tomorrow’s a new day!” (or, to quote the ancient philosopher: “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”)
And to be completely honest, the split personality my brain likes to take on has, on more than one occasion, caused plenty of problems. My depression would kick in, the optimist would come up with a crazed idea to make it all better, which would fail because it was half-assed, and the cycle would begin again until, ultimately, the optimist would be forced to shut up and I would sit in a corner for weeks (years…) incapable of doing much of anything.
It took me decades to find a way to make these two parts of myself work together, as opposed to having them bring me down. The depression half of me is impossible to shut up, but the optimist has allowed for a bit more wrangling. Like I said, I’ve been lucky. Now, whenever depression kicks in, I can coax the optimist into being a bit more relaxed in its ideology. Instead of causing me to decide I’m going to move across the country to fix things, it develops a new project to work on, a new something that will actually be something when it’s finished.
You could say my crazed brain is the only reason I’m able to write. If it weren’t for the constant battle between the two halves of me, there’s no chance I’d be able to push myself to keep writing the books I write. The depressed side of me would rather sit idly by and wait for the world to destroy me, while the optimist side of me would either sit around certain the world will give me what I’m “owed”, or, more probably, cause me to jump from location to location, from idea to idea, without ever once actually completing anything that I could be proud of. In fact, if the optimist were allowed free reign, I’m pretty sure he would turn into a depressed heap after all was said and done.
I’m lucky. I know that. Even though this deal I’ve struck up with my brain still fails from time to time, I’m lucky.
Many people aren’t. Some don’t have a mixture of voices telling them what to do. Some do, but can’t wrangle them. Even more have too many voices. Some literally hear voices. Other suffer with troubles with their actual mental capacity. Others have crippling fears that they couldn’t possibly overcome. As I’m sure you’re aware, the wealth of illnesses for the brain are endless. The fact that any of us survive is amazing.
But there are things we can do. Ways we can help. Recognizing how lucky each and every one of us are who are able to go through most days without completely losing our shit in a world that is out to completely break us should cause us to be all the more sympathetic toward those who don’t have that ability. I’ve had too many friends who have not been able to see the light of day ahead because of how their brains had allowed them to perceive things. Too many friends who have fallen down into holes they couldn’t get out of. Too many friends who simply aren’t here anymore.
And they, too, were lucky. Unfortunately in many of these cases, just not quite lucky enough.
But here’s the thing, we’re all ill. All of us, in some way, fall into the spectrum of mentally ill and all of us, in some way, have to battle those illnesses. And none of us, not a single one, can do it alone. We all need help, from time to time. Some of us more than others. Some of us can’t possibly survive without it. But we should all be considered lucky, even if it hasn’t worked out that way yet. Because as humans, we are a community, and with the rise of the computer age, our community is growing, while at the same time becoming more connected. The opportunities for support get larger each and every day. There is no reason any single person on this planet shouldn’t be able to get the support they need, unless those of us who are able to provide that support sit idly by.
Mental illness isn’t something that can be cured. It’s not something that will ever go away. Medication and therapy can help ease the difficulties we might face because of our illnesses, but ultimately, like an addict, our brain always wants to go back. So, even if you are someone who simply faces an irrational fear of heights and copes by not climbing up that ladder, you know what it’s like to be unable to convince your brain of what you know to be true. You know what it’s like to have your brain not work in the way that we, as a society, have declared is optimal.
And you know that you need help as much as the rest of us.
The only real way to a better tomorrow is to lean on each other while supporting in return. We might not all get better, but hopefully we can keep us all from getting worse.
Adam Oster writes tales of adventure where he can pretend he’s gone on wild excursions across time and space all for the purposes of coming up with an entertaining story. He also likes pizza.