You Can't Just Work Your Way Through a Mental Illness

All my life, I had suspected that something was seriously askew in my mind, but thought that, with enough practice, with enough distraction, with enough support, with enough prayer and bible reading and church-going, I could get through it on my own.

I thought it was more of a personality failing, more of an upbringing failing and one I could change if I just worked hard enough at it.

And that is what the world will tell you, too. In every way, and practically every day, the world will imply that if you just worked a little harder at it, the symptoms would go away. Your family, even your friends, will suggest that if you just did (or didn’t do) this or that, or if you tried yoga, or meditation, or acupuncture, or deep-tissue-massage or the dried powder of the gu-gu berry, dissolved in the piss of the nearly-extinct jungle bat-cat, your problems would dissipate.*

It takes more muscles to frown than to smile, after all!

Never mind that every day during a depressive episode, it’s a struggle just to rise from your bed and put on your clothes. Never mind that taking a shower requires herculean effort. Never mind the mania that grabs you by the back of the neck and hurls you into the abyss of racing thoughts and euphoria is a force beyond reckoning. Never mind the anxiety that overwhelms you, the panic attacks that hit without warning, cannot be just “gotten over.” Never mind the obsessive thoughts hammer away at your mind like a woodpecker on an old dead tree. Never mind that every day without treatment means damaging yourself, your psyche and the ones you love most.

Never mind that you have a disease that needs careful management.

Like cancer.

Like heart failure.

Like anemia.

Like (fill in the blank).

The brain is a physical organ, with physical components, one that resides within a physical body, and when things go awry, one that needs very physical solutions. So many people make the mistake of treating this physical problem with spiritual or emotional solutions, as I did, for decades and with little success. There may be periods of relief, yes. But the problems return.


It goes without saying the brain is a complex organ. More complex than any other in the body. Its machinations are sometimes shrouded in mystery, but that does not mean it is inscrutable or intangible. New strides are being made every day to understand its workings, and breakthroughs are underway.

There is help, if you are struggling. You don’t have to gut your way through the dark days. Get treatment from a licensed professional and stick with it. Your brain will thank you.

*Don’t get me wrong, there may be value in each of those things (well, except that last one) but they are not solutions in and of themselves.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

What It Really Means to Be OK and How to Handle When You Aren't

“I’m OK.” It’s something we say so often in passing, but do we ever really take the time to actually stop and think about what it means? A friend of mine defines OK as being safe, stable, secure, supported and caught up on sleep. So next time someone asks you if you’re OK, think before you automatically respond. [...]

21 Things People With Mood Disorders Wish Their Friends Understood

Good friends are with you through the ups and downs of life — which can be complicated and a little more frequent when you live with a mood disorder. That’s why we teamed up with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, as part of its “I’m Here” campaign, and asked people who lived with mood [...]

4 Memes That Teach Me How to Help My Daughter Deal With Her Illness

The post started as a “what not to say/do” type thing — but that just sounded so negative, and articles about what I shouldn’t say to someone who is dealing with depression, anxiety or chronic illness always make me feel bad because I’ve usually said every single one of them (my daughter Megan is usually gracious [...]

How Much Do You Know About Mental Health Medications?

Perhaps you or someone you care about takes medication to help manage a mental health condition. There’s a whole alphabet soup of such medications, from Abilify to Zyprexa and everything in between. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve also noticed there’s also a lot of inaccurate information out there about these types of medications. How savvy are [...]