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What Doctors Don't Tell You About Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Most days, I wake up with this weight.

The doctors will tell you it’s depression and brain fog and anxiety and “Here, we’ll start you on an antidepressant” and oh— I’m not saying this is wrong.

But what an idea that for so long I just accepted without question.

That the fog and the buzzing and the vacancy is my brain gone wrong, and the pills and therapy are the answer, the thing that will solve it.

And yeah— the pills help. The therapy helps. Both do what they are designed to do. (And sometimes things are too much and you need that help.)

But let’s be clear: the widely-spread idea that “chemical imbalances in the brain cause mental illness” doesn’t tell the full story.

So maybe my own mind isn’t the real root.

Maybe I just wasn’t made for the grind day-in and day-out, or the endless insides of walls and ceilings and chairs, and screens trapped with addictive technology, and yet another job that tells me I don’t fit their business model. In 2022 they might smile at you more, and lie to you, and say things like “we’re a family here” and “mental health is important to us” and shower you constantly with chipper, feel-good compliments to prove it— before your programming begins to show signs of slipping, and they choose to prioritize the numbers over you without a single question, just like the rest.

The whole world will tell you you’re the problem, you’re the one that’s ill, “You need to fix yourself so you can assimilate into our world,” and maybe that’s why so many of us die before we ever get the chance to find a place where we can fit in.

But maybe we simply aren’t meant to fit in here.

Maybe they were wrong when they decided that it is us who are ill. Maybe it’s the whole world that’s sick, and we are just the symptoms.

I’ve come a long way. I’ve managed with therapy and medication when I needed it. I’ve managed with spirituality and self-reflection. And these days, I’m OK, most of the time. Better than I’ve ever been, overall. But sometimes I feel like I’ve been saying too many positive things on social media, and I start getting sick to my stomach.

I remember what it feels like to feel disconnected in a world of lilting falsetto “How are you?” “I’m good!”s and endless pictures brighter than any reality I’ve seen. I’ve gotten better, with life and with shame and with honesty, and really, it looks beautiful out there and I’m so happy you’re happy— please, please share the things that make you happy, it’s so beautiful to see.

But maybe being happy isn’t the only emotion that’s beautiful or worth showing, especially in a world that’s as complicated as this one, with so many shadows living in the structures around us that touch us all every day.

Maybe there’s a whole other side of collective human connection and another world we don’t even know about; what would it be like if we started feeling all the other things all together, too? On social media, and out in the real world?

If we started exploring different possibilities together? Learning together? Healing, all of us, as an entire community instead of just with a stranger in a closed room? If so many of the things that are afflicting us are in our environment and shared and experienced by all of us, why do we have to hide our healing process?

Neurologically, the more anxious we become, the more our ability to imagine new circumstances shrinks. Literally — the part of our brain that governs imagination (and healing…) shrinks over time if you are stressed.

Isn’t that just so convenient for an oppressing system to keep you hopeless and sick and under control?

(Don’t worry— with practice, you can grow it back.)

Possibly unrelated, possibly not:
I know it’s hard to do the things you want to do when you don’t see anyone else around who’s doing them, but maybe that’s more reason why you should be doing them. Just think about it, OK?

I had a story similar to this drafted months ago and back then, just the idea of sharing it had me retching and crying and shaking in the corner of my bathroom, asking myself, “Why does this genuinely feel like the scariest thing in the world?”

I think the answer has less to do with me, and more to do with the psychological environment around telling your truth in this world, and it makes me wonder how many important truths have gone unsaid, and how much we all have suffered from their loss.

Lucky me. While I don’t have mental healthcare coverage anymore, I have the privilege of not needing to work full-time for a little while. So I spent the last year and a half in quarantine working full-time on my bravery (still am, will always be), and I have been feeling and thinking more than I ever have in my life.

They say if you embody the future you want to live in, you will see it start to change around you. I never thought I would be here. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work to get to this point where I feel I am ready to start. I want with all my heart to try to. I’m not gonna be near perfect, and I’ll misstep often, and sometimes a woman’s gotta indulge in a little mindfully bad behavior to keep her peace healthy, like controlled wildfire — but that can be expected of the world, too.

I know so many of us are so tired, and just surviving. But you matter, and your every tiny little step matters so much, and reverberates outward, and I hope you know that the other side of that thing you always bury could be a unique solution for the rest of us that only you have.

It’s natural to be afraid of the unfamiliar things. I hope you can accept and be understanding of the humanness of your fear and be gentle with yourself. Then maybe one day you can defy it, when you’re ready: and on the other side you might find a version of you that is much less afraid, and a whole different world of hope and possibility, and maybe someday, if enough of us turn toward one another, we’ll meet each other there.

Nothing ventured – nothing gained.
Sometimes, even on good days, I’ll wake up with this weight.
But now, sometimes: I wake up wide awake.

I want more mornings for us like that in the new place.

Originally published: February 26, 2022
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