Living the Life Unwell

“Anxiety”, “Depression”, “Substance Abuse”, “PTSD”. Whatever it can be attributed to, for much of my life, I’ve been mentally and emotionally volatile. To be honest, I feel mentally ill on any given day, if only because I compare myself to other, more normal people, people who appear unscathed by trauma, “happy”, “carefree”. But even people who have lived fairly rough lives seem more emotionally stable than me. What gives?

It’s hard to know what people think – or know – about mental illness, because we still, well, we just don’t talk about it. Attempting to do so often elicits blank stares, languorous silence on the other end of the line, a feeling of unease. Perhaps this is because it reminds people of their own woes for a brief moment, but more likely, it’s because they’ve been made “uncomfortable.” We’re living in an era (hopefully a brief one), in which people go out of their way to avoid gazing inward. We celebrate and extol the exterior – while the inside rots.

Living with mental disorder, “real” or “imagined”, diagnosed or known to be true, is confounding, upsetting, and profoundly isolating. Sometimes, you wonder to yourself, “Why is it so hard for me to smile?” And then you remember, oh yeah, depression. Other times, you think, “Why is it so hard for me to relax? Why am I always so agitated, ill at-ease?” Oh yeah, the anxiety. This is why it is futile to compare yourself to those other, more normal people. You may never be there… and it’s not your fault.

What does it take to get better? I sometimes wonder if I can even “get better”… and if it’s even worth the effort. Finding a therapist that is actually half-way decent, being able to afford it, either through insurance or out-of-pocket, trying to get a prescription. All I could be assed to do so far is quit drinking and go to the gym a couple times a week, if that. Which is better than nothing, but nowhere close enough to the actual work that needs to be done. To get better, one would have to truly look at themselves, and into themselves, perhaps for the first time. To challenge everything you think you know about yourself, others, and the world, is to dismantle all of your notions. To completely reevaluate your worldview, and change your reality. Scary stuff. It’s not surprising we avoid this confrontation for as long as possible, in some cases, our whole lives.

You can get real comfortable with your neuroses. Hell, you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

When I look at most people, they just seem so empty, as if they’ve never been touched by trauma or even real problems their entire lives. As if their only concern is what to order for lunch, or what TV show they’re going to watch when they get home. They seem to lack an inner life (impossible), or to live almost obscenely for the “outer life” – essentially what we call “living”. Maybe they are just “happy”. I think, is that what I’m supposed to be like? Are they “living right”? Why am I so angry? Why can I barely look at people, never mind speak to them? Why can’t I be like them? Why do they accept so easily what I can’t?

I know how painful and disorienting being anxious, and resentful, and lonely, and sad all the time is. I know what it’s like to be treated like a leper, or to be looked at with reproach and disdain, because “they” can’t quite figure out what your problem is (as if you only had one). I know what it’s like to barely feel human, between the disconnection and the slow withdrawal. You begin to feel like human detritus, tossed to the side of the road, left to watch more deserving people (the normals) lead “happy” and “fulfilling” lives.

But you can only be trash if you throw your life away. And I suspect that most of us haven’t done that – and we won’t.

Anxiety = mental masturbation with no release.*
Depression = Shit-stained glasses that make the world seem a bleak and hopeless place (well, even more so). A cassette tape that plays on a loop in your head telling you you’re worthless, broken, and unlovable and always will be.
Substance abuse = the way you silence all the noise and doubt.
PTSD = all of the above, usually.
*Hey, you’ve gotta laugh, or you just might kill yourself 😉
**These are simplifications of course.