Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the true tragedy of illness and mental illness

Dear Directors of Unhappiness and Stewards of Despair (and Everyone Else to Whom This May Apply),

I think the greatest myth of our time is that we are supposed to be "happy." Not content, not satisfied, not well fed or comfortable; we are supposed to be happy in that pathetic sappy Hollywood way.

I have never met anyone who is happy. I have met content people. I have met satisfied people. I have met successful people. I have met comfortable people. And I have certainly met people who are well fed. But I have never met a happy person.

In actuality, I have met a lot of sad people. I have also met lot of people who are stressed and anxious. And I have met many, many people who are afraid. But mostly, I have met people who are lonely.

I'm not sure what causes loneliness, except for the obvious; an absence of people to share your life and experiences with. But I think most people can attest to feelings of being alone even when they are surrounded by a substantial number of people who love them.

My feelings of loneliness are most likely to happen when I feel like I can't communicate with the people around me. And I'm not talking day to day stuff, like, how's the weather, and oh, how are you. I'm talking about being unable to share my feelings, being unable to share how an experience has affected me, and generally being unable to relate important aspects of my life to people who I think would generally want to know that information.

So when people talk about feeling lonely, it's not always because they don't have friends. Loneliness can be a result of the people in your life not being 'active participants' in your life.

When I first became symptomatic many, many moons ago, the memories that are most vivid in my mind are the memories of loneliness. It was a feeling that sat deep inside of my chest. A feeling that bore the weight of a stone, and a feeling that often resonated as if it had just been struck with a great force.

In a world where mental illness is effectively swept under the carpet, and where discourse is not free and open, I think the everyday person does not have access to the language that is needed to discuss issues of mental health. I also don't think that there is enough accurate knowledge of the everyday experiences of people living with mental illness residing in our 'collective consciousness.' (Our collective consciousness being the sum of experiences and knowledge that most people of our country are likely to come across in their lifetime.)

The little knowledge that does exist in our 'collective consciousness' has been coloured by negative stereotypes and dangerous mythology. Some of these stereotypes and mythology include: i) That people with psychosis are dangerous and more likely to hurt others. ii) That we can't trust the somatic complaints of women because they are more emotional and are thus more sensitive to the effects of stress (ie. histrionic). (Thanks for your wonderful contributions, Freud, you misogynistic ass!)

So I think the true tragedy of illness and mental illness is that too many people who live with conditions that affect their mental health are unable to communicate their experiences with their loved ones. I think this breakdown in communication is what creates the loneliness and despair that resides in the hearts of people affected by illness.

So when I despair about the disease, that is my despair... that I cannot communicate with the people I love. And when I think about the tragedy of illness, that resounding sense of loneliness is the first thing that materializes in my mind.

Your doorman (to the portals of communication),

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