Standing up for those who can't articulate mental ill health
I suffer with obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and depression. Last year, the gloomy interface of those often-conflicting illnesses morphed into suicidal ideation as I lost the instruction manual for life. Yet amid such multifaceted psychological turmoil, I’m one of the lucky ones. Why? Because I have the ability to decipher, analyse and articulate the pain that accompanies mental ill health.
I cannot comprehend the agony of adding alexithymia - or the inability to describe one’s emotions - to the potent blend of conditions that derail my tranquillity. In this regard, being an introverted empath and a strategic thinker has saved me. Without education and the subsequent ability to articulate cogent thoughts that it naturally imparts, I would be totally lost. Without my vocabulary, I would be a voiceless prisoner of interminable and formless pain.
Strangely, I suffer from diseases of the brain, but said brain also holds the power to unlock salvation and enlighten the road to recovery. No other body part must decode its own mode, tone and shape of recuperation without support. That which destroys me, a surplus of thought, also leads me out of despair. Such is the beguiling contradiction of mental ill health and the cultural context in which it belongs.
I have always been an advocate of education, believing in its power to change lives through the conventional means of employment and achievement. However, until recently, in the grip of myriad mental health battles, I have never appreciated the absolute necessity of education in allowing us to understand ourselves and recognise the emotions that govern our existence.
Anxiety robbed me of the chance to attend university, but I fortunately attained a solid education to A Level standard. I excelled in the academic fields of English, philosophy, geography and history while muddling my way through maths, science and more practical subjects such as design technology.
Above all else, high school furnished me with an inquisitiveness that inspired the personal study of topics I adored: football, baseball, writing, politics, travel and more. That led to voracious reading and a passion for books, which in turn coalesced into an elaborate cosmology of knowledge that lent itself to deep thought, staunch principles and strong beliefs.
During the darkest depths of mental ill health, I personally found periods of structured solitude to contain the first steppingstones to recovery. In order to solve a problem, I first need to acknowledge it, accept it, ponder it and understand it. I need to think about it in different lights, from different angles, at different times, in order to make an informed action plan. Quietness is needed, as is time and space in which to feel the problem and consider its solution.
Now, if I did not have the gift of a strong education, I would not have the tools to navigate those periods of stern evaluation. It would be like deciding to cook a meal only to discover that the cupboards are empty, devoid of the necessary ingredients. Therefore, we see how crucial education, intelligence and knowledge are in understanding mental health and equipping humans to deal with its vagaries.
In this regard, I am actually very fortunate. I have the education; I have the desire to learn; and I have the attendant depths of intelligence to critically analyse my own moods, emotions and actions in an accurate manner, contextualised within the modern world. My heart breaks for those less fortunate. To live as a conscious depressive is a terrible fight, but to live as an unknowing depressive, perpetually confused and eternally frustrated, must be an unbearable plight.
When mental ill health crushed my emotional foresight and zapped my hope, suicidal ideation was a devastating consequence. I wanted to cease existing and unburden the world from my irritating presence. In that hopeless void, so grim and murky, the feint residues of rationality and intelligence saved me.
Even in the darkest reaches of despair, devoid of hope, I still had a semblance of acumen with which to navigate the stormy seas. It was shattered into a thousand pieces and barely able to function, but that acumen stopped me from doing the unthinkable. Instinctive knowledge insulated me even when everything else fell apart.
Fortunately, I was able to find help and construct a roadmap to recovery. When everything else deserted me, the inclination to analyse and strategise became a useful last-ditch defence against suicide. Thinking, or perhaps more accurately overthinking, was a painful symptom of my addled mind. Bizarrely, it was also a tremendous saviour, allowing me to pause when otherwise I may have acted.
In the realm of suicidal ideation, rationality is often the difference between life and death. Perversely, the predominant cause of suicidal ideation, mental illness, can be seen as a chronic absence of rationality. Accordingly, that which saves the suicidal thinker is the most elusive attribute in his or her world. The vicious cycle is eternally confounding, speaking to the unconquerable essence of the human brain.
I appreciate that, when suicidal thoughts linger in your mind, rationality has literally malfunctioned as a mental gatekeeper. It is supposed to filter out those thoughts, dispersing positivity. Regaining a grasp of rationality is unspeakably difficult in those situations, and that is why so many people act on suicidal thoughts. Incidentally, that is also why seeing suicide as selfish is often inaccurate. Nothing can permeate that abyss.
However, I firmly believe that, through persistent education and intellectual nourishment, a person can alter his or her instinctive makeup and rewire their reactions to certain situations. I believe that, by consuming knowledge, we can tweak the natural baseline of rationality that exists within our minds. We can broaden our horizons and understand the world. Our role within it can become clearer, and we can build fortitude against hopelessness.
Of course, some of the most intelligent people of all-time killed themselves. Mental ill health does not discriminate. However, the ability to summon, corral and apply rationality is one of the most important and effective attributes in prolonging life among depressives. Anything we can do to alter those odds, sharpen those tools and place rationality in a more accessible location must be actioned. Education and the global perspective it provides is one of the most effective techniques to achieve that end.
Emotional immaturity definitely played a role in my initial battles with mental ill health and suicidal thoughts. I was the executive Commercial Director of a multi-million-pound company by the age of 23, and conforming to the social ideals of such an illustrious position crippled me. For a poor kid from a tough council estate, it was a classic case of too much, too young. I did not have a frame of reference for embracing the real me, and the capitalist suppression of self corrupted my soul.
Intelligence does not always correlate to maturity, but the former encourages the latter by fostering self-awareness, sharpening analytical vision and deconstructing naivety. All those attributes are incredibly valuable in fighting depression, and so we see how the accumulation of knowledge can destroy the molecular bonds of suicidal ideation before they expand.
We all learn differently, so there is no one-size solution to generating intelligence, growing rationality or engendering self-awareness. However, I find that reading is the most effective portal to fresh knowledge for me. The escapist qualities of literature are well-documented, and there is a reason why curling up with a good book and a warm cup of coffee feels therapeutic: because it is!
On a subconscious level, by reading, you acquire knowledge, which alters your outlook on life. Often, the most intelligent people are those who master the ability not to overreact. In other words, those who are governed by calm rationality are typically cleverer than those who are ruled by frenetic agitation. Oh, and by the way, frenetic agitation is a painfully accurate description of suicide.
As governments fail us, and as the capitalist system breeds inequality, somebody must stand up for those who cannot vocalise their mental health struggles. Somebody must articulate the agony, frustration and confusion of feeling down but not knowing why. Somebody must represent those less fortunate, and I am willing to do so.
People suffering through mental ill health want you to know that, sometimes, they cannot explain the sudden dip in their mood that seems random to outsiders. They want you to know that, from time to time, all they want to do is sit and contemplate life, far away from the rat race. They want you to know that depression is a sickness, not a weakness, and they are trying their absolute best to carry on.
Anybody can suffer a mental health crisis. Money has nothing to do with it, and neither does occupation, commodification or apparent suburban bliss. I understand the imploring of conversation, and I appreciate people challenging illogical negativity. However, sometimes, there is no explanation for psychological pain. Sometimes, finding the words is just impossible. Sometimes, the black dog barks and it just happens, this whole depression thing.
Don’t demand answers, because often, we just don’t have them.