Perfectly imbalanced: Taking the fight to mental illness
Opinion May 08, 2020
Mental illness; once a taboo topic that would seldom see the light of day within your own social circles, let alone the broader public, has almost become part of everyday conversation in today’s society. It’s a topic that’s been spotlighted by various sportsmen and celebrities, offered up in international awareness campaigns and more readily spoken about around the dinner table.
However, along with the comfort and popularity in talking about a subject which has long had its importance and relevance understated, so too has the almost dismissive misunderstanding that it’s simply a chemical imbalance that can be taken care of with a few colourful pills.
Yes, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants do help manage mental illnesses and go a long way in helping the many sufferers to cope, but they are by no means a cure or the absolute means to recovery. We have to start seeing them as allies in the fight against mental illness and not the heroes; a title for which the person leading the front line is far more deserved.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by writer Kelli María Korducki sparked my focus into this subject, and it got me thinking deeply about my own experience and that of the people close to me who also deal with mental illness.
The piece explores the way in which the conversation surrounding mental illness has shifted away from it being an aberration towards it being a preordained condition that’s always affected the inflicted. That there’s nothing anyone can do who is suffering from mental illness other than popping pills that take care of their chemical imbalance. This got me thinking:
How much do we rely on our prescribed pills to fight this battle for us, and what are we doing to win? What impression do the people we surround ourselves with have about our battle, and what is their understanding of our relationship with our chemical imbalance? In fact, what is our own understanding of this relationship with our chemical imbalance?
These are important questions to ponder for anyone who’s trying to cope with mental illness. The act of simply asking or considering these questions to oneself places the power and responsibility of owning the fight back in our hands. It names us as the accountable entity in eventually succeeding in this war and gives the title of battle tool to the pills.
It’s important to know and understand this point; that the pills are just one of the many weapons we have at our disposal as we attempt to overthrow our life’s chief dictator. They’re capsulised stopgaps that allow us to learn and develop more powerful tools to add to our arsenal.
Successfully taking on mental illness also requires awareness, knowledge and focus. We have to become more aware of the effects mental illness has, not only on our lives, but also on the lives of the people around us. Empathy goes a long way in our journey to understanding this effect.
Yes, people without mental illness need to try harder to empathise with those who do suffer, however, the reverse is just as important. Those with mental illness also need to try to empathise with those around them and how their condition may be affecting them.
Mental illnesses are selfish, vicious beasts that capture the mind and often hold their victim hostage. They want us to suffer alone with no empathy and little understanding from the world around us. It can be extremely difficult to get outside of our own heads and place our awareness on the outside world, especially when it’s from a point of concern of how others are doing. However, this can be the relief we ever so need.
Sometimes, the best way to help ourselves is by reaching out and helping another individual, even if it’s just to try to help them understand our condition and what it involves or learning how the condition is impacting on their lives. They’re in your life because they want to be and because they care, and so opening up to them and allowing them to express the way they feel without them feeling like they have to walk on eggshells is only fair. This leads to a more mutual understanding of the condition and respect between all people affected (and not just us), which is a major blow to the selfish and antisocial nature of the illness.
Knowledge in how to cope and manage our mental illness is another powerful weapon we can all use, if astutely acquired, to help pacify its roar. This knowledge involves discovering and understanding what we can do, aside from taking pills, to help alleviate the effects of our condition and sidestep the deep, dark hole it constantly attempts to plunge us in.
This knowledge is different for different individuals. For some, it involves rigorous, concentrated exercise or exploring the great outdoors, while for others it means learning and investigating new things or simply talking about and teaching others about mental illness. Whatever this knowledge involves, it’s essential that we work towards discovering it and then (this is the key) focussing on it with precision and continuously working on it.
Hitting mental illness where it hurts
When we realise that the fight against mental illness is in our hands and that the pills we take are simply one tool in our arsenal, we hit mental illness where it hurts. We take away its dominion over our lives and give it notice.
It becomes a battle between us and it in which we are able to continuously equip ourselves and guard against its assaults with new tools every day. When we take the responsibility away from the prescribed medication to heal our chemical imbalance, we start to learn how to walk the tight rope and become the masters of our own fate. We learn how to remain perfectly imbalanced.