We all need to feel free to talk about our mental health and mental illness without fear of being shamed or rejected for it. Annie Jo's piece is a beautiful, lyrical take on how one can come to accept living with a mental illness, without needing to separate it from oneself or feel as if you are not whole until your healed. This may well be the first of many similar pieces, myself and the other Editors were so inspired by this submission.- Amy, Feminism & Women's Issues Editor
I won't talk about mental illness. It's been done before by Susanna Kaysen, Sylvia Plath, Marya Hornbacher, by so many people. I won't talk about mental illness, not like them, at least not right now. I don't know how to make it interesting, and I am still young. It's exhausting to read about it and even more so to write and my description of it would be boring to everyone, including myself, just as life with it often is — I've been bored while calming down from panic attacks. I won’t talk about mental illness — not about panic attacks, or regular, garden-variety depression, or the brain fog, or the fatigue. I won’t talk about drugs that make you sleep twelve hours a day, or not sleep at all, or crying in therapy and not knowing why, or the exhausting but necessary process of training your brain out of lifelong thought patterns. I will not talk about any of these, because they are boring, at least how I would write them — I will not talk about any of these. I am working very, very hard to get better. My name is Annie and I am mentally ill.
But I still live. Some days I don't, not by standards of what constitutes living. Some days I lie on the floor. Listen to the beating of my heart. Watch the sunlight stream in from the west. Tiny flecks of lighter-than-air dust floating, borne on the currents of my breath and warm air shifting up from my 97 degree human body (even with my heart on my sleeve, I've run that cold my entire life). I observe the veins at my wrist, press my mouth to them, feel the pulse. I am alive. My heart beats quick and weak and I become convinced of a tilt in my spine. Of a sticky spot under my left floating ribs. A disconnect in the cartilage in my nose. Skin stretched too tight over my skull. Eyes that hurt in their sockets. A tongue too large for its mouth. And I am alive...
Living hurts in so many ways, just to be so painfully aware of your life, your body alive and pulsing and aching and uncomfortable on the surface of the Earth. Your body is your mind. Your mind is your body. And yet the mind seems so expansive in comparison to the body. The mind can get lost in itself, form meanings where there are none, create worlds in total void, tiny, warm brains in cold, dry vats of solipsism; something massive, like a soul, shoved down into a tiny, pulsing human body, and yet it is influenced by that tiny body. By pain and hunger, by steroids and neurotransmitters, by brain tumors and drugs. The mind is as pained and flawed and uncomfortable as the body.
Just as our pelvises, our spines, our joints, are so imperfect for the world in which we live, and just as the food and oxygen we need to live also run our bodies down too quickly—just like those physical imperfections, our minds are imperfect, are not quite made to live in this world. Not our physical Earth, with trees and dogs and benzene rings and coffee and kindness, or our universe of the laws of physics and hydrogen and helium and occasional void. But existence itself. Think of the Stephen King short story, "The Jaunt". How, in the jaunt, suspended between two locations, is "eternity", and how the mind goes mad instantaneously relative to the outside world, the safe world of people. "'Your mind can be your best friend,'" says the dad in the story. But it will turn against you with nothing else.
We know what happens to those in solitary confinement—your body, tiny and pulsing against the wall of the cell, and "only the silence of God above you," to steal a line from Jeremy Irons' Rodrigo Borgia (or maybe the screenwriter got that from someone else, maybe Alex the Sixth himself). Our minds are too small by ourselves to face God alone, a tiny, "meaningless" individual with no way of telling where our bodies and minds end and where the rest begins and any designation of the "individual" being arbitrary. We need the Earth and we need people, just as we need the bacteria in our gut that may or may not be part of us. The way my mind is wired is flawed just as my human body is, just as all our minds and bodies are flawed, and there is a beauty to it, to all flawed people, a certain beauty to our discomfort with being alive, mentally and physically. And I find beauty to it because sometimes it seems that there is nothing else. Sometimes, no matter what we know, no matter what we feel, all we can perceive is eternity. And that's okay.