It’s safe to say that I talk more about mental illness than the average person (okay, a lot more than the average person), which means that I can get so focused on specifics and details that I miss things that are outside of mine Scope of application. Over the years mental illness has gotten more glamorous and frankly I’ve missed parts of it. I ignored this content for the most part thinking I knew the causes, but it’s a lot more complicated than expected. So today I want to address one aspect of why it is dangerous to glorify mental illness – and how easily it can be committed.
At the beginning of my mental health journey, I was doing constant research on Google. I wanted to learn what I was feeling – symptoms, causes, treatment, etc. I read other people’s experiences and saw myself in their stories of feeling sad and overwhelmed. But I also have searches like “How can I relieve my depression?” And “What’s Good About Depression?” Posed. It was there that I saw my first obstacle on the way to mental wellbeing.
I found so much content saying that depression is more common in creative people, that it causes pain that we can use as fuel for our work, and it influenced me in that early state. I saw my depression as poetic, necessary for my struggle. The more I lived with depression, the more I would use that pain and do something remarkable. But let me be clear – I was so damn wrong. The “tortured genius” in the media is toxic to people with mental illness and has been around for years. Mental illness is often used as a footnote in a person’s success story, e.g. “You have overcome your battle with X to become the next big thing.” We treat mental illness as something to be overcome or as a game to be won. This creates an attitude that makes people feel like they have to “conquer” mental illness, but never cope with it.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms and a reactionary approach to mental health are two other reasons for this continued glorification. We all have some coping mechanisms that are not the healthiest (I agree with that), but avoiding associating those coping mechanisms with a potential struggle means people often struggle and try to blame something other than to lay mental illness. Our reactionary nature also means we discuss mental illness as an afterthought rather than having a more honest discussion about how we got there in the first place.
Despite the incredible conversations I’ve had with people and improved media coverage of mental illness, I know that millions of people in America view mental illness as a weakness. The only benefit to this weakness seems to be that it can be the backstory to our success. However, mental illness is not just reserved for the most successful and respected – remember, it doesn’t discriminate! So I’m not saying that I “struggle with depression”. I am not a tortured genius. I’m not here to help overcome depression or overcome anxiety (though maybe one day it won’t be so debilitating!). I live with mental illness and I just do my best. And you know what? That is more than enough.