How to try harder

The normal thing to do is to frame mental illness as something the person is going to recover from by making more effort.

Practice self care. Practice mindfulness. Practice gratitude. Challenge yourself to overcome your anxieties with a supportive CBT booklet. Talk to a therapist to get a plan in place for how you are going to do better. You know the drill.

No one is going to sit your abusive or neglectful family members down and explain to them what they should be doing to stop messing you up. No one is going to write a letter to your boss about how your toxic workplace is destroying you. The odds are that if you’ve suffered trauma, you’ve experienced nothing that was restorative. The odds of even experiencing any kind of justice around that are always slim.

It would be possible, through the medium of politics, to end the brutal toll that poverty and insecurity takes on people’s mental health. These are all situations that could be changed. Poverty is manufactured and is a deliberate aspect of capitalism. It isn’t natural, or necessary or unavoidable, but it does keep that system in place. Take away the massive stress caused by financial insecurity, work pressure, fear of losing your home and not being able to afford decent food, and a lot of mental illness would ease and disappear pretty quickly. Stress makes people sick.

From first hand experience, there is an extra layer of distress that comes from being made personally responsible for sorting out things you didn’t cause and can’t fix. There’s a weight to it, this a tough burden to shoulder on top of everything else. To have to try harder to be well and functional when something is gnawing on your guts, is a harsh thing to face. Your suffering is added to when there is no one willing to help you deal with the thing that is, metaphorically speaking, eating your innards in a slow and painful way. It doesn’t help to be told that you’d probably feel better if you could take a more positive approach to the thing that is destroying you.

Of course there’s no way of turning yourself into a happy and well person when the causes of your suffering are real and ongoing. Instead, you get to feel like a failure for not managing that impossible task. You get to feel like it’s your fault. I don’t think this is an accident. Misery makes it harder to push back and make change. The more of us there are feeling responsible, and useless and full of despair, the harder many of us will try to keep jumping through the unreachable hoops, and in so doing, continuing to be part of this toxic way of life.

If you are in more pain than you can bear it is probably because you are being asked to bear an inhuman load.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “How to try harder

  • HM

    An abnormal thing to do is to make mental illness into an identity. I’ve seen far too many social media bios containing a literal list of a person’s mental problems. (Usually posted by those in their teens to mid-twenties.) These are either used as a get out of jail free card for unhealthy behavior or something to make them “interesting’ and quirky. But real mental illness is often debilitating, not quirky.

    • Nimue Brown

      I wouldn’t presume to know why anyone chooses to present in any particular way. It’s kinder not to assume and not to judge. If you don’t like how someone presents or engages on social media, it’s going to be better for you, and for them simply to stay away from that. I can say with confidence that some people openly self identify to make themselves easy to find so that they can share insight and experience in a way that helps others or because they are advocating for people who share those issues. It’s not an intrinsically self serving choice to be open about this stuff and a social media biog may be a job description, not an expression of identity.

  • OrderInTheQuartz

    This is such a powerful article with so many truths. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

  • neptunesdolphins

    Framing illness as something to recover from is a standard operating procedure. I have a traumatic brain injury and have been prodded to get better to my previous well self. It is hard for able-bodied people to accept disability of any form.

    As for mental illness, I have been active in that community for years as someone with an illness and with family members with mental illnesses. What I have uncovered is the idea that if you just do x, y, and z you will be fine. Usually x, y, and z does not include taking meds. I have no idea why the prejudice against taking meds. Having schizoaffective disorder is something that requires meds to modulate the paranoia.

    People cannot always think themselves to wellness.

  • Glyn Hnutu-healh

    Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try. I accept Yoda’s wisdom. I have PTSD and OCD, so my days are a struggle sometimes (as well as my nights). As long as I have accomplished something during a 24-hr period, I consider it a win.

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