Brains, illness and resilience

Mental illness is in no small part a loss of control over your own thought processes. However, the degree to which simply regaining control of your thoughts it the ‘cure’ for this is one I think could stand questioning. So much of what we do at the moment to help with ‘mental health’ starts from the assumption that the thoughts are irrational and are the problem to be fixed.

Like a lot of ill people, my struggles with mental illness have everything to do with my experiences. I didn’t get here on my own. I am afraid of finding myself in situations akin to situations I have already been in. Some of my coping mechanisms are a bit dysfunctional.

I know there’s a school of thought that goes in for the idea that the answer to distress is to teach people how to be more resilient. The right mental attitude will get you though! The trouble with this is that as an approach it denies that other people have agency too. The only person who has to change here is the one being hurt, while everyone else can blithely get on with whatever they were doing.

Getting control of your distressed thoughts can indeed make it more possible to cope. It can also be a process of learning to be responsible for what’s being done to you, rather than demanding change. When the focus is on controlling your own mind, there’s little encouragement to look at what might be changed so you don’t have to be in this mess in the first place.

Sometimes what’s most helpful is to have the time and space to sit with the distress. Get to know it, find out what it’s made of and why it’s happening. It’s better not to have to train yourself out of your own innate responses. Sometimes, it is possible to simply ask for help and have that help manifest. I know from experience that changes in the world to solve the problems causing the distress get a lot more done than me trying to be more resilient.

There’s a lot we can do to help each other with all of this even if we don’t know exactly what someone else is up against. Tell people that you care about them and value them. Tell them that they matter, that what they do is good and valued. Tell people that you need them, appreciate them and respect them. Encourage, uplift, and praise the people around you every chance you get. There’s a different kind of resilience that comes from all of this, one that doesn’t depend on having to push constantly against our own distress. It’s easier to have resilience when you are supported, rather than trying to make resilience in face of desperation.

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

4 responses to “Brains, illness and resilience

  • Tim Waddington

    Interestingly, if you look, for example at the Mayo Clinics web page on resilience ( you will see that what you suggest matches pretty well with what is recommended to build resilience. Resilience describes a state in which we are better able to deal with the slings and arrows. Unfortunately, like many psychologocal terms it has become debased in popular culture and is now generally understood to mean something quite different. This is a shame, encouraging people to try to behave in ways that are unintentionally self-harming.

  • lornasmithers

    I’ve been through phases of trying to force myself to be more resilient, wondering if I keep pushing through doing things I find difficult like travelling more than 15 – 20 miles away from home, attending large events, staying away from home it will get easier and, to be honest, not really. In some ways lockdown has been a blessing making it a lot easier to do things virtually. I’m coming to accept that in relation to a lot of real world things such as socialising and travelling mentally I’m quite fragile and meltdown easily (like you mentioned in your earlier post). Yet alone or with a small number of people and local I’m relatively strong.

    • Nimue Brown

      There have to be better ways – forced resilience is no sort of answer, it’s just storing up for something messier later, I find. Best to be in the spaces that work for you, definitely.

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