I’ve learned that there is hope and that when I feel that there isn’t hope my brain is lying to me.
-John Green, “On Mental Illness (and the end of Pizzamas)”
It seems like most mental health issues have a favorite myth to perpetuate in the sufferer’s brain. Friends with anxiety have described to me the baseless urgency, the panic without a catalyst, the lie of a magnified threat. In John Green’s talks on his personal experiences with OCD, he tells of the intrusive thoughts, the lie of an underlying capacity for terrible things.
My depression tells me, as I slide further down the dark spiral, that I am dragging others down with me. The first time this happened, my sophomore year of college, it told me that I was a terrible girlfriend, that remaining in this relationship would sap the Engineer of his emotional energy as he tried to help me back up the spiral of my quickly numbing mind. (At the time, I wasn’t exactly the most supportive partner, but that’s because it’s pretty hard to be emotionally available when you don’t have emotions anymore.) It was kinder, the depression said sagely, to let him go.
Thank God he didn’t let me do that.
Even after I started going to counseling, I tried not to talk about it. Not because I was ashamed of the depression, exactly, but because I was ashamed to demand anything more from my friends and family. The depression kept telling me that I would drag them down with me, and that I should at least go through the motions of generosity even if I couldn’t remember how that felt. Since I no longer felt any real impulse toward either kindness or cruelty, my brain held up the abstract concepts and said, “You used to want to be a nice person. A nice person wouldn’t do this to her loved ones.” If I had to be dragged down this path, at least I wouldn’t be bringing anyone with me. I had forgotten, of course, that emotionally stable and healthy people have more strength to help pull others up.
“Don’t drag them down with you.” It has a slogan-y ring to it.
A nice person wouldn’t do this. A nice brain wouldn’t do this.
I’ve learned how to better tell when my brain is lying to me. I’ve learned that emotional states are not personality traits. I’ve learned that my family and friends want to help and they do not resent me, nor have I pulled them into the spiral with me.
There are tools available to make the lies more apparent. That doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be convincing.
If you suffer from mental health problems, there is hope; when your brain says there isn’t, I promise you, it is lying to you. And if you know someone who struggles with mental health, help remind them of the truth.