I’ve heard from numerous sources (generally the adults in my circles) that people who are depressed, anxious or have suicidal thoughts are “mentally weak.” They say “why can’t you just accept that life sucks and get over it?” “Be happy anyway! Don’t spend time feeling sorry for yourself.” “I have gone through XYZ but you don’t see me moping around.” So, just for the record, I want to call Bullshit. A person’s level of happiness is not an indication of their mental strength, and neither are their past/current circumstances. Not only this, but we are not obligated as people to be “happy” about our situations.
For those of you who are religious, you may know that a common thread in Christian circles is the thought that if we truly love God, we will be happy in persecution. The twist of words is this: the Bible calls us to Joy in the Lord, not “happiness at all times.” We can be sad. Heck, Jesus was sad, angry and afraid. However, He chose to look at the bigger picture and be content with his situation. This is definitely something we can do without “curing” our anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. “Joy” is an attitude, an approach to life, not a feeling or emotion. On the flip side, mental illness is not an attitude, but rather an experience.
So clearly mental illness does not make someone “mentally weak.” In fact, I would argue that mentally ill people are often much more mentally strong than the average joe. Why? Because we have to go through so much just to get out of bed in the morning. Because every moment is a struggle. Because every ounce of Joy is hard fought and not a single bit of it comes easy. Ever.
For anyone who does not have a mental illness, take a moment to think of the people around you who struggle mentally. It seems like a lot of the things that come naturally to you are hard for them, right? It probably amazes you how easily a grown adult can get upset over something trivial. But then think of something that is mentally challenging for you to do and think about how hard it is for them? It doesn’t seem like it’s that hard for them compared to other things, does it? I find that many of the people I know who suffer from mental illness are the most gentle, long suffering and thoughtful people I know. Sure, they may cry a lot, but they also have an amazing and unusually ability to reach others. Just because mentally ill people may be further down the mountain than you does not mean they have climbed a shorter distance. Maybe they started at sea level, when you started at 6,000′ up.
I think this is easily evidenced by looking at some of hour most renowned world icons. When we think of people like Abraham Lincoln (Honest Abe insert eye-roll), we think of their incredible abilities to perform under pressure and make the necessary decisions in difficult situations. What we don’t think about is the fact that Lincoln had depression, Winston Churchhill had bipolar disorder, van Gogh committed suicide, Adele has severe stage fright, David Beckham has OCD. Edison, Einstein, Darwin and Newton all had varying degrees of mental illness. Michelangelo’s parents thought he was “stupid” because he suffered from symptoms of autism. The most brilliant minds in our world have struggled with the greatest, most embarrassing, most debilitating mental illnesses. Just like lifting weights, the more we work, the more mental muscles we build. The people around you who have to fight uphill every step of the way have some pretty huge mental muscles, even though they may not seem “normal” to you.
So, those of you who struggle with mental illness: next time you think you’re a failure, or weak, or less of a person than all those lovely “normal” people out there (really, does normal exist?) remember that you’re not necessarily on an even playing field. You’ve worked hard to be where you are, and your progress is measured from where YOU started, not from where the local well-adjusted poster child of serenity has started.
And to those who view people who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses as weak, think again. Sure, maybe you’ve had it hard or seen people who have gone through a lot of crap and come out looking “normal.” Let me just remind you, though, that “crap” comes in all shapes, sizes and intensities, and it leaves its mark in different ways.
Thoughts or questions? Comment below! Thanks for stopping by.