It’s difficult to talk about mental health from a third-person perspective but it’s even more difficult from a personal perspective.
When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). And I probably had Social Anxiety Disorder growing up seeing as how I would sooner piss myself than having a direct conversation with anyone.
But I don’t regret any of it. I became the person I am today, a writer, because of them.
I took medication and but it never helped and I made sure to use every counselor I was entitled to via my tax dollars or overpriced tuition.
But 15 years to the date and despite realizing that most of my childhood issues from shyness to mood swings to having the attention span of a dog being tied to these "disorders" makes me think about the cause of my mental illness.
I don’t know.
In fact, most people who suffer from mental illness do not know why.
It isn’t only the stigma or an act of machismo (especially from men) that prevents people from coming out.
It’s because we don’t know how.
Work Versus Mental Illness: Why There is Stigma
Talking about mental illness always sounds like an excuse.
It sounds like a weakness.
I’m fortunate to live in a country that treats this issue as a real thing. Bell Let’s Talk is a wonderful initiative and something most influential corporate entities should follow suit.
Even with this awareness, I still don’t want to get a cup of coffee over thoughts of suicide or the hopelessness of existence.
Living in a capitalist society where being tough and competitive does that to you.
Why would a company hire you if you had a mental illness?
You can potentially lose job opportunities if you admitted to being depressed or having a form of mental illness.
The Big Five Personality Test is an example of a business-approved test used and is used in hiring processes. It is entirely plausible to bomb the hiring process by testing high and low on the wrong scores.
James Damore got fired by Google because he outed the fact that women score higher on the “neuroticism” score than men hence why they are not as equipped to handle jobs in information technology:
There is this stigma around society that if you have mental illness you are ineffective in carrying out tasks. They can cry you a river as a friend or as another human being but as an employer, you’re as good as dead.
It’s hard to say it isn’t personal but as humans, we often pretend we’re not.
Writing, Isolation, and Escapism: Mental Illness’s Cause and Effect
I can’t fully comprehend it. People said it was teen angst and it was an effect of puberty. Call it what you will: a developing brain, imbalanced hormones, a stage in life.
I turned to writing: the ultimate form of escapism.
Writing wasn’t enough. I fed my hobby with other forms of escapist pleasures: video games, movies, drugs, and pornography.
It exacerbated the condition because my social skills didn’t develop and the more I gained social anxiety. And the more I had social anxiety, the less I wanted to socialize and just bury myself in my addictions.
What I am today is because of my mental illness.
I didn't choose to have depression or anxiety. I just did. And I look back at all the memorable and painful events in my life and see it from a darker perspective. A sobering one.
Most of the great authors and artists in history lived and died with some type of mental illness or addiction problem. It’s no coincidence.
Being a writer requires being alone for most of your waking life. And I don’t mean literally being by yourself. I mean blocking out all the outside noise. Distancing yourself from people. Concentrating on your inner world.
Even if you’re in a healthy mental state, the prolonged periods of isolation can eat at you like parasites. It’s a blessing if you find yourself an editor who constantly keeps tabs and if you write from a physical location or work with an actual team of people who can provide support.
But if you’re like me, and I reckon, most freelance writers are, a good portion of your clients are online and communicate online.
For the most part, you’re just by yourself: writing, editing, proofreading, formulating your own ideas and managing yourself.
All this focus on yourself and you can forget there is an outside world.
What Causes Mental Illness is Difficult to Understand
I can attribute my own mental illness to external factors. In an ideal scenario, if we fixed these problems we would all get better. But of course, life isn’t that simple.
In my high school years, I was often bullied for coming from a rich family. All the kids picked on me because I was perceived as being a pushover.
Coming to Canada, it didn’t change much. The bullies just changed the reason: I had an accent and they made fun of me for it.
These seemingly trivial matters can potentially impact a person’s life permanently. Maybe my anger and bitterness stem from this. Maybe I still deal with social anxiety because I am subconsciously always reminded of what happens when I interact with others: I get hurt.
I always felt my parents had unreasonably high expectations for me as well. This added so much pressure on me to do well in school and to go to the path they wanted for me.
Even after they repeatedly said otherwise, I never got over this feeling. And even after the bullying stopped, I never stopped feeling threatened.
In hindsight, the trauma of bullying was the mother of my mental illness. A sheltered boy who was given everything he wanted and treated with adulation shockingly discovers the world doesn’t respect him much less adore him.
It makes sense now years after the fact. But while experiencing it, analyzing your situation and your being is muddled by a cloud of doubt.
It’s hard to talk about mental illness because it’s hard to understand personally. And it’s even harder to fully comprehend how external factors may have led to it.
Opening Up About Mental Illness
Going through a traumatic experience is painful to admit. There is a stigma. But for some, like myself, it’s more of an issue with pride.
How can an event that is so petty be so hurtful to me?
Hollywood and the news media makes us think that only by undergoing extreme situations like poverty, war, and abusive childhoods are we allowed to feel hurt. But it isn’t a competition.
It should be okay to admit that being made fun of as a child has deeply and permanently altered your self-perception.
Only with admission can you accept it. And only by accepting it can you come closer to a more impersonal understanding of what your mental illness and why it exists.
I don’t mean to speak for those who have other forms of mental illness. This is simply my own experience and my own interpretation.
But we must try to communicate with each other about this.
On the surface, we may just be quiet and pleasant to each other. Maybe we can be a bit moody, aloof, and snobby. But deep down, it’s another story.
Unless we all start sharing then we will never really know.
One of the most common themes of people who suffer from mental illness is the feeling of being alone and misunderstood.
“Nobody can understand what I am going through.”
But as more people open up, we will find more similarities and come closer to understanding each other. And maybe we will realize that despite how different we all are, our stories will share similar themes.
We’re only just human.