Mental Illness: The Mind’s Foreign Invader

by Erin Honor

There are currently 5 half written posts sitting in my drafts here on this blog. I have had several topics that I have wanted to address for weeks now. I have been out and have had to stop mid-run because there were too many ideas filling up my head and they had to be written down. Every idea was, to my perception, a great one and I was so excited to sit down and write some quality blog posts that would hopefully help at least one person.

But when I did get to sit to write, the words wouldn’t come.

One of the many weird things about the human mind is that, while it feels like we think in our native language, it is sometimes completely impossible to articulate our thoughts, even though they seem so clear and concise within our minds. What a frustrating thing to have the words flowing though your mind and filling it up but not being able to put those thoughts down on paper. This has been my experience not only for the past few weeks, but for years.

I have never had a clear picture of what I want to do with my life. I have never had a dream career. I have never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher. I have never wanted a “normal job.” In fact the sheer idea of working a 9-5 job for the rest of my life makes my heart shrivel up with fear. It is not the idea of working that scares me, not at all. I want to do something with my life. It is simply the idea of working a job that doesn’t fill me up and leave me excited to work each day that makes me want to cry. I have spent most of my life asleep, consumed by self-hatred so intense that it prevented me from living a real life. While the monster of self-hatred still has its ugly hand clasped tightly around my neck, I am finally starting to realize that hey, maybe I’m actually worth something. Maybe I do deserve to be alive. It is such a self-aggrandizing thing to believe that you are the worst creature to ever step foot on the earth. I believe that each and every human is a crucial entity to the thriving of the universe, except for me. What makes me think that I am so special as to be immune to this being a crucial being?

Back to the words.

All I have ever wanted to do was elicit emotion in others. Since I was a little girl, this idea has played over and over again in my mind. I want to make people feel something. I want to be able to reach out and touch the hearts of other people.

Now, you can’t exactly major in heart touching. Actually, I guess you can, but I’m not aiming to be a heart surgeon over here.

I have always found myself moved by books and movies and music. There is something so incredible about being able to read a book and think about how the author of that book must feel knowing that characters that they created have become the loved ones of all who encounter his/her novels. Sometimes I just sit and think about what it must be like to be J.K. Rowling. Her children, the ones that she created in ink, have become family in the homes of millions. Her creations have brought families together, have made people read who never had any interest in reading prior, and have allowed those going through rough times to escape the harsh world that is their own for a little while. What she created has brought both crushing heartbreak and unbelievable joy to so many people. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a position where you know that you have touched the hearts of so many. I tear up just thinking about what that must be like.

So I decided I should be a writer. Books provided me with so much all my life. As corny and cliche as it may sounds, books, along with music, really did act as my dearest friends for most of my life. In fact, they still do to this day.

Words, they used to come so easily to me. I could sit and write for hours and hours about the characters that existed in my head. As I fell asleep each night, I would write the stories in my head. I could see the characters, hear them, feel them. My brain was constantly creating. It was an escape from reality and it was exciting and beautiful.

And then it stopped.

The deeper that I fell into my mental illness, the harder it became to see the stories. I lost the ability to dream. The beautiful worlds that existed in my subconscious were ravaged by the monster that is mental illness. It all shut down. I shut down.

Now, quite a few years later, I am finally waking up. I don’t know if I could say that the voice of my mental illnesses are any quieter. In fact, I could argue that they are louder than ever before. The difference now is that I am aware that these monsters are foreign invaders.

Picture an angel fish. While beautiful to the eye, angel fish are actually not native to Florida’s water. They were brought over by outside forces, not by nature. After the angel fish were released into Florida waters, they quickly multiplied and took over. These fish, while now that there are multitudes of them, do not belong in these waters. These fish are hunting and killing the fish that are native to these waters. They are multiplying and destroying and it is all so unnatural.

But would you have known this just by looking? Probably not. How would you know that angel fish are actually harming the waters of Florida just be looking? To the normal eye, when there are a ton of a certain kind of fish in the water, you assume that they are meant to be there.

I swear that this analogy made way more sense in my head…

If my angel fish analogy was understandably in any way, picture mental illness as the angel fish. These diseases, these bad thoughts, have had such a presence in the mind for so long that you often fail to really understand that they are not supposed to be there. This illness that takes up so much space in the waters of your mind is actually destroying the parts of your mind that are meant to be there.

So when I say that I woke up, I truly mean that the parts of my mind, the parts that held my true self, began to remember that hey, they’re the ones that are supposed to be here, not this outsider that is mental illness.

The hardest part of recovery takes place after you wake up. When you identify yourself by your diagnosis, it’s easy. “Oh, I can’t eat because I have an eating disorder.” “Oh, I can’t go out because I have social anxiety.” “Oh, I want to die because I have clinical depression.” Once you realize that these thoughts are not who you are is when the real work begins. Once you realize that there is actually a lot more to you than a simple diagnosis is when you are forced to exit the safe space of mental illness.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc., they all actually exist to keep you safe. I know, how twisted is that? But it’s the truth. When you are completely consumed by a mental disorder, you don’t have to face the big scary thing that is “the real world.” No, you get to stay safe and snug in your little bubble of self-destruction.

Oh yeah, except for the fact that this disorder that is keeping you safe is also simultaneously killing you.

I guess that what I am trying to say in a not-so-concise way is that mental illness causes us to lose the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. We lose our much-ness. And sometimes, it seems as though it is impossible to get what used to fill us up and make us whole back.

Well, I want my much-ness back. The words will come back.