Recently I was joking with my brother about how I got the bad end of the genetics from our parents. I mentioned that, among the bad hair and sight problems, I had gotten all of the anxiety from my parents and it had compounded in me. It was at this point that his roommate looked at me and said, “Yeah, but you can get over that”. I was expecting a joking answer when I asked him how to do so; in all seriousness he told me, “You just decide not to.” Decide not to? You mean to tell me this is a matter of choice? You think that this is something I choose to keep subjecting myself to?
Scientifically and anatomically speaking, no, it’s not a choice. Chemically speaking, there’s three chemicals that our body just doesn’t produce enough of. These chemicals are serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. You might recognize these chemicals as the same ones that cause happiness. So when your body physically doesn’t produce enough of the chemicals that cause happiness, it’s not a matter of choice. One of the best comments I’ve ever heard about mental illness was from a TED Talk. The speaker said, “Your heart can malfunction. Your kidneys can malfunction. So why do people act like your brain, the most complicated organ in your body, can’t malfunction?”. There’s so much we still don’t even understand about the brain! But I digress on the objective side of this.
I started developing a severe case of clinical depression when I was 12 years old. I’m almost 22 now, and dealing with this disease has been a hellish nightmare. It effects the way I love, hate, communicate, understand, evaluate, and invest. I was pushed to the edge of my being. My friends and family watched my mental health deteriorate and crumble right in front of them. I slipped into the kind of darkness that can only be understood by those who have been there. The kind where you hear a voice telling you that happiness is something that is revered for those who are worth something, and that does not include you. The kind where you look at your relationships like they’re a burden to the other person; who could make themselves care about something as insignificant and agitating as you? The kind where you start to wonder if anyone would miss you, and you promptly conclude that no one would.
It was those kinds of things that I considered and believed when I was fighting my depression. Why would anyone choose this? Why would anyone choose to hate themselves to the point of wanting to inflict harm on themselves? Why? You think we like this? You think we decide that this was the life we wanted? When we were growing up do you think we just decided that it would be a fun game to see how much mental, physical, and emotional pain we could inflict on ourselves in life? No. We did[t want his. We didn’t choose this. We didn’t choose to hate what we saw in the mirror. We didn’t choose to understand hate and loathing better than we understood happiness. We never wanted to be this kind of person. We never wanted to feel like this.
What we want you all to know, all of us who are struggling and suffering because of mental illness, is that we didn’t choose this. We didn’t pick this or decide this is what we wanted. This is the hand we were dealt. Sure, there are those who choose to wallow in it. To let it define them and saturate their being to the point where they disease is synonymous with their personality. But the majority of us who fight it, who scratch and claw our way away from it, we don’t want this. If we could just decide to turn it off we would. This isn’t something we can barry or ignore and it will go away; it’s not something we can choose to turn off. Suppressing it makes us a time bomb. The explosions leave us in a state of hopelessness and truly broken. Being a shattered and fractured being is painful and horrible and it’s a struggle.
What we want you to know is that this disease we have is real. We won’t let it win though. We didn’t choose his fight, but we’re in it. We refuse to go quietly down in this fight and it let it overtake us. We’re fighting.
My brother’s roommate wasn’t completely wrong. There is a decision to be made. It’s not whether we want to continue dealing with this plague of mental illness; the decisions is if we want to fight it. We didn’t decide to engage in this fight with ourselves, but we damn sure won’t go down without deciding to fight back.