Friday, December 27, 2013

You Can Get Better

You can get better.

Some of you may look at such a statement with skepticism. At various points in my life I would have done the same. It's a curious and paradoxical aspect of mental illness, and depression especially, where countless people all think they are alone. At times, we consider ourselves the exception to such positive statements; this applies to other people, it doesn't apply to me, this person doesn't know me.

And I don't know you. I don't know most people in the world. But I do know and have known quite a few people who struggle with mental illness. Their struggles are unique to them, but at the same time there is not as much difference between us as one might think. We fight with pain and self-doubt every day, often to an overwhelming extent. We may struggle to find treatments, or find existing treatments ineffective. Our families may not be sympathetic towards our issues. And all of us live in a world which does not understand us.

But these are all things that can be changed.

Our treatments can improve. Treatment is a trial-and-error process, where we often have to go through many things which don't work before we find what does. Medications vary from person to person, and the effects of any medication cannot be predicted until it is tried. Therapies and therapists also vary from person to person, and there are indeed some therapists who don't work for anyone. We just have to keep searching for one who does.

Our families can better understand us. This often seems like the hardest thing, for we fear that our family members are set in their ways. But they have as much capacity to change as we do. They see us struggle, and they want to better help us, and they are open to learning how they can do that. Of course, some of us have family members who do not want to help us, or who refuse to change.  In those cases, we still have the capacity to protect ourselves from being hurt by them, whether that means tuning out the harmful things they say or keeping enough distance from them that they can no longer hurt us.

And the world can always be bettered. We live in a world that understands mental illness better than at any point in history, and though it is far from perfect, it is getting better every day. We live in a world of unprecedented interconnection, minority voices are more empowered than they have ever been, and the voices of the mentally ill are among them. The mentally ill are becoming more accepted in society, and though it may be slow, and though it may not always be a perfect upward trend, the trend is there.

And it is getting better in large part because of the efforts of dedicated groups of professionals and volunteers, such as the those in the National Alliance For Mental Illness. Some of them may have friends and family who are mentally ill, some may be mentally ill themselves, and some may simply want to contribute. These are good people, working to help us get better. I know some of them, and I know how much they're invested in it.

And their efforts are aided by each of us who chooses to share our mental illness to the world. Indeed, that may even be the most effective of all. It is through the sharing of our experiences, by showing those of us who struggle to be just as human and just as deserving of respect as others, that the harmful and ignorant stereotypes are mitigated, and they are replaced with an understanding of us not as abnormal, but as simply struggling, as all people struggle.

But whether through groups or individual voices, there is one factor, one core foundation, which is ultimately the prime driving force of all that we do, and that is hope. Hope that we can get better, that the world can get better. Hope that our actions carry significance and meaning, even if it does not always seem like they can. Hope that despite the struggles and setbacks of the world, we can still persevere and live a worthwhile life, or find a life worthwhile to live.

And it may not always seem like we are hoping. It may not always seem like we are even able to hope. But we are. Our very lives are a statement of that. Every moment that we maintain our presence on this earth is an active affirmation of hope. As we live, we live in hope. Every breath contains hope within it. For those of us who have contemplated suicide, we especially know that we are not here out of force of habit. We are here out of a conscious decision to to live, and that decision is the purest expression of hope there is.

It is not always easy. Often it is very far from easy. It is often painful, and grueling, and disheartening. But we continue, because we hope that there is that betterness for us, waiting just around the corner.

And it is there.

You can get better.

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