The Privilege of Mental Health

Depression.

Take a second and think about your day…

How did you feel?

Were you relatively comfortable within your skin?

As you made your way out of bed did you do so without a struggle?

Did the simple tasks in front of you fail to overwhelm you?

Did you keep your fears at bay?

Were you able to quiet the voices of insecurity and anxiety when they began to whisper?

Did you interact with people without fighting back a hot rush of panic?

Did you find joy in the simple act of living?

Did breathing come easily.

If so, then give thanks.

You’re fortunate.

And as with all privilege it’s probably not something you’re normally aware of.

You may not realize that your default brain setting isn’t something all people have access to.

Some sharing this space and time with you aren’t so lucky.

For some the monsters are real and close.

Some people live always outnumbered.

With everything they have to battle in this life; all the wounds and trials and failures common to everyone—many people also have to battle themselves.

They have to overcome their minds acting as their own prosecuting attorney, always making the iron-clad case why they should be without hope, why they aren’t worth loving, why they should give up, why they deserve to feel this way.

Mental illness isn’t a fair fight, because no matter what you do it’s impossible to escape you.

In every season and every circumstance and in every instance, you are the constant. And that means sabotage is never far away, betrayal is always close by, peace is always precarious.

Depression has been a companion for much of my adult life. For decades I’ve struggled with those self-contained demons and I know the specific hell they bring and how persistent they are.

I understand the duplicity of everyday existence.

I know what it is to have a really good life and to still be miserable,

to have the markers of success yet be certain I am failing,

to be surrounded and feel alone,

to be well-loved and deem myself unlovable,

to have abundance and feel desperation,

to be suffocating right there out in the open,

to have every reason to have hope and yet still be hopeless.

And as a believer I understand the guilt for not being thankful for what I have and the shame of feeling that if I really believed in God, that if my faith was strong enough—I would just snap out of it.

And above all, I know the silence that you can imprison yourself in because you’re sure you’d be a burden to people around you.

Depression and anxiety and the other dark spaces our minds manufacture do their worst damage by putting distance between us and the world; keeping us sequestered in the despair where the only voice we can hear clearly is our own.

If this is your story, I know that I can’t speak any words to magically change any of this for you, but just know that I understand. Know that many people walk this road with you in silent solidarity. You are far more normal than you believe yourself to be. 

And though there are all sorts of tools to help you carry this incredible burden; counseling, meditation, prayer, exercise, medication, life coping skills (and I encourage you to use as many as you can), the fact is that this will simply always be part of your journey, part of our journey. And like any other illness, it isn’t your fault and it doesn’t define you even though it my feel that way at times. 

You are bigger than your demons.

And for those who rarely experience this kind of counterintuitive despair, this all may be difficult to wrap your head around. But I need you to try.

Because here’s the thing: Your mental health is a privilege. It’s gives you an advantage that many do not have. This isn’t your fault and it’s not something to feel guilty about, but as with all privilege it does come with responsibility. 

Look for those of us who are hurting and move toward us. Even if we tell you we’re fine, look deeply enough to really see us. Many times you will have to overcome us just to get to us.

Don’t mistake our silence for wellness. That may just be the dark corner our minds have forced us into. 

We may be difficult to reach and we need you to be as relentless in your compassion as we can be in our rejection of it. Though it may sometimes seem as though you aren’t getting through, know that no kindness is ever wasted; that deep within us in the places where words fail, it matters.

The privilege of mental health isn’t something you’ll ever be able to fully share with those of us who struggle, but every loving moment tips the scales just a little bit.

And for some of us, that may be enough. 

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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92 thoughts on “The Privilege of Mental Health

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  6. Mental illness has changed me. I mourn the loss of the strong, independent, tough, & fun-loving woman I was.
    It stole that from me.

    I don’t talk about it to anyone hardly at all. However, this blog post reminds me that someone does feel the crappy feelings that I feel, and my hope is one day I can come to terms with it the way John seems to have.
    Thank you so much!

  7. I was wondering just a few days ago (not for the first time) what it would be like to have a brain that does what I want it to. A brain that is linear. A brain that lets me feel what I want to feel and think what I want to think without everything else coming in and overwhelming where I want my brain to be. If I am able to pause for a while, even briefly, the thoughts which keep coming tumble over each other, like a cartoon, when the first in line stops and the others do not. Then they re-group and push their way in, whether real concerns or unbidden anxieties or simply more to-do lists.

    What would it be like to have a brain whose best function doesn’t rely on sunshine (and not always then)? The gray days seem to hit harder every year, and yet I am still taken unawares by how far away I am from the light until the light returns.

    The sun is out for the first time in days, and the temperature and humidity have dropped significantly. I am likely to feel more human in the next couple of days than I have in the last two weeks. It is only a respite, but I will try not to think of that.

  8. Living in such a depraved world, all humans are mentally, physically, spiritually broken. The Bible clearly teaches this, and the experience of living in this world affirms it. No one is privileged to have mental health without challenges. Not one. We are in a daily battle for our souls!

  9. I KNEW you were a kindred spirit!! The depth of your writing, the understanding of such elusive concepts regarding God’s children and your written peace about “Praying When You Don’t Know How to Pray Anymore”. I still wonder where S/He is in all of this.
    Thanks for a validating piece.

  10. Thanks for finally writing about this. I am finally getting all the supports I need in life for my mental illness so I can live a life in my own apartment… Now I have a chance at living some kind of life and then who comes and pulls the rug out from under my feet, the republicans and trump. I am horrified of what could happen but hope that we the people have some power to not let the republicans killl off vulnerable people of america.

  11. Thank you for saying this so succinctly, John. I am one of many in my family who live with depression- parents, siblings, children. It has hit us all in many ways, yet we still love and support each other as best we can. You will be in my prayers as a real loving and caring leader.

  12. Thanks, John, for opening another door for those in need.

    My (same-gender) husband of nearly 40 years, has dealt with severe depression and panic/stress disorder for most of his life. I’ve seen it, up close.

    Know that you are loved, and that we have your back. And … as a young lesbian store clerk told me this evening, when she spotted my safety pin … there’ll be another election in 2020.

    Be well.

  13. This, this, a thousand times this. Thank you, John, you put my suffering into words. What I want more than anything in the world is to be connected, accepted, and loved. Please world, keep reaching out. And I’ll try to reach back.

  14. love that you are inspiring dialogue. i feel that dialogue is one of the main ingrediants in raising the human collective. it took me 2 years and 2 or (3- one is still hazy) suicide attempts to finally exit the abyss. i am now med free, in school, graduating 7/1/18 with my BA in psych with a concentration in children and adolescents. i am also writing a book (universally commissioned) def. NOT my idea, most painful thing i’ve ever done, called, “meant to be here”. i believe it is so important we rock vulnerability and let others know they are not alone although there is no where that loneliness is felt more than in the abyss. thank you for encouraging dialogue. i’m so happy we all made it.

    the first page of, ‘meant to be here’ let me know if you ‘feel’ it. sighs. it still stuns me that i made it out, and am med free, no sign of anxiety or depression.. so so so humbly grateful

    https://tainamystique.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/meant-to-be-here-the-beginning/

  15. The amount of times I’ve been yelled at, grabbed physically, and insulted for having no real reason to be so depressed, upset, nervous, quiet. Punished and berated for how my illness unfairly hurts others and puts undo emotional stress on others, often with specific examples that end with why I can’t be this way. Informed and educated in pop psychology by people talking slowly, telling me to look at them square in the face, because they care, assuring me and themselves I’m not crazy, and how I seem to be doing pretty well, but just checking in to make sure I’m taking my meds and talking to someone.

    instead of just talking with me and asking if I’d like to go out for a beer.

  16. Dear author and readers,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    The passage and posts are impressive. The descriptions are vivid. I got the picture. I understand what is going on. I mean, I do get the vision regarding fears, depressions, isolation, or anxiety. I do understand that even having the only item from this list complicates the matter of life. I see how fears freeze the flow of it.

    My understanding is not approval. Have we ever thought about those who cannot be helped? Being cornered have we thought about mercy? It is an ability to understand that others can have problems much worse than ours, that their chances to feel proud of themselves and enjoy the life are next to none. They will never be either wise or healthy just because they will never realize how insane or physically miserable they are.

    To sum up, if there is some courage to live, it is immoral to wallow in the sickness and make a fetish out of it. It is when having a depression or fears turns into the so-called secondary advantage. It is when an illness is not a condition but a manipulation tool. When we start persuading people with no beautiful mind, but with symptoms, and an illness becomes a powerful weapon we destroy the social environment with. I can understand when someone is seriously ill. I will totally accept him or her. I will be ready to stand by him/her till his/her dying day. But I will never accept the idea when an illness is used as a persuader.

    Regards,

    Svetlana

  17. Dear author and readers,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    The passage is impressive. John Pavlovitz has done a great job. The descriptions are vivid. I got the picture. I understand what is going on. I mean, I do get the vision regarding fears, depressions, isolation, or anxiety. I do understand that even having the only item from this list complicates the matter of life. I see how fears freeze the flow of it.

    My understanding is not approval. Have we ever thought about those who cannot be helped? Being cornered have we thought about mercy? It is an ability to understand that others can have problems much worse than ours, that their chances to feel proud of themselves and enjoy the life are next to none. They will never be either wise or healthy just because they will never realize how insane or physically miserable they are.

    To sum up, if there is some courage to live, it is immoral to wallow in the sickness and make a fetish out of it. It is when having a depression or fears turns into the so-called secondary advantage. It is when an illness is not a condition but a manipulation tool. When we start persuading people with no beautiful mind, but with symptoms, and an illness becomes a powerful weapon, we destroy the social environment with. I can understand when someone is seriously ill. I will totally accept him or her. I will be ready to stand by him/her till his/her dying day. But I will never accept the idea when an illness is used as a persuader.

    Regards,
    Svetlana

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