You had your first seemingly inexplicable emotional upheavals as you emerged from puberty; then, the decades long accumulation of acute stress, and the recent mental breakdown, promptly led you to visit a psychologist, who eventually but casually diagnosed you with a mental illness.
At first, you are peculiarly gratified and immensely relieved with this realization: your suffering has an explanation. When you deemed getting out of bed an impossible feat, your brain was inadequately producing enough serotonin. When you endlessly and painfully obsessed about an obviously irrational fear, which rendered your compulsions and rituals around this fear frequent and searing, your prefrontal-orbital-cortex was simply misfiring, or in medical terms, you were suffering from obsessive-compulsive-disorder. When you had alternating and intense episodes of elation and mania followed by severe depression, you were a victim of bipolar disorder.
But then, as you start shuffling through your arduous days, you also realize you have no sovereignty over your mind. While there are more than 250 mental disorders, the theme around them is common: one has limited to no control on their mental agony. Then, understandably but inevitably, you ask yourself the decisive question, “if I’m incapable of dictating what I think or how I feel, then am I really this autonomous being I call ‘myself’?” This can be both liberating and suffocating, for you realize that there is no real self you control.
Coming to terms with such existential questions does not mark the demise of your suffering, for you still have look sane and normal, and achieve everyday mundane tasks you deem insurmountable-- like simply embarking on a trip to the supermarket or maintaining a small talk conversation. Preparing for a presentation for a job, going on a picnic with friends, and holding a conversation with an old friend, all seem undemanding tasks. But for the mentally unwell preparing a presentation involved relentless battles with perpetual feelings of anxiety and dread; going on a picnic required a lengthy conversation with oneself to get out of bed; and holding a conversation demanded massive effort to shift the attention to the friend, rather than thinking about whether staying alive is even favorable.
The agony is unmatchable, the confusion is gut-wrenching, and the future is all bleakly inauspicious. But this is not palpable: there isn’t a broken leg, or a dislocated shoulder that can elicit people’s sympathy and affection; rather, it is our soul that is depleted, our consciousness that is hijacked. The mentally unwell should not be perceived differently or oddly; his or her suffering is absolutely real. As much as the diabetic is not in control of her diabetic blood sugar ranges, the mentally ill is seldom in control of their torment. What the mentally ill deserve is not our weird looks and our denial of their trauma, but what they deserve is our understanding, love, and sympathy, for you or your loved ones will one day fall a victim to a pernicious mental illness.