The less we talk about mental illness, the more of a problem it is. I wonder about this, especially when I stare at the medicine I take. Rattling the bottle in my hand. The tumble of pills.
For PTSD. Anxiety. Depression.
I wonder what people expect mental illness to look like. A creature twitchy and pale, foaming at the mouth? Loaded with scars? Laughing and muttering at thin air? You know: the sort of ragged human dragged shrieking before the feet of Christ to be exorcised.
Not the soft-spoken and sincere young professional. Nor the popular student leaning in the chair at the back of the room. Nor the coworker tapping to music just down the hallway. You know: your neighbor.
I keep a stash of pills in my office, in case I forget before I head to work. I could point to each of them if I lined them out on the smooth surface of my desk: that one helps me stay calm, that one quiets the sadness, that one helps me sleep. This and that and that. To thread together the invisible background of neurochemical stability.
I’ve seen things. That’s what the PTSD says. I can’t stop seeing them. That’s also what it says. And it winds me up, thinking about it. Remembering the terrible fissures cutting across helpless freedom. Knowing the bitter taste of the bloody dark. Some people crawl out of it without being wracked by anxiety and crushed by sorrow. I’m just not one of those people. Sometimes you’re not one of those people who gets out okay.
I’m not crazy. I just didn’t make it out okay. Lots of people don’t.
There is, somewhere in every heart, the dark chasm where freedom no longer exists. Where we can no longer. Where the breathless illusion of autonomy collapses without a noise.
Mental illness bleeds in through that wound. Maybe that’s why we’re all so scared to talk about it: because we’re suddenly reminded we’re not in control of much at all. Because no one who is depressed earned it. Not a single mental disorder is asked for or deserved. And it’s so hard to understand, so hard, as what seems most inviolate and sacred in us – our very minds – fray. Wide awake and helpless in the dark. In that place where we can no longer.
What should it look like? I never know what people expect, except they don’t expect me.
I’m not much for the frothing. Or the chattering at nothing. Or whatever. I like coffee and people and books, and loud noises fucking terrify me.
And when I try to think of what God thinks of me – and that is so hard, so hard – I sit and tremble without much to think at all. I think of that fissure in my heart, that invisible wound of helpless loss, and I wish I could somehow cover it in shame. I didn’t mean to not make it out okay.
What’s it supposed to look like? How am I supposed to look? To be okay, or not okay?
And I never know.
Some days, all I know is that the God-man has a fissure in his heart too.