There Is No Normal
To anyone struggling with mental health in America
The last few years have been like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. It started out slow, and gradually picked up speed and momentum, until it was flying down the mountain with a force I'd never felt before. This was my long-awaited moment of full and total re-integration, the culmination of years of painstaking emotional and mental work with the help of two different therapists, a psychiatrist, and my own dedicated self-work. A 14-year-long clinical depression, with a lifetime of anxiety, were coming to a close.
I can tell you that, in my twenties, I never would've thought this kind of healing was possible. I never would've thought that one day I could live well and be joyful on a daily basis. I never would've thought I could move beyond that point where my own personal growth had come to a halt. But I did. The work finally paid off.
As I grow accustomed to this newfound life, I'm gradually seeing not only myself more clearly, but society around me as well. I'm realizing just how depressed the society we live in really is, especially in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (2022), approximately 21 million adults ages 18 and up experienced at least one depressive episode in 2020. That's nearly ten percent of the U.S. population. And I would bet money that this number is much higher given the fact that we're taught to hide our mental health problems in America, not seek help for them.
It's not hard to see that we live in a society that is unwell. A few minutes on social media can easily confirm this. When was the last time you felt good after spending time on Facebook or Instagram? When I see the things people post, celebrate, and share on TikTok or Facebook, I sincerely wonder if most people are, in fact, ill, emotionally and mentally. They just get along well within a mentally ill society. Sometimes I wonder if those who do end up diagnosed and admitted to psychiatric units are actually lucky in the sense that they're being given a chance to break free and heal from this society that fosters illness on a daily basis. I mean, Facebook literally turns our mental and emotional anguish into cash for itself. Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg get richer every day off America's depression and neuroses. Mental illness is good for business.
My point, however, isn't to protest social media or to turn around and point the finger of blame at society just to make myself feel better. No. My point is, if our society is generally depressed, anxious, and unwell, and if you find yourself wrestling with the shame and stigma of a mental health diagnosis, know this: You are like Neo in The Matrix, and that diagnosis, that "stigma", is you being awakened to the reality of life in America. No, we are not being controlled by machines in a virtual reality, but we are being gaslit on a daily basis and made to believe that depression and anxiety are some kind of "weakness", something to ashamed of. Whatever stigma you may be feeling, imagine yourself grabbing it by the tail and dropping it in the waste bin, because that's where it belongs.
A diagnosed mental illness means an opportunity to pinpoint your own source of dis-ease and find healing. This healing process may be long and painful, and it may seem hopeless at times, but it's worth it. It's worth the pain and the fear of doubt because in the end you will be alive and awake, like Neo, no longer doomed to live unaware that life can be better, far better than what social media or any other American product can offer. Mental illness can make one feel utterly worthless for not being "normal". But there is no normal in America. The norm is dysphoria and self-hate. The norm is rage and fear. The norm is emotional detachment and loneliness. Normal sucks! It's good to not be normal.
My biggest piece of advice that I would give to anyone fighting this battle is to persevere. Persevere no matter what. No matter how many Agent Smiths come at you, persevere. If there's one thing mental illness has taught me, it's that the mind is incredibly powerful. Your mind is incredibly powerful. And this really is a world where anything is possible.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, January). Major depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression