In Honor of World Mental Health Day

By David Malcolm

One of the worst things to experience in life, amongst many others, is to feel totally isolated and to be acutely aware of just how different you are. Sometimes, it feels like you’re abnormal or that you’re the only person in the world that feels this particular way. Even when you laugh and joke and smile away, you can always feel the things that make you different there in your mind. Nothing is worse than feeling totally alone with whatever it is that afflicts you.

The mind is a complex instrument and sometimes, often for no real reason, it will turn against you. The mental health of any individual is probably the most important aspect of themselves. How we think, feel, sense and experience life means that the brain is essentially the captain of the ship. And yet, mental health is so difficult to explain or talk about. Those suffering from mental illness feel constrained or alone because society doesn’t seem to like people talk about the way their mind works. Society looks down on those who have mental health issues, whether it’s multiple personality disorder or just depression and anxiety.

I have Aspergers which is a mild form of autism (‘mild’ being a relative term) and is somewhere between a learning disability and a mental illness. My condition, for want of a better word, can often limit my understanding of social skills and the world around me, but I know it could be worse. There are people who do suffer from the full brunt of autistic issues such as being prone to sensory overload like loud noises or who lack even basic social skills.

Tthe worst thing was for my parents who were told my diagnosis when I was three. The doctor told them that I would have no friends and no chance of a normal life, that my mental condition would deprive me of my social skills along with many others. In short, I would always be different. My parents decided to reject that idea. They tried and even succeeded in mitigating the worst that Aspergers and Autism gave to me, but it took me a long time to accept who I was.

Who I am.

I’m not the only one. Some of my closest friends who all suffer from mental illness. One of my best friends has clinical depression and has been struggling to motivate themselves until recently. Another good friend of mine has OCD and anxiety which puts a strain on their current relationship at times and leaves them in an almost constant state of panic. I have had a friend with a multiple personality disorder and another with borderline personality disorder, both of them lovely people but clearly suffering from what they had.

In each and every case, I’ve always felt helpless when their mental health left them paralyzed and powerless to deal with it. You want to help but you know, deep down, that you can’t and all you can do is simply be there for them and let them deal with it. Watching someone try to hide their problems, wearing a mask and, as one friend put it, ‘living a constant lie’ is not only exhausting but also demoralizing. The urge to try and help, to ease the pain, is irresistible. Yet, what can one do? How can you grasp something that can only be experienced?

I can grasp depression to an extent after an incident of physical bullying left me emotionally scarred. It left me feeling alone and abandoned. I wish now that I had confided in my parents but I always feared that they would not understand. I still feel ashamed to think that I considered the idea of taking my own life, that I wanted to end my own suffering in such a terrible way.
What makes it worse is that I was only 10 or 11 at the time. I’m now in my mid-20s and it has only been the last few years that I’ve even talked about it. Even now, it takes a lot for me to share those feelings.

Yet a common theme was the fightback, the determination that they weren’t going to let their mental health problems restrain them or define them. Even in the darkest moments, the will to live and to carry on is an immensely powerful one, often underestimated. All of my friends have gone through the worst that their conditions can offer. Some continue to struggle with their own personal demons but the faith they have in themselves and the strength they find in themselves is incredibly moving.

For myself, I’m still grappling with my own demons but I think I can safely say that I’ve moved on from those times. I feel I can understand the problems my friends face in some small way and I always make sure that they know they can rely on me. I hope they keep remembering that.
Moreover, I’ve come to see Aspergers in a new light. For years, I considered it to be a millstone, a burden to stopped me from being normal. Now I feel that ‘normal’ is highly overrated and that my mind simply sees the world in a different light.

So today, spare a thought for those who suffer in silence and make an effort to help them. Talk to those you know have a problem and listen to them. Show them compassion and help them realize that they are not alone. Remind them that they should never be ashamed of themselves and give them the strength to fight back. Often, the resources and professional guidance needed ot help conquer those dmeons are not always available, so donate, sponsor or join a charity or organization that can help those who need it.

Above all, make sure everyone understand that they are not alone or isolated. Help them realize that the first step in taking control is knowing that you can take control. As St Francis of Assisi would say:
“Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring love.”

Faith. Hope. Light. Love. Each and every one of those things makes a difference. Will you make a difference today?

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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