Who says that people with mental illness are weak? To daily witness the shear force of will it takes for my daughter – a person who has a mental illness – both to survive the hardest times and to work constantly towards thriving against all obstacles, both physiological and emotional, and in the frequent face of seemingly insurmountable odds – is one of the most awe-inspiring, respect-inducing experiences I have had in my life. There is a necessity for this above average (moral, physical, mental, and emotional) strength. Strength is needed for the constant will to life (yes, toward life – even/especially/along with/ the pull toward suicide-for-just-rest’s-sake – for it’s hard earned, and earned with every day). There is a necessity for the critical/philosophical faculties to be fine-honed, in the constant grappling with the Largest questions of meaning and purpose in facing the day-to-day and oftentimes existential quality of this dis-ease (or whatever term we use).
What is neither necessary nor correct – and hurtful, damaging, counterproductive – is the perception/stigma that people who have mental illness are weak, lazy, etc. In my experience, the opposite is true. While many young adults seem to move through their current life much like a litter of puppies rolling about (and, here, please excuse my gross generalizing), my child – who wishes life could be experienced in that way – must keep careful assessment and modulating of day-to-day life. This includes carefulness re indulging in drink and etc, staying up late (although she does at times do so in order to study, because the need for exquisite attention, in the times when the chemical imbalance is most strongly asserting itself, is necessary to counteract the PHYSIOLOGICAL “brain fog” – rather than “laziness”), care toward diet. She can’t make the same kinds of heedless (yet often necessary at this age, in order to learn and grow) exploratory “mistakes” that others of her age often make with a larger degree of impunity.
She also doesn’t have the luxury of declaiming about life’s difficulties and unfairness; she needs, instead, to cultivate an exquisitely mature (more mature than me, at the wise old age of 60) view of life which is coupled with an almost Buddha-like stance of acceptance. This situation has been a crucible, through which a character has developed//shown itself//: strong and wise and (some of the time; this is a learning curve for her) accepting; empathic towards others way beyond her years; searching for meaning, but not a meaning that comes at all easily – because she refuses to drop her questioning of life’s meaning for easy answers. I am often reminded of the statistics that people with a mental illness who believe in a god have more of a chance; I find myself almost yearning that she might “capitulate” to this belief. I say “capitulate”, because for her, it remains an active question; and I am proud of her, that she chooses to leave it way open, rather than choose this as a security blanket; rather, she is wide open to the possibility of an existential view of life; she will not prematurely shut the door on these elemental questions.
Still, alongside the care she must take, she experiences sometimes exquisite joy and attunement, to life and to others – along with an ongoing love of, and commitment to, learning. This is yet another aspect of her strength: her willingness to see the beauty in life, even in the face of a struggle that can feel fairly constant. This is another choice which she seems to make over and over again: toward life. There is such beauty and courage – a fierce fearlessness within the doubt and fear – in her willingness to continuously face the unknown of all this; this leads me to posit an idea – counter to the “weakness/laziness” stigma – that people who experience mental illness are incredibly, beautifully, surpassingly strong.
This seems to have become a love letter to my daughter. Her existence in this world fills me with joy.