It’s not always You - the World can make you feel unwell too
The gaping hole in our discussion surrounding mental healthIrasonja
his confession will surprise no one, but here it is anyway; I'm a bit of a pathology buff.
Ever since I first picked up my MD grandad’s medical lexicons at the tender age of 6, I’ve poured countless hours into the wonderful world of all that can go wrong with the human body; traffic accidents, neurological diseases, battle wounds, medieval STDs... the more ghastly, the smoother it went down. It was a long, macabre ride with some unintended consequences (ekhm, hypochondria), but I am who I am and Je ne regrette rien.
On account of slight personal struggles though, the last couple of years marked a distinct shift from diseased anatomies to the equally colossal study of mental health disorders.
My appetites increased as I plunged into new treatment possibilities (ketamine anyone?), as well as into the dubious sea of self-help. This time I wasn’t driven purely by morbid curiosity, but by an honest ambition to get better.
My on-line study of the disjointed psyche was fraught with difficulty from the very beginning - almost immediately, a pesky pebble found its way into the cognitive shoe of my skull. It was a very distinct feeling that something crucial was missing in the seemingly thorough discussion on mental health. The sentiment was hard to chase away.
It wasn’t until I embarked on one of my signature pandemic walks, that the “revelation” finally slapped me across the head. Buried in zig-zagging thoughts, I unexpectedly landed in the middle of a busy shopping street, overflown with thousands of shiny, kitschy billboards. These images, full of impossibly beautiful and impossibly happy faces, were advocating the purchase of everything from pandemic vacations and cosmetic procedures, to aftershaves and sexy, edible underwear.
Maybe because I was caught completely off guard I proceed to swallow this onslaught of consumerist stimuli in one go like a Jaeger shot and without the assistance of my usual defense mechanisms (sweet cynicism, where art thou?). I experienced them as they were meant to be experienced.
In other words, the images instantly made me feel exhilarated at the future possibilities, as well as miserable at the inadequateness of my present life. The people on the billboards were richer, better dressed, more fit, happier and obviously lived more fulfilling lives than I did. The lizard part of my brain took over, and it’s messaging was clear - if I bought these products, I would’ve felt better about myself. I would immediately evolve into a better me.
When I came back home I was irritated and cranky, and most of all, disappointed in my apparent lack of achievement. After all, I left my dwelling in order to do something good for myself and came back feeling like a complete sack of vomit.
I sat down, had a cup of coffee, watched me some Larry David, and managed to calm myself down.
I also finally realised what’s missing in the mental health discussion… nobody is talking about the system.
As much as I’m tempted to turn this piece into a fiery essay on the many injustices of the modern world, I’m going to be a good boy and restrain myself. I think it suffices to state the obvious - the system under which we toil and live in, is a zero sum game. It has a clear set of winners and losers, and we’re reminded of who’s who at every possible turn.
It’s also a system which elevates the ability to sell as the ultimate virtue. Even if you're just trying to get a “regular” job, you need to be fluent in the basic alphabet of self-marketing. (The experience of constructing a CV is a fate I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy).
But not all of us were made to be the next Steve Jobs. Neither do we want to be...
There’s those of us on the introverted side, who tend to be more sensitive and agreeable, and who have a tough time adapting to the aggressive entrepreneurial commandments of our age. And unless we figure out how to turn our sensitivities into some kind of a product, we’re made to feel pretty darn useless, if not straight out depressed...
Which brings me back to the current state of public debate on mental health.
On one hand, it seems like opening up about what you’re going through is easier than ever. We’re finally encouraged to talk about the unhealthy ways we were brought up, the bad patterns we absorbed, the relationships that scarred us. We’re emboldened to ponder the many strategies to get better... Which is awesome.
But herein (yes I’m using this word) also lies the trap. In its present form, the discourse on mental health is universally skewed toward individualization. It’s your parents, your relationships, your past, your genetics, your choices that resulted in the problems you’re having.
And it’s ultimately your responsibility to come up with a solution.
The systemic pressures and demands we’re all exposed to day by day are absent from consideration. The materialistic, elbowing nature of our society is as well.
No wonder then, that even before the pandemic, and despite the “historic” openness of our environments, mental health disorders were on an exponential rise across the globe. It’s not all that surprising.
Because how can we work on our anxieties and depressions if we’re only supposed to look at half of the picture? Is it possible to truly get better by ignoring the world’s craziness? The system is not just an objective, neutral background to our lives, and we should stop pretending that it is.
I’m not discovering fire here when I say that the world is getting more complex each day. The debates surrounding mental health should be too.
at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside. If you were just a random person walking by, you would have seen two mates comfortably sharing a bottle, drinking out of paper cups, chatting away and laughing. It would all look like an uplifting scene from a European indie film.
The truth however, is different. Laurie is my friend, yes, and what’s coming out of my mouth is real laughter, but the unpleasant feeling bouncing around my skull is one of deep discomfort. The truth is I’d rather be anywhere else right now. It’s not that anything bad happened between the two of us, like a pissing contest’s gone sour just moments ago… I’ve known Laurie for almost 5 years and during that time we’ve never even had as much as a disagreement.
at least until the cold rears its ugly head again, Berlin is turning itself into a series of endless open air festivals and parties.
Our little hangout reflects this festive mood, at least on the outside.
All rights reserved.