Personally, I do not like the word “mental illness”. I don’t like it purely because it is not aligned with how I currently understand depression.
Please note that what I am writing now is simply an opinion piece based on my own 15 year journey with darkness. I am not saying that this wording is wrong. It may work perfectly fine for others, and that’s truly great. We all should chose words and phrases that work for us. I will explain however why I don’t like this word because I think it helps explain how I do see depression.
To start off, I am not keen on the fact that the word ‘mental’ is used, just because I feel like it puts the focus on the head, i.e. to thoughts. My experience with darkness is that actually you need to clear the head and embrace feelings (psychologists may argue that feelings come from the ‘head’ too, but I’m just referring to word associations here).
Most of all, the word ‘illness’ has a lot of ideas associated with it that I feel actually blocks the road to healing. These include:
- That there is something wrong with the person.
- That whatever is going with the person is something that is beyond their control, like when someone catches a cold.
To elaborate on each:
- That there is something wrong with the person.
If you have darkness there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. Science may tell you that you have faulty neurochemistry and that your thoughts are biased and skewed. I’m not saying this is not true. But I feel like the idea that all this should be interpreted as something that is ‘bad’ should be seriously challenged.
Darkness is simply another experience. A painful one, but just another human experience nonetheless. It’s not bad nor good. It just is. To label yourself as damaged goods through the word ‘illness’ is to hinder your own development.
Furthermore, darkness is such a crucial growing opportunity. Despite all the pain and suffering, ultimately it makes you blossom deeply as a person. You are not a victim of circumstances. You have been bestowed by life with a very important gift.
I personally feel that ‘illness’ is generally seen as a ‘bad’ thing in society. Now illness itself of course is neither good nor bad as well. So if you have a neutral view on this word there is no problem. But as personally I have grown up to feel that it is not a good thing, I prefer not to use it to describe depression.
2. That whatever is going with the person is something that is beyond their control, like how someone has caught a virus.
I know that this point may not sit well with other people who currently have depression, but I do feel strongly about this through my own experience. I feel like in saying that depression is a mental illness, some people abandon all responsibility form it. “It’s not my fault, it’s my biological disposition towards having wonky neurochemistry”. I was certainly one of those people.
Now, I’m not saying that if you have depression it’s your fault. I am saying though that you need to take responsibility for your feelings. Remember that they are your feelings and experiences. You have accept that the shadow that you have comes from you, instead of it coming from outside of you.
Depression is also such a crucial opportunity to look within. To question everything around you, to think about the point of life, to break down all sorts of mental paradigms that you had. So I personally have made the choice to not go on medication. I want to feel my pain. Because I know that it is only through truly feeling it, and making it a part of me, that I heal.
Once again, I know I am going into debatable territory here in writing this. I am fully aware of the millions of people whose lives have been saved through medication. I do think that drugs may be a crucial way of lending a helping hand when you are drowning. A life buoy to support you. But ultimately it only helps you stay afloat. You need to swim yourself back to shore. If you label yourself as ‘ill’ , take medication and make no effort to search within, you probably will find yourself stuck in the same predicament over and over again because there is no growth. This is why I think we need to be careful when using the word ‘illness’ to describe depression.
Finally, the idea of mental illness as something uncontrollable goes against my biggest breakthrough insight regarding depression.
That darkness is a choice.
‘Don’t be silly, who would choose to be depressed?!’, I hear you say. I understand. I would have slapped any person who would have said this to me in the past. Yet this has been one of the most profound discoveries I have made as a result of meditating and sitting with my darkness for many years.
Our choice to be in darkness – feeling powerless, despair, sadness – happens at such a subconscious level, that it may require you to dig through layers and layers of yourself before you see why you are choosing not to let go of these emotions. It may be that being in a disempowered place feels safer. It may be that seeing yourself as the victim is comforting. It may be that you don’t want to let go of your pain because without it you feel empty. It may be that you were conditioned to engage with these emotions at at such a young age you didn’t know that you could choose to feel otherwise. The list is endless.
But they all point to the same truth – because you are choosing to be in darkness, you also have the choice of stepping into the light.
I personally do this through meditation, visual imagery and emotional freedom technique, and will be happy to share my methods with anyone who is interested.
So there you have it, a bit of my story with depression through a summary of why I don’t like the word mental illness. Happy world mental health day!
Do you agree with word ‘mental illness’? What is your journey with it? I would love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment.