When the ill try to recover, what is it they are trying to recover from? Is a depressed woman trying to overcome depression? Or is she trying to move past her memories? Perhaps she’s trying to work with her genes and neurochemistry to find some sort of balance. No matter what we name the object of our struggle, I think that there is little benefit to focusing on the pathology itself. I’m not suggesting we pretend as if everything is okay; ‘fake it ’till you make it’. I’m simply suggesting that it is much easier to overcome a problem if you look at that problem in terms of its parts, rather than obsessing over the whole (common sense stuff, yet it is still something we all continue to do). We must set a succession of reasonable goals to achieve; we cannot overcome ‘depression’ all at once; however, if you concentrate on the whole pathology, that’s precisely what you’re trying to do. (I chose depression because mental illness is uniquely suiting, although this principle applies with relative ease to many of our problems).
When an army of soldiers stands on the battlefield waiting for the fighting to commence, would it benefit each soldier to think of the battle, of the war, in terms of its most general abstractions? Would they perform to the best of their abilities if they looked at the army opposing them as one strong, stolid body of fearless men? Or perhaps it would be more wise instead to replace the army itself with the individual soldiers, and those individuals whom one soldier is likely to meet on the field of battle. Or to the individual battles, and objectives.
The same is true of disease, disorder and disarray. It is also uniquely true to mental illness. When a patient attempts to overcome her depression, it would benefit her little to immerse herself absolutely in that bold, unforgiving world; talking to only depressed people, reading literature on only depression, thinking only of depression. If she befriends only those with depression, her whole life will be infected with the gray dullness of depression; and it will only continue to grow until all the light is gone. They will swap stories about their struggle, about how hard it is, and about how little people understand – what good can come of that, if that is all the talk you are having? She will develop certain behaviors via operant conditioning, and will regress rather than move forward. Instead, focus on overcoming in stages, and battling back. Focus all your energy on a positive object and fill your life with hope. Depressed people are not well suited for a rallying cry. If she reads only depression, she will most likely read of the symptoms – which are all bad. She will read also of the causes, which are mostly deterministic – which will steal her volition. If she thinks only of depression, while depressed, do you think it likely her mind will find and focus upon happy, hopeful thoughts? Instead, distract yourself when you notice you’re doing poorly, fight as often as you can, and never give up hope. In this respect, the human will is also uniquely self limiting, and one of the most peculiarly frustrating aspects of life, and of our existence as a species of sentient beings. Because our emotions exercise tremendous influence toward the direction of our thoughts, and those thoughts either motivate, or discourage us. It is our motivation which fuels our will, and our discouragement which saps it dry.
Instead, focus on overcoming the depression, rather than living with it. Trust me, the longer you live with it, the more complacent you become. And the more complacent you become, the more you live as it.
I have ADHD, but it is only now that I am most free of my ADHD. It isn’t simply that I am unaware or somehow distracted of my symptoms, or of its effects. It’s almost as if I am in remission – or at least have a firm hold on normality. I am chronically ill, so my attention and drive is focused elsewhere. I also no longer think of my ADHD often, see a doctor for my ADHD, or medicate myself for my ADHD. I read little literature on the subject, and do even less research. I do not communicate with communities of like minded individuals.
When you focus all of your attention on a negative force in your life, that object’s shadow grows darker and looms broader; its weight seems at times unbearable.
For people with any illness, defining yourself by the pathology which plagues you will not help you. When I was at the height of my ADD journey, my Depression journey and my EDS journey, the definitions of the disorders became so engrained in who I was it was, that it was almost as if I took on the form of those diseases and disorders themselves. They were negative, and I delegated a portion of my being as its representative. I cannot will the disease itself to go away – in all likelihood, it will always be around somewhere. If I define myself by a negative, permanent thing, how am I ever supposed to recover?
Do you think its more valuable to define your disorder in terms of the pathology, or rather define your struggle in terms of an object which has little to do with the disorder itself (perhaps that object is being healthy, or not being incredibly sad, or being able to read a book cover to cover without slipping away)? When we try to recover, the will to recover is the most important and powerful force at our disposal. Some have refined, strong wills, and still others are weak willed. We have to focus on our strength, not on the danger and the power of the affliction. We cannot either think of the disorder in terms of a general abstraction. We must take it in steps (if I do aX, I will move myself to stage-1). Its much easier to ascend the face of depression when we give ourselves more than one try.