I’ve spent considerable time talking about my mental health publicly and privately. I’ve never been diagnosed with any particular condition, but as the person who is most familiar with what is going on in my head, I can tell you it is a far-out space roller coaster. You’ll have to read my blog, as well as my alternate blog if you want to understand more about how I see things. However, in this moment I am looking to zoom in on a statement from my wife Audrey that echoes in my head whenever I talk so openly about my mental state recently. She simply says, I think we focus too much on the phrase “mental illness” too much, when this is not about us, it is about the world around us. This is powerful. This is everything.
She is right. We’ve all been trained to carry this load. That the illness is us. It is our heads. I am tired of carrying this burden. I am going to change the words I use to describe what is happening. I tried to describe what I’d traditionally call “mental illness” in my family, and my kids’ family the other night, and it was really hard to describe it as about how society works, nor more aptly, how it doesn’t work. I just don’t have the vocabulary. I am so used to blaming myself, my family, and the people in the communities I grew up in. It will take me some effort and practice to shift how I talk about this condition that seems to afflict so many of us, but I fear it has been misdiagnosed.
I was trying to practice this reversal in how I think about things on the NYC subway yesterday, where what I’d call “mental illness” was on full display. Rather than a sick young woman smacking my hadn’t off the railing near her, and defending her space from others with her feet, bags, and overall presence-—I saw a young woman who had been chewed up by a society that lacked the systems for properly supporting what she truly needed. Granted, I am not a doctor, and lack any training in identifying any of this, but I feel it helps me be more compassionate and empathetic to see this about society and not this young woman’s fault. Which I see as a dangerous side effect of rugged individualism-—so many of us get left to deal with things on their own. It is our fault.
Viewing my world this way gives me an outward thrust when it comes to the gravity of living in the world, where before I felt like my world was always caving in. I struggle each day being Kin, but it is so worth it. I am thankful for everything I have when it comes to my physical and mental health, as well as my personality, interests, and beliefs. I am determined to stop shouldering myself with the blame for all the illnesses in the world, and the friction I encounter through my day. I feel like I work hard on my own shit, and while I still have more to deal with, I feel like at this point most of what still troubles me the most is the way in which the wider world works or doesn’t work. I am confident that learning to use different words to describe this reality is impacting me, my family, friends, and community, and that I can begin to navigate a new course when talking about my mental state.