Isn't it the worst when an inspiration strikes 30 minutes before you need to leave for work?
And here I am trying to fish out the thoughts that were just circling in my mind, and force them into logical sentences before I really need to get out.
At least my hours are flexible in that ten minutes one way or the other makes no difference so at least I can grant myself this moment of morning word-vomit - I don't seem to be able to get any breakfast apart from black coffee down anyway.
For the past year I've found comfort and much needed distraction from the gem of a podcast, Mental Illness Happy Hour, which I keep bringing up every now and then in my ramblings. So far I couldn't find a single critical word to say about it. Yes, so far. Because now there's something that has started to irritate me; not to the point of abandoning the whole program or to even decreasing the time I spend with it playing on the background, but just enough to write about it.
Mind you, the defect that I'm about to discuss is a common way of describing mental illness - especially by Americans, I've come to notice. So it's definitely not unique to my favourite podcast but more of a cultural thing.
Without further ado - let's get to it.
The idea that mental illness is not an abnormal reaction, but a normal one to abnormal circumstances is problematic for me personally. I understand it in the context of severe trauma because then clearly there has been that abnormal situation that has brought upon a reaction that is oftentimes debilitating in some way. A really obvious example is PTSD in rape victims (which apparently is even more common than amongst war veterans by the way): the abnormal situation: rape, causes sexual and emotional trauma, which when triggered in a seemingly unrelated situation: let's say consensual intimacy with a partner, bring up flashbacks, panic and what have you.
So there, abnormal situation - normal reaction. Trauma re-wires us.
But then there's me.
And though, I have endured some emotional and social hardship in my sensitive teenage years, the ripples of which reach out far and wide, I don't see myself as having a "normal reaction to abnormal situation". Why? Because the environment where my anxiety started getting exponentially worse was not a particularly hostile one. I wasn't decidedly singled out and abused. Sure, there was total mismanagement of my recurring panic attacks, but that just made them worse; it wasn't the cause of my problems.
Going back to the first signs of an eating disorder resolves just as much: nothing. I can pretty much pinpoint the moment when that shitstorm began: I was eight or nine years old and out playing with my friend. I don't remember how or why the conversation got there but I remember her saying something about her weight or appearance - and bam, my brain went: I should be thinner. We were both tiny. But I'm sure my friend had picked it up from her big sister who was a teen then.
But literally no one had ever commented on my weight or size or eating habits, and yet my mind warped around the idea that I should be thinner - and nearly 15 years later it's still there.
My early childhood was completely stable and happy. The only thing I can think of that caused me emotional stress was a period of time when my dad used to work in London and only come home for the weekends. I missed him so much, and would cry every time he left. My little sister - the voice of reason already then - always said that it was silly to be so sad because he was coming back soon. I must have been around five years old - making my sister the ripe age of three.
I remember my mum being a little bit stressed out - as you would be with two kids and carrying the third, but she was never abusive verbally or physically. She was present, she was there and she never made me feel like I wasn't good enough.
So all this leaves me with, is that I must have always had a genetic susceptibility to mental illness, and a series of unfortunate events (ba-dum-tsih) of a relatively small size on their own, has been the catalyst to the issues that I currently struggle with. In other words, it is such a gradual reaction to the world around me that there was never anything that I, personally, could have done to prevent it. A large part of it is written in my DNA, and for that part, I can only do so much.
This is what I believe. This is what I have to believe to remain functional, and to have hope. Not all mental illness can be attributed to trauma in childhood or otherwise. Not all mental illness is a big, atrocious, enthralling story. Sometimes - quite often I suppose, it is something that grows with us until it becomes too big for us to handle alone. But even then, stripping down the layers of emotional trauma won't bring a relief in the form of a straightforward answer. Because there is none.
For me, the relief is knowing that I can't have control over everything. That no matter how much I look back, I won't find definite answers. That no matter how much I meditate, think positive thoughts, expand my comfort zone, talk, think, feel and try there will always be that innate sensitivity that makes me crumble and fall (and also fight back but that's a different topic altogether). That, for me, is validating. Because a panic attack is a totally abnormal reaction to an everyday situation. Because feeling some distorted sense of joy about having a bad stomach bug because at least after all of this vomiting my stomach will be flat is just nowhere near the realm of healthy thoughts.
For me, the idea that mental illness can also be an abnormal reaction to normal situation is much more soothing than the reverse.
And now I'm gonna be late for work.