Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mental "injury", not illness (perhaps)

During a recent e-mail exchange with a kind and thoughtful fellow blogger, I reconsidered how I speak of myself and my issues as "mental illness" and applied some deeper considerations to the limitations of that term. Personally, I do not see any stigma attached to the idea of being "mentally ill" because I think that people who do not possess some degree of mental illness are exceptionally rare.

There are many people who are functional, yet have emotional or personality issues. Those issues do not impede their ability to do what most people do, but tend to erode quality of life to varying extents. Because they do not realize that it is possible to enjoy a higher quality of life through therapy, they simply assume they are indelibly who they are and that we all have issues and they will live with theirs. This is something I have never subscribed to. I think that our issues are there to be overcome and that quality of life is to be improved through self-awareness, exploration, and movement toward a more self-actualized self.

It is this drive which compels me to write here, but also which may have lead me to talk about feeling I am "mentally ill". Talking about it exaggerates the sense of it. In person, people would find that I am anything but the picture of what I appear to be here. I'm articulate, outgoing, and very together. I'm also extremely frank and candid about who I am, where I came from, and where I'm going. I'm not embarrassed by my depression or despair because I know nearly everyone experiences it, much as they may try and cram it into the back of their mental closet and pretend it doesn't exist and present a veneer of "normality" to the world. They can do that, but I think that only deepens the pain, so mine is at hand and dealt with.

During my brief e-mail exchange with this lovely person, I realized that there needs to be different terminology for emotional and psychological problems in order to make people more open to improving their quality of life via therapeutic processes. Mental illnesses carries a sense of something intractable and highly aberrant. I think this is why so many women with a relationship with food that makes them miserable resist the idea that they have a psychological problem, not merely a matter of biology or trite issues such as "willpower".

"Mental illness" seems like something which is generally "forever" and must be managed with medication, like Type 1 diabetes. However, I don't believe that I am mentally ill in that way. I feel that I am "mentally injured". That is, at some point in the past, I was damaged a great deal and the broken bones of that psychological damage were never properly set. They healed improperly and I developed an eating disorder that took me up to the brink of 400 lbs. Over the last two years, I've re-broken those mental bones and am trying to get them to set properly now.

This is the source of my suffering as I find out how to find the right way to heal those injuries. I can no longer numb or comfort myself with food so I have to figure out where to cope with my pain. Half of this equation is somehow coming to terms with the pain itself and the causes. I have to try to dispel it as much as possible so that less coping is required. The other half is working out an effective means of coping that is not destructive to my health and well-being.

I'm not sure what "treatment" will lead me to heal and I'm not sure that anyone can know what would work for me since every individual must find a manner which uniquely suits his or her pain and injuries. The easy part is knowing what doesn't work. I know that substance abuse, whether it is food, alcohol or drugs, is the "easy" solution which must be avoided at all cost. I also know that the common answers are to replace those destructive coping strategies with societally sanctioned ones like exercising, social activities, etc. I also know that those are just band-aids that are slapped over the issues. At best, they are distractions.

The real answers do not lie in taking a particular action but in figuring out how to cope on the deepest levels. Just as I re-conditioned myself with food, I also need to find a way to condition my emotional and psychological responses. I need to dig very deep to the moments injury was inflicted and analyze the paths that were taken that lead to overeating. Those roads now lead to dead ends that lead to despair, but I can start building onto them so that they end in a better place.

The main problem right now is that this is a new phase in this process and I haven't started looking yet nor do I know which direction to turn in. My guess is this will start with issues in my childhood and lead to turning points. It will be painful, but I'm sure that it can be very productive and the potential for healing those mental injuries is quite great.