The mind and the heart — and who can evaluate either
The two most “challenging” reader comments I received recently were both related to mental health.
“No doubt you are severely depressed.”
“You don’t know anyone with a mental health disorder.”
Clearly both can’t be true. Frankly, I don’t think either one is.
But when someone confronts your concept of mental health, they also confront your foothold as a writer — your ability to understand yourself, your readers, and your material — and it begs the inquiry:
But KG, how do you know?
And more importantly, why did both come up?
What does depression even really look like?
It’s a serious question.
Some of the signs —like “suicidal tendencies” — are obvious. And if you Google it, you can certainly get lists, like this one from MayoClinic:
Sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness. Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters. Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities. Insomnia or sleeping too much. Fatigue or lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort. Reduced appetite / weight loss. Anxiety, agitation or restlessness. Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame. Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things. Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches…
But we all know that there are other signs not listed here.
Do mental health disorders “push away?”
Is depression avoidance?
Is it isolation from loved ones? Venting? Negativity? Critique? Dismissal?
Is “challenging the status quo” depression?
More specifically, is challenging the status quo from a place of “you deserve better” and “aspire towards real love” and offering solutions depression?
Do mental health disorders “pull?”
Is depression anxiety and addiction?
We know depression can look like substance abuse — drugs, alcohol, food.
And if you might abuse your relationship and over-engage with a substance in depression, you can also have an unhealthy, over-consumptive relationship with other things.
Like sex. Or video games. Or social media. (We are starting to realize that social media is linked to depression. Jury’s still out on causation. One argument is that social media over-use causes depression. Frankly, I think it’s the other way around.)
And, yeah, maybe depression also makes us over-engage in people.
People we’re dating. People we’re not dating. People we almost-dated-but-never-labeled. People we’ve lost, or ones we’ve never had.
People we “need” in order to get love.
Who’s to say whether or not we are?
Or who understands other people’s experience the best?
The thing with both of those comments is that they were cross-person, interpersonal assessments: one, a stranger evaluating my mental health. The other, a stranger saying I couldn’t evaluate theirs. In both cases, the insecurity seems to hinge on an interaction that they chose and actively consumed, regarding what was effectively an interpersonal speculation on their part as much as mine.
But I really looked at this — everything.
With regard to the first comment, I pored over signs of depression. I lack all of the classic indications, as well as most of the less conventional ones (like social media.) Other than my biting social commentary and love of beer, and all status quos aside, at the end of the day I think I’m a decently well-adjusted person.
And while I agree that many of my pieces are critical, I also submit that they are all from a place of love.
I write not because I am actually a cynic of relationships, but rather because I deeply care for people, and I want good love — real love — for all of them.
Maybe depression can coincide with that agenda, but the objective isn’t fundamentally “depressed.”
What gives us the authority to say whether others are?
Specifically, KG, what gives you the authority to talk about this?
Answer: Very little. Only hours of research. Which isn’t everything.
I spend a lot of time reading about love and mental health, trekking from psychology to philosophy to spirituality and back again. I also spend a lot of time listening to real people talk about their love lives. I read tons of individuals’ content, listen to real people’s podcasts, talk to friends. I gather themes — and there are some major ones — and then I look into them.
But at the end of the day, if you maintain that I “don’t know anybody with a mental health disorder,” I understand that the stake you’re really claiming is: “You don’t know me!”
And to that, I shrug and stand down with a simple, “no. sure don’t.”
I’m only doing what I can do over here. I’m offering up what I’ve read in a way that works for some people. If it conflicts with your lived experience, it’s easy enough for me to say, “no problem. Can’t win them all.”
Why (and how) mental health is tied to love
I talk about mental health because I talk about love, and the two are inherently connected. But mental stability isn’t the result of interpersonal love; it’s the prerequisite.
And loving ourselves is about mental health.
Our ability to maintain our own emotional wellbeing is directly tied to our ability to interact with others, and if we do a poor job of self-regulating, we will always try to draw this from other people. Which always leads to poor love.
Good love is give, not take. And “give” requires mental and emotional wherewithal going in.