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You can’t Get In my Head, There isn’t Enough Space

by Nicholas Barnard on December 14th, 2012

Today in the United States –

  • Adam Lanza shot twenty children.
  • I swallowed 150 milligrams of Venafaxine Extended Release, an anti-depressant.
  • I walked by too many people asking for money on the street.
  • Over 91 people ended their lives by their own hand.
  • I spent many hours in front of a sun lamp.

Beside these all happening today what do they have to do with each other? They’re all directly attributable to mental health.

I approach my mental health like I approach most things in my personal life, I’ll bring it up if asked or if it is relevant to the topic being discussed.

I can’t imagine what was going through Mr. Lanza’s head, but I know he was hurt. No, that does not excuse walking into an elementary school and shooting children, but we should address the root causes of this tragedy, one of which was the lack of treatment for Mr. Lanza’s mental health. I don’t know what Mr. Lanza’s mental health was, but looking back on the tragedy in Seattle, we know that Ian Stawicki struggled with mental illness for quite some time.

I’ve struggled with mental illness. It has taken me some time and maturity to recognize that the mental state that I spent much of my teens and twenties in isn’t normal. Given that I now have ten years of perspective, I can almost tease out what behaviors were a result of my poor mental health and what behaviors were just a result of my choices.

I’m quite sure I’ve confused and annoyed many people with behavior that was a result of my mental illness. Most of those people attributed the behavior to me, not my mental illness. If I had a major disease, like cancer which that just sapped my energy people would be much more forgiving, however because my illness manifests itself in behaviors instead of explicitly physical symptoms that illness is automatically assumed to be a part of explicit behaviors and choices.

Depressives like myself have a different automatic set of assumptions and standards which we use when we interpret the actions around ourselves. Our brains automatically search out the worst possible interpretation of every situation and internalize that interpretation. Often those worst interpretations focus on ways that we are wrong or we’ve screwed up. If I share these interpretations with others who know about my illness and who are supportive they don’t agree with my interpretation or think they’re overly harsh.

You can experience being deaf, blind, or confined to a wheelchair by blocking out that sense or using a wheelchair for a day, however there there isn’t a pair of glasses you can put on to experience the world how a person with depression experiences it.

You can’t get in my head and experience what I’ve experienced, there simply isn’t enough space or time for you to fully understand my experiences. You could get closer to how a depressive experiences the world by using the finding the worst possible interpretation of any situation and finding a way to put yourself at fault. You could also have someone follow you to distract you as much as possible and interrupt your train of thought, but at the end of the day just like a sighted person putting on a mask over their eyes you still have your non-depressive thought patterns and will be able to go about the next day with your non-depressed thought patterns. You cannot get inside my disability or get inside my head any more than I can experience being a blind person.

When I see a homeless person on the street begging, I know that it is very likely their mental health has been neglected and resulted in a series of behaviors that resulted in them being unable to obtain housing for themselves. I recognize that I cannot get inside their head, there isn’t enough space.

When I hear of an Adam Lanza, Jacob Tyler Roberts, or an Ian Stawicki killing people randomly, I am angry at them, but I also have empathy for them. Going out and killing people isn’t something that a happy, healthy person does. Their lives were significantly broken and their mental health neglected to the point that inside their head killing others seemed to be a perfectly appropriate action. I can’t get inside their head, just like the inside of mine there isn’t enough space.

Where do we go from here?

Those twenty children and seven adults are dead in Connecticut today, 92 people killed themselves today, and many people were forced into living on the street because mental health is neglected in our society.

I don’t have all the answers, but We Americans need to become more supportive of those with mental illness, We Americans need to feel more empowered to encourage others to get mental health help, and it needs to be easier to have people involuntarily committed in our country.

What can you do right now?

  • If you have or have had a mental illness and you feel that you are able, share your experiences with those around you.
  • If you know someone with a mental illness, give them a hug and listen to them.
  • If you don’t know anyone with a mental illness, take some time to learn more about a mental illness.

I know you can’t get inside my head, because there isn’t enough space, but if you could take a moment to try to peek into my or the head of someone who has had similar struggles, we would take a first step toward improving our country, and preventing the next massacre of innocent people, but more importantly we would improve the lives of our brothers and sisters who struggle day in and day out with their mental health.

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