Laughing at Ourselves and Our Conditions with the Peanuts Gang

Life with chronic anxiety is tough.  Always living on that edge can be exhausting so its great when we can reach out and enjoy a moment of disaction or joy.  That includes laughing at ourselves and our condition.

Linus complicating life for Lucy who just wants to color

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Is the Peanuts cartoon familiar? Much like attorneys, those of us with chronic anxiety often complicate life to a ridiculous degree and rob ourselves of simple pleasures in the process or make a bad situation worse. It’s a fact of life, but when given the chance it’s okay to enjoy a moment of mirth by laughing at our condition.

 

 

Hard Truths for Mental Health Crusaders

Hard Truths BannerGod love advocates for people with mental illness, but sometimes their attempts to reduce stigma ignore the hard realities of life. For example, a recent article used the revelations about Jesse Jackson Jr’s bipolar disorder to launch into a generic lecture on mental health stigma that had virtually nothing to do with Mr. Jackson’s specific experience.

So of course, I’ll use their article to launch into a rant about those who so blindly want to protect people with a mental illness that they instead give the impression we are fragile beings who need protecting from a cold, cruel society that doesn’t always understand our plight.  With that said, let’s take a look at two points – one good and one bad – made in the article which you can read here.

Mental Illness vs. Physical Illness

The well-meaning article states, “a classic example of mental health stigma—the idea that mental illnesses are somehow fundamentally different from physical ailments and that they permanently affect a person’s judgment and competence in a negative way …”

Today, it’s in vogue to blame chemical imbalances or perhaps structural anomalies in the brain as the cause of mental illness.  This is a way of trying to equate a mental illness with conditions such as cancer. I have no doubt it is true in some cases. However, the author is wrong in suggesting that mental illness is not fundamentally different. It absolutely is different regardless of the underlying cause.

Ask a person who has struggled for 20 or 30 years with severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia if they would gladly trade a limb – a hand, arm, foot – for a lifetime of good mental health. I would.

Mental illness is fundamentally different – perhaps not in having an underlying cause – but in how it impacts our lives. Suggesting otherwise ignores reality.

The Person is the Illness

The article states, “These myths of mental illness result in a wholesale blaming of the diagnosis for virtually everything the patient thinks and does. Relationship problems? It is the depression talking. Difficulty with medication? If it were not for the mental illness, he would willingly take it. The list can go on and on, and it sometimes causes people with mental health conditions to feel like they are defined by their diagnosis alone.”

The author is right about this perception. I’ve experienced this reaction even from persons who are wholeheartedly supportive.  For example, I remember a brief and relatively meaningless period several years ago when things just weren’t clicking in life.  It was just a rough couple weeks like anyone – healthy or not – might experience from time to time; however, I remembered being asked “how are you doing?” and from the tone it seemed clear the person wasn’t asking generically but had my history of depression and anxiety in mind as they assumed it was the cause.

Their intentions were good, but it made me feel that much worse. Today, I know that sometimes I just need a thicker skin.

My point is this – life with a mental illness or prolonged periods of mental illness are fundamentally different from a typical physical ailment. This is true whether it is how society reacts to us or otherwise in how it impacts our thinking, emotions and daily functioning.

So here is a provocative question for those with experience with serious illness: would you trade it for a serious physical condition such as the loss of a limb, cancer, partial paralysis or something else?

 

Batman and J.R. Ewing Battle a Common Enemy

sketch of batman with bats flying out of his cape
Iconic figures, Batman and J.R. Ewing, battled a common foe in theaters and on televisions across the world this summer – depression.  The portrayal of their battles provides a fantastic glimpse into the life of someone faced with severe and prolonged depression.

In Bruce Wayne, we see a tragic hero in The Dark Knight Rises who not only lost the love of his life in Rachel Dawes, but also his reason for living – fighting crime as The Dark Knight – taken away.  That double-whammy combined with the traumas of childhood plunged him into years of depression that left him isolated, stripped of all joys in life, and even more susceptible to the physical wear and tear his bodied suffered in battling Scarecrow, Joker, and the League of Shadows.

Likewise, in the revival of Dallas this summer we saw the unthinkable in early episodes: J.R. Ewing withering away alone, powerless, and not even a shadow of the former hard-driving, take-on-the-world SOB that we came to love and hate in the 80s.  For J.R. it wasn’t the loss of romantic love that drove him into depression but loss of Ewing Oil, South Fork, and the power that came from the fear he instilled in his enemies.

Photographic sketcing of JR EwingIn both cases, loss triggered their descent into depression but it was ultimately the lack of purpose and the loss of hope that kept them captive to it for years.  This despite vast resources that could have helped them get the best of treatments that medicine has to offer.

Nevertheless, both emerged from the shadows of depression and it was because they found renewed purpose in life.  For Batman it was the absolute necessity to save Gotham from the villain Bane and for J.R. it was the hope of rebuilding Ewing Oil with the discovery of vast deposits under South Fork, not to mention the opportunity to “teach” his son the rough and tumble oil business.

There is no silver bullet for dealing with depression but the lesson of their stories is obvious: finding a purpose (or a compelling goal) that speaks to the core of one’s self can be an invaluable key to winning the battle with depression.

Fantastic Artwork Courtesy of:

The Dark Knight Rises by The Fresh Doodle

J.R. Ewing by Sbsiceland