Pushing Through

Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

One of the hardest parts about dealing with a mental health condition is that the world doesn’t stop to give you time to get better. That means, in large part because so many people don’t understand mental illness, there’s a lot of pressure to continue living your life as close to normally as you can. There’s pressure to suck it up and push through. This pressure makes actually dealing with the mental illness way harder.

The pressure comes in three forms: internal, external, and what I’ll call unavoidable. I don’t know if most people know this or not, but internal pressure to be normal goes hand in hand with mental illness. I can’t imagine being depressed without that internal pressure. It has lots of causes. First is just the desire to be normal. There’s also the knowledge of what you’re capable of when you’re not sick. When making plans, it can be difficult adjusting expectations to match the current situation. Then there’s wanting to pass. Depression and other mental illnesses can strain relationships. Passing for normal is a way to avoid some of those difficulties.

External pressure is really good old-fashioned peer pressure. Trying to take time off work means pressure from your boss to get back and catch up. Friends and family, hopefully unintentionally, apply pressure to be social. Strangers, by being strangers, probably create the most pressure. There are social norms that need to be followed. These can take all kinds of forms but think of things like small-talk and eye contact and even physical contact in the form of handshakes and things like that. Those things take a surprising amount of energy. Plus, depending on the type of mental illness, feelings like shame are common. That can make any kind of engagement feel almost impossible.

When I say unavoidable pressure, I’m talking about all the things you need to do just to live. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel, the dishes and laundry won’t wash themselves. The fridge won’t magically fill with groceries. And I have a kid and a cat. Neither one is self-sufficient at this point. Plus, most of us aren’t independently wealthy. Even if you’re lucky enough to have an understanding boss, you need to make money. It’s unlikely you can take more than a week off.

The result of all these pressures is we try our best to push through our mental illnesses. I’m pretty sure that’s about the worst thing we can do. I’m not a psychologist or anything, but it is so stressful pushing yourself through these things and stress is terrible for mental health. The unavoidable pressure isn’t going anywhere without a total reworking of our society. But there is potential for the internal and external pressures to be lessened if not eliminated. Just being educated and sympathetic will go a long way towards helping a lot of people get better.

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