Mental illness is no joke, nor is it something we can ignore.  You can find all manner of statistics on the percentage of children, adolescents, and adults will some form of mental or emotional disorder, but it continues to be almost taboo to discuss in polite company.  On any given commute train I can hear all the details of someone’s physical struggles, and it’s a story of strength and challenges overcome, but most stories about mental illness or emotional struggles end in “well, what can you do?  She’s crazy!”  This social attitude has lead to two things.

First, it has given the world the idea that it’s acceptable to ignore, or even mock, the issues of mental illness.  To those who live with it, depression is not just an unwillingness to be happy or overcome life’s obstacles, but a crushing inability to even fathom doing so.  We have very few resources for people who struggle with these issues, and the ones that do exist are costly and unstable at best.  In the end, many are labelled as “helpless” or “chronic” and left with the options to either heavily medicate to an almost nonfunctional level or to wing it with little to no support.  Either way, it generally leads to a very isolated life.

Secondly, it has opened the door for a lifetime of excuses and scapegoating, usually because the first condition exists.  Mental illness is not an insurmountable obstacle.  It just takes work, time, and a lot of inner fortification.  For years I have had people tell me, “you don’t know what it’s like”, which is always true.  No, I don’t know what anyone else’s personal struggles are like, but they have no idea what mine are like either, and I refuse to get into a “woe is me” pity war.  Everyone has mountains to climb.  Those with additional imbalances and emotional scars may have extra obstacles in the path, but nothing makes the climb impossible but death.

The harsh reality of mental and emotional illness is that it doesn’t stop life from coming at you.  You don’t get a reprieve from adulthood because of a rough childhood.  You don’t get a pass on responsibility because someone else may have dropped the ball on you at some point in your life.  There are no mental wheelchairs or emotional hearing aids, but there is no excuse for refusing to try and live life, especially if you’ve made the choice to have children, go to school, or start a career path.  It took me years to learn this lesson, and a few more to learn that no one was going to be able to help me when I really needed it if I wasn’t willing to at least try to help myself first.

There is a happy medium here between being labelled a nut job, told it’s all in your head, and deciding there’s no way you can ever be functional.  It’s called life, and we all have to live it to our best abilities no matter what tools we’re given.  I will always give support to someone having a bad day, but never sympathy for someone using these struggles for anything but an opportunity to grow as a person.  I don’t believe coddling helps anyone, nor will I sit by and listen to someone blame bad choices on something that possibly can’t be controlled but can be mitigated.  The words “I’ve got this issue, so you should have expected my bad behaviour,” is a cop out and an insult to everyone who has overcome tragedy, loss, or illness in his or her life.

We owe it to ourselves and others who are fighting along side us to do everything we can to get through this life together.  Everyone has the opportunity to make excuses.  Those who choose not to are the ones who will get the support they need when the time comes.