“Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom.”
Toni Morrison’s quote echoes in my head as I’m writing this. It’s impressive that the author’s words accurately summarize my experience with mental illness in such short, all-embracing sentence.
I still remember the day I told my university lecturer about the wish to pursue a higher education in Psychology, she replied with a cold, mystical voice “One does not simply feel like wanting to become a psychologist. You must have some kind of problems. If you don’t, you shouldn’t study Psychology.” I was left dumbfounded for days. After years of existential struggle, I finally found an outlet for all the dramas.
My adolescence years was an isolated, traumatic experience.
Growing up in an enduring state of neglect as a consequence of my parents’ failed marriage partly made me vulnerable to mental illness. At the age of 12, while most of my friends went out enjoying their teenage years, I locked myself in my room and refused to participate in any interpersonal activity, which later I learned of as social withdrawal being one of many symptoms of ‘depression’.
But things changed when I entered university.
I immediately forced a switch from gloomy idleness to superficial overactivity ‘to better adjust to the cool new environment’, or so I thought. However, unlike my expectation, I fell into the pitch-black hole of adolescent angst. I was constantly terrified by irrational future-oriented worries, filled with self-hate, and occasionally longed for death.
At that time, a visit to a nearby psychiatrist was out of the question. You don’t have your condition diagnosed because you don’t want your neighbors or your parents to look at you like you’re a nut head. That’s especially true in my country where mental health is a taboo topic to be frown upon whenever people hear about it.
“Mrs. A’s daughter starts mumbling meaningless words to herself again, what a dangerous freak!” — said my neighbors to each other about my sister’s hysterical condition.
However, when life tests us to the limit, there’s nothing we can do but outgrow the petty vanities and human ego in order to survive. And that was my case. As I desperately needed help, I, reluctantly and secretly, went to see a professional.
The one-hour of talk therapy turned out to be a moment of introspective explosion that gave birth to a sort of reflective functioning. After that, I started searching for books on psychology in hope that I could know better about my mental illness. I read from hard topics like Freudian psychoanalysis to Mark Manson’s tips on how to not give a fuck to lead life your way. Not much but enough to make me tick.
For the first time after many years, I was able to take back my disowned self. I know me better, without self-deception or distortion. Knowledge saved me.
If I am to describe my experience in a few words, I like to put it as a ‘winning enlightenment’ that showers the emotionally muddled mind with positive energy. It was a silent process that has louder impact than any external manifestations of happiness under the form of beautifully retouched Instagram photos.
This kind of experience is as hard to find as completely abstract it may sound. Perhaps because we’re just in the flow of it all the time but too busy picking out whatever the noisiest thing is, or the most negative. It’s hard, but rewarding, and totally worth the search.