Post Paroxetine or HOW NOT TO ENCOURAGE YOUR OWN SELF-DESTRUCTION
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Mental health issues are a widespread problem across the developed world and more and more people are taking antidepressants. Despite the ubiquity of certain mental conditions, the stigma surrounding these conditions is still strong and is continuing to damage the way in which society deals with mental health issues on several levels. Two years ago, I wrote a small piece about the misconceptions surrounding these issues and how to counteract and cope with them called ‘HOW NOT TO ENCOURAGE SOMEONE’S SELF-DESTRUCTION,' which you can still find on my blog. The piece is primarily concerned with trying to explain to how to deal with someone you know suffering from mental health issues and what not to say or do to them.
While I stand by most of what I said in that piece, I cannot ignore the fact that it puts the onus squarely on those not suffering from mental health issues to counteract the stigma, and mostly ignores the subjects of the stigma themselves. To be perfectly frank, I was going through a dark and hopeless period at the time, which can account for some of the passive aggressiveness or even bitterness that radiates from the writing of that piece. In the meantime, two years have passed and a lot has changed for me. In fact, a few months after I wrote that piece I started going to therapy and taking antidepressants. I went to therapy for about 6 months and have finished my treatment with antidepressants a week or so ago. So now, after two years of medical and half a year of therapeutic treatment I feel confident enough to address the people who are suffering from mental health issues themselves. My advice is neither copious nor original, but be assured that my explanation of it will be (or will try to be).
2. Mental Problems
Before I address the people who suffer from mental health issues, whether it be depression, anxiety or any other form of mental discomfort on a regular basis, I must first address the majority who does not, and for whom mental health problems are just occasional or rare occurrences. First of all, no mental health problem, however irregular or temporary, should ever be met with contempt or dismissal. People have hurt themselves and others as a result of being overwhelmed by a single surge of emotion. It happens on a regular basis. Domestic Abuse, suicide, lethal and non-lethal violence… all of them can be the result of unprecedented flares of emotion. All of us do well to remember how dangerous our impulses can be and we should all take a step back before acting on them. However, this does not mean that all impulses should repressed. Things such as sadness, melancholy, anger, frustration, despair etc. are a necessary part of the human experience, and letting these emotions take hold of you for a moment can be cathartic. An emotion may be unpleasant at the time, but sometimes it must be felt in order for the mind to reach new perspectives, and new ways to cope. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let the sadness, the despair etc. flow over you and remember the old Jewish axiom: “This too shall pass.” Feelings are mostly temporary, while actions can continue to haunt us forever.
3. Coming to Terms with Mental Conditions
However, when we find that our unhealthy feelings are not temporary and we find ourselves repeating the same unhealthy behaviours and thinking patterns, I do believe it is crucial to press pause and reflect on why and how we keep landing in the same place. You might need a while to find the appropriate coping mechanism. Altering the way we think about ourselves, the world and our place in it is by no means easy, but it can be done. It should also be remembered that while some of these things may not qualify as medical conditions, they can be damn hard to get rid of. Things like Masochistic Epistemology (Whatever hurts is true) and Impostor Syndrome (You are successful, therefore undeserving) can be seriously dangerous and damaging to one’s own health and one’s social interactions. In my own experience, the worst thing one can do with these kind of unhealthy mental patterns is ignore them, rationalize them or romanticize them. Rationalizing may at first help you to come to grips with how you’re feeling, but all too often it is just a way to cling to your unhealthy tendencies and not to seek help.
3.1. SMALL DIGRESSION: DO NOT ROMANTICIZE SUFFERING
Romanticizing is even more dangerous, as it leads naïeve or insecure people (like myself two years ago) to believe that feeling like shit gives you a certain edge creatively or intellectually. Nothing could be further from the truth. The myth of the tortured artist is as damaging, deluded and dangerous as any racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic stereotype, in some ways it is even worse, as it not only leads to people inflicting hurt unto other people, it often leads to physical and mental self-harm in the name of belonging to a certain subculture. For those who are still unsure about this let me try to summarize most of what art historians, psychologists and artists have said on the subject: great art is created in spite of self-loathing, depression and mental disorders not because of it. People like Anne Sexton, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and many others are examples of great creative minds overcoming their suffocating mental conditions to create art. For those venerating the idea of suffering from any mental condition, please do remember that these conditions also cut short the lives of the aforementioned artists, and that a lot of their work serves as an antidote and a fight against the stifling effects of their conditions. Also, and this should go without saying: a great many artists were and are capable of creating beautifully melancholic art without suffering from a serious mental condition that leads to suicide. This is because things like despair, melancholy, self-loathing, self-pity and even an attraction towards and fascination with death and self-destruction are universal parts of the human experience. I strongly believe that great artists who suffer or suffered from mental health conditions would still be or have been great artists had they not suffered from those conditions, and lived longer and happier lives.
3.2. If you suffer from a mental health condition
If you find it’s not possible for you better yourself and cut out unhealthy mental tendencies, if you suffer for prolonged periods from depression, anxiety or any other form of hurtful mental condition, PLEASE FIND PROFESSIONAL HELP.
The onus is indeed on society to facilitate accessible ways for people to be treated and supported by their health insurance in equal measure as is the case for the treatment of physical conditions (It has been shown that the privatization in the medical sector e.g. in the US leads to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people on a yearly basis). It is also the moral duty of every citizen who does not suffer from mental conditions to avoid and actively fight against the stereotyping and stigmatizing of people with mental health issues. However, it must be said, and some people might hate me for this, that people with mental health issues do have some responsibility for facilitating their own mental betterment.
When I was about fifteen, I started having intrusive thoughts about self-loathing and suicide. I did nothing for four years. My final years at secondary school and my first years at university ( crucial years in one’s intellectual, sexual and social development) were thus accompanied by intense periods of self-loathing and depression. During these periods, my closest friends and family members bore the brunt of my mental troubles. Family members often had to endure many mood swings and moments of inexplicable grumpiness without even knowing these were internally connected with feelings of self-loathing and suicide. My closest friends arguably suffered the most. On the one hand, I alienated them, isolating myself and believing myself to be an enemy to their happiness, comfort and contentment, on the other I clung to them with an exaggerated sense of attachment. In these instances I abused their care and empathy and constantly needed validation and sympathy to stave of feelings of self-loathing. During my first two years at university my behaviour grew increasingly toxic and I am ashamed to admit that my behaviour both tore apart and damaged old friendships and sabotaged new ones. Some of those friendships are irreparably damaged. People who excited and inspired me and with whom I probably could have had a longstanding friendship mostly or entirely broke off contact with me, because of my behaviour. Then finally, after years and years, when my mental health issues started seriously damaging my academic duties as well, I finally snapped out of it and sought help.
To those in doubt about their own issues, to those who noticed that their mental patterns have started to damage friendships, relationships, work, hobbies or other behaviours: GET YOURSELF SOME PROFESSIONAL HELP
Do not wait. Do not rationalize. Do not rely on your friends and loved ones to come to your rescue every time you find yourself in a seriously dark place. Don’t get me wrong, if you feel down, talk to a friend. However, they are not your therapist. They don’t owe you long conversations about your feelings and such. If they do decide to talk to you about those things in a compassionate, non-judgmental manner, be grateful, you have amazing friends, but don’t expect them to do it every time. They don’t owe you those conversations. Expecting them to be at the ready every time you are feeling depressed is selfish and reckless behaviour, reckless because your friends are people with their own lives and problems and simply won’t be there every time you need them, and when they are not the ensuing loneliness and resentment will not help to make you feel better in any way. Believe me, it will ruin friendships. It will ruin your ability to survive in this cold unfeeling world and will lead to you being emotionally dependent and constantly anxious about your friends’ feelings towards you. Don’t do like I did. Find help. Now.
Also, suicide is a serious thing. If thoughts about it become a daily feature of your internal monologue you should find professional help. Once the thoughts lead to the first attempt, you should definitely find help, because beyond that point, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave the death spiral you have entered. Find your help by getting in touch with psychologists and therapists through your GP, your workplace, your school or through other health institutes. The suicide hotline should be your first call, if you find yourself seriously thinking about or attempting suicide. I would strongly advise against contacting friends or family to talk you out of it. Once again relying on people who love you, but have their own lives and problems ‘to save’ you is an incredibly reckless thing to do. You should not feel bad for doing so as long as you accept the consequences. ‘A cry for help’ should be just that. Following the call, you should (or allow your loved ones to, if they insist) take it as a definitive opportunity to find help. DO NOT expect them to keep caring if you continue to do so (whether as a serious cry for help, or a cry for attention, validation or sympathy), but do not attempt to find help. People are just people. Their patience and even their compassion will run out eventually (more on that in the epilogue).
4. Conclusion: Finding Help is just Step One
Finding help can be a tricky and tiring process. Thoughts are not merely strings of words and images floating in the glass bowl that is your mind. Consciousness is one of the most mysterious things in the known world. For thousands of years, philosophers, magicians, priests, therapists, scientists and artists have tried to unravel its secrets and we’re still just scratching the surface of what it is to be conscious.
However, that does not mean we know nothing about it. We know a few things about the biological and chemical processes underpinning the human brain. We know a few things about the social and psychological phenomena inherent both to the mind in general and to the mind of the modern man and woman, how it’s influenced etc.
So, when confronted with problematic thoughts or ways of thinking, it can take a long time before a solution or an efficient coping mechanism is found. Think of it this way, the mind is an ecosystem, having dozens of factors inside and outside itself interacting with each other. If we find out that our ecosystem is being poisoned somehow, we must look at a number of different things, and decipher a complex play of geography, biology, chemistry, climatology and other stuff to discover what’s the cause of our poisoning. In the mind, it could be a number of things: chemical processes, social conditioning, upbringing and experience with trauma, genetics etc. So trying to find a solution might include some trial and errors. Therapy and antidepressants seem like two coherent ways of going about it but they are anything but. There are many ways of interacting with a therapist, there are many possible types and doses of antidepressants. In some cases, therapy is simply needed to find the cause of one’s distress. In other cases it is a pivotal part of the treatment. There are also many different aspects to the word ‘treatment’ in the case of mental conditions. Sometimes one toxic element can be found and resolved at which point a patient could be called ‘cured’. In other cases more permanent processes need to be regulated over a period of time in order for the patient to overcome or be able to live with their condition. It can take weeks, months, years or a lifetime. Everyone is different.
In all cases, we do well to have the aforementioned Jewish saying in the back of our mind, “This too shall pass.” People are processes. As their body changes, so does their mind. Sometimes change comes naturally. Sometimes not. Sometimes, we are cured, sometimes we are fighting in a perpetual struggle to keep above water. However, the important thing is to keep fighting. Human life during the twenty-first century might often feel long or tiresome or hopeless or pointless or all of the above, but there are many things in this world that are to be enjoyed and cherished. Nature doesn’t make it easy for us, and neither do we, but we do have some control over how we respond to it all. If you are feeling like your mind or the world is making it difficult for you, try to find a way around it. Everyone has to find something (a hobby, a partner, a religion, a philosophy, an art etc.) to make this bitch of a life liveable.
And if you feel like you cannot make your life liveable yourself, go and find some professional help. There is no shame in it. Let them take a look at what you’re going through (you’d be amazed at what a change in perspective could do). They might not ‘cure’ you from day one, but they might nudge you in the right direction. The important thing is to find what works for you, and if you don’t find it, keep looking. Every experience could be nudging you towards the thing you need. Also, don’t despair if something that worked before stops working. We are changing beings living in a changing world. Adapting is the way to survive. So if you’re interested in survival, keep on pushing forward, and ultimately you’ll find out what it is you need to make this life liveable and indeed worth living.
5. Epilogue: Beyond the Point of No Return
IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE HELPED, LEAVE PEOPLE THE FUCK ALONE
Nothing is as toxic as self-pity. As I have said before and will say time and time again I am deeply ashamed that it took so long for me to find help. It is one of my greatest regrets and forever will be. If you are suffering from self-loathing, depression or other seriously damaging conditions, you have my sincerest sympathies. However, do not ever abuse people’s compassion and care for you if sympathy, compassion or attention is all you are after. Sure, talk to them about it, if you are genuine about understanding, finding a solution, finding ways to cope etc.
It is normal to feel hesitant, anxious or even afraid to make the step or leap to finding help, but fear can be overcome, something to which I hope this text my contribute. So, even if you’re hesitant, distrustful, anxious or whatever, if your condition stops you from being able to function, if it sabotages your work, your friendships, your social life, your sexual life or something else on a regular basis, find help, please. You will not regret it. Your loved ones will be grateful and relieved.
It is one thing to be hesitant about finding help, to be distrustful, or to feel it might not work. However, it is an entirely different thing to forego looking for serious help entirely and content with looking solely to those closest to you to ‘save’ you every time you need saving. I myself cannot say I got this far (though, I got close), but I do know people who seem to have reached this low point, this emotional cul-de-sac. Their emotional wellbeing seems to be entirely dependent on their friends’ validation, compassion, sympathy and consolation. Needless to say, their emotional condition is extremely unstable due to this. They are constantly angry and outraged about being ignored, neglected and hard done by. Self-pity seems to have become the basis of their entire self-perception. These people have reached a point where, to my mind, they are beyond sympathy, a point where their mental condition has been fully embraced with narcissism and solipsism as and endpoint. To people who have reached this point, people who by definition have lost the ability for introspection, I can merely say this:
I am sorry for where you are mentally and emotionally. But cannot condone your attitude. I merely ask to leave your loved ones alone. You are hurting them. You are emotionally abusing and blackmailing them. If you truly are convinced that you are beyond saving and that no amount of therapy or medical treatment could ever possibly save you, why would you condemn others to the same fate? You do not have the right to demand that people around you sacrifice their own mental health so you can enjoy the occasional moment of warmth. Please, leave people alone, they deserve better than being treated as blood bags.
And to all the other people I can only say this: once you notice that someone has past that point of no return, that point of revelling in self-pity, move away from them. It might be a heartless thing to say if the person in question is close to you, but people who do not want to be saved are not worth saving. It is your moral duty to care about and for the people around you. If someone is genuinely drowning you go get them. It is not ,however, your duty to get someone who allows themselves to almost drown on a regularly basis merely because they like the sensation of being pulled out of the water.