Perseverance (An Essay)

 

 

I persevere.

I may feel crushed, yet I keep trying. I always keep trying.

There is no formula for life. We all know this. I might be looking for a formula, so things could be more streamlined, but that isn’t the way that it is. How does someone like myself, sensitive and suffering from mental illness, do something worthwhile in the world? Someone who experiences sadness when he feels like he isn’t good enough, someone who tries to fit in and be kind to others, yet struggles every day.

I keep going.

Maybe, perhaps, perseverance is one of my favorite words in the English language. Maybe all I can think about, is how I have to keep going, keep trying, keep trying things, never stopping. Life is a constant experiment. That seems to be all that I can do, is keep trying things. Even when it feels like it is me against the odds. I keep persisting.

I’ve actually thought a lot about this. What happens when you are right on the end of your rope? What happens when you have been pushed to the limit? Just because you are doing something of note, doesn’t mean you will ever get to experience the joys of that in your lifetime. Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Van Gogh: they all thought that their art was useless, and they never had a chance to see their impact. Of course the art wasn’t useless, but they lived in a harsh, harsh world, a place that was unwilling to see their perspective and validate their efforts.

I try to remind myself that it is worth doing, it is worth writing, it is worth thinking, it is worth creating, making music, making YouTube videos: it is all worth it. Certainly, if I could do what Isaac Asimov did, and write five hundred books, I certainly would. I certainly try to, anyway, wouldn’t it be great if we could write so much, and express so much?

So much of my life is centered around words, and the power of words. Language. Language itself. The things that we can express, the things that I do express, even with the indifference of other people: I know that the words I say are meaningful, even if I feel as though they aren’t.

It isn’t an easy thing. What is it that we are striving for anyway? I think about this question all the time, what am I trying to accomplish?

Well, that is a good question. I want to continually write things that are meaningful. I want to write things that fulfill me, and that makes me happy. I want to continue working hard on my books, and sharing them with the world.

I think about J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, both writers who were at the end of their rope, and then succeeded in the most unprecedented and unexpected way. J.K. Rowling had supposedly thrown away her manuscript in the trash, and an editor read it, and wanted to publish it. How does that even happen? And Stephen King never expected the generous advance that he got, the advance that forever changed his life.

And am I someone who feels as though I have to be rewarded with the highest praise and esteem? Do I have to write the Harry Potter series, to feel as though I contributed something to the world? I don’t think so. I have to try not to measure my success by society’s metrics, and I continually do the work, putting in the time, and I do my best. I don’t know what to expect with my art, I don’t know where it is going to lead me, but I do find art to be very valuable, and that is what I hold onto.

Sometimes I don’t even know why I keep writing, except because I know it is what I want to do. I persevere. It isn’t easy, and often times, I doubt myself, I in fact doubt myself quite a bit. I question whether what I’m doing is meaningful or not, and I get crushed. I do get crushed. I get crushed all the time. Living with mental illness has made my life so incredibly difficult, when life is already difficult as it is. The way that no one has understood what I am going through, and I feel as though I am unheard, and everything that I say is isolated to me. It is a strange thing to think about how pain is subjective, so no one can know what you are experiencing, if they are not you. Because no one is you. This is strange to me, but accounts for the way in which people don’t connect with others on these things.

I persevere because I believe that I have something to say. There is so much that I want to be able to communicate, so many discoveries that I have made that I want to share, yet perhaps I am not so pure as I would like to think that I am, I am motivated just as much by irrational processes, as anyone else. In other words, I am not pure.

But I realize that I don’t have to be pure. The thing that we must keep doing, is keep trying. Perseverance goes a long way. Or so I tell myself. Yet, I do believe perseverance is one of the best things that we have. Not giving up on our vision, even though everyone else urges us to. Fighting tooth and nail to be able to keep track of our own contributions, and not feeling so discouraged by the things that are out of our control. I doubt myself all the time, I doubt if the things that I do in life are even worth it. I wonder if I will even write anything meaningful or worthwhile, and so, I just keep trying. What else can you do?

Of course, life is a complicated thing, and we don’t always know what to expect, we don’t always know what is going to happen.

The main thing is, I don’t want to quit on myself. I never want to quit. A lot of things are out of my control, and life can be horrible at times, but the thing that has kept me grounded is my art. It gives my life meaning. And I will hold onto that, because I need to, because this is what is important to me. Sometimes I feel as though we never even know what meaning is, until it is staring us in the face, and even though I am talking a lot about the future, I am very much grateful for the past. I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to do the things that I have in life, such as writing my books, and even publishing some. I’m not going to give up on life, I’m not going to give up on these things that give my life so much meaning. Maybe other people won’t understand it, and they will crush me, but I will do my best to continue to persevere. I’m not the type to give up, and I think that there is a lot of good in doing the work, and letting that speak for itself.

I often think very much about how life is so ugly. We are lucky to have the things that we do, yet life is still so hard. We don’t always know what we are experiencing, we don’t always know why. And I have been one of those people, who have been perplexed at the way that everything is. I have gotten hurt a lot. I have struggled and suffered a lot, just to be able to survive. I was told that perhaps the way of existing in this way, with struggle, is that the struggle will make you a better person, even if you don’t always think you will make it through. I suppose there is some truth to this.

Life is a difficult thing, and most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing. I kind of make things up as I go, and shoot from the hip, while also trying to rely on the framework of knowledge that I have built up over the years, to try to understand the world. Nothing is ever what it seems. I may be afraid about what the future holds, I may be sad about things out of my control, but I will focus every day on taking one step, one further step, to progress, and even if that is all that I can say I’ve done for that day, that is completely fine with me, because: small steps to big change.

We do what we can. We contribute what we can. I want to be nicer to myself, and not expect myself to have all the answers.

So hold onto the things that matter the most. Don’t give up on what you believe in. There will be times where you will, but just remember, you are beautiful and have great things to offer. Don’t feel so sad, everything will be okay. Just keep trying. And then, you will understand.

Mental Illness As a Social Construction (An Essay)

While I am influenced by Foucault and social constructionists, I would not argue hardline about most things, if not all things, being socially constructed. I think this is because the truth is somewhere in the middle, and so one explanation covers many things, but not everything.

 

However, when I think of social construction in relation to mental illness, I think of many things worth discussing, and at least some things worth considering.

 

I think mental illness is constructed socially in three ways: Stigma, society’s perception of what mental illness is, and the clinical definition of mental illness itself.

 

I’ll start with stigma. It seems to me that what society likes or doesn’t like, comes from specific tastes and attitudes of the time and culture. Context is important here as well. If something is feared or despised, this still says nothing about what is actually good or bad, it just reflects certain prejudices. Mental illness could actually be an indifferent thing, but no one would ever acknowledge this. I think social conceptions of anything are often this arbitrary, vague, and biased, and while we like to assume we are objective, humans are often irrational, and don’t always know what is actually good or bad.

 

In the unfortunate case of stigma, deciding that something is inherently bad, is just as arbitrary. Why is something, such as mental illness, so inherently bad? This is an inaccurate view of something with many different layers to complicate it.

 

Stigma is also similar to society’s perception of mental illness. In this case, the fact that society thinks they know what mental illness is, is very confusing, when most people don’t have it and thus, can’t actually know. Society assumes that mental illness is a malady and flaw of behavior and brain, but that does nothing to inform a perception of what mental illness is in real time. This is tied closely with stigma, in that people assume what something is without actually knowing what it is.

 

The perception can induce stigma, it can also create misinformation. I believe that society socially constructs what they think mental illness is. But this doesn’t mean the perception is correct, but because it is a social construction, true and accurate perceptions are unimportant.

 

And lastly, I think of the clinical definitions of mental illness. I believe this to be socially constructed as well.

 

I don’t often think we can explain the mind fully in psychiatric and/or scientific terms. Yet we try. This in and of itself is not bad. The problem, though, stems from when we assume that the definition of mental illness is fixed. In this case, I think specifically of pathology. Often, pathology is a problem to the doctor. But because this notion is bound up with our social constructions, we conflate pathology with the person. We assume because mental illness is bad, the person is bad, and this reinforces stigma and society’s inaccurate perceptions of what it is.

 

I don’t believe psychiatry to be the sole authority on what mental illness is, yet psychiatry dominates the discussion.

 

Of course none of this means that I dismiss biological considerations and actual facts. It seems that mental illness itself is biological, just as much as it is psychological. Social construction doesn’t mean every aspect is arbitrary. But I do think that mental illness is perceived a certain way by the public. The problem with narrow definitions and prescriptions (literally), is that they become rigid and unimaginative. Social construction doesn’t imply freedom, in this case, it is exactly the opposite. People impose their definitions on what it is, and because of stigma, coercion, and law, certain notions of mental illness are solidified, even if they shouldn’t be. They close off the possibilities. They become authoritarian and so rigid that there is no other competing notions in the debates and discourse about mental illness.

 

Mental illness itself is a very personal phenomenon, so the rigid social constructions make no sense. Psychology and biology are as self-enclosed as you get, yet the social definitions of mental illness control the narrative much more than personal accounts or anecdotes.

 

The problem with a scientific view of mental illness is the fixed ontology, which becomes itself a social construction, even though science itself is about the physical and objective world. How this works is complicated and confusing, and rarely questioned. But the definitions have taken root, and they are as sacrosanct as misinformed opinions of society about a personal and enigmatic phenomenon.

 

So I argue that social construction is about coercion and control. If you believe something is inherently bad, of course you will stigmatize it and treat it as a pathology to get rid of. But the brain is not just an object to be medicated, and this goes for human beings as well. Humans are not just objects and receptacles for certain behaviors. Dare I say mental illness is just as much a problem of the soul? It seems to me there are also historical, environmental, and other complex facets that help to explain mental illness, but that are barely part of the discourse, if at all. It seems to me that all of these notions are reinforced by social biases, and they thus control the actual quality of life for those suffering from, as I’ve said, a personal affliction.

 

I perceive the notions of deviancy in a lot of how I look at mental illness. This means that people don’t like what is different. But what is different is, again, not necessarily bad, yet the process of evolution has seemingly selected us to favor conformity and uniformity over chaos, differences, and even personality. This is a major problem. One of the criticisms often leveled against Marxist ideology is the totalizing, totalitarian metanarrative often employed, the idea that there is only one explanation for a given phenomenon. But such a determinism can never be the whole story, yet modern medicine so arrogantly assumes that they have the answers to what mental illness is. This is dangerous thinking.

 

Personally, these stereotypes, stigmas, rules, judgements, and authoritarian control over human behavior and mind, are very much destructive and devastating to me. I literally cannot talk about my own struggles without immediately challenging one of these dominant features of our social constructions, and because the constructions are social, groups, agencies, and institutions, not just individuals, can wield control and coercion over me in ways that prevent me from getting at the truth, and living with my mental illness in a positive, productive, and healthy way. The arrogance of our social prescriptions and anti-normative tendencies have made my life very, very difficult, but there is only so much I can do about it, given that I’m an individual privately suffering and because of social constraints, unable to talk about a confusing yet pervasive phenomenon.

 

My narrative is not a social narrative, and this is important. Yet it remains at odds with the world and is inherently social. Such facts of life increase my suffering, rather than mediating or even recognizing it, and the authoritarian hostility leveled against those with a different perspective is destructive, and it ruins lives. I bring up these points to embolden discussion and level the playing field. There is, in my opinion, a teleology to mental illness, rather than merely a pathology and disease  called mental illness, and this point of view keeps me going. It helps me imagine future alternatives and scenarios. Something being considered bad just because of a totalitarian taste and forced social prescription, is demeaning, cruel, and unkind, and it literally destroys lives. It prevents the truth from being discovered. The assault on truth, in my estimation, is the biggest offense of them all.