Sonder

With regard to mental illness, bad things stem from silence. Words by Anonymous.

When I used to think of killing myself, I would watch YouTube videos of the people suicide left behind. I watched the motions of fathers and sisters and best friends. They explained how they couldn’t even bring themselves to walk in the aftermath of their loved one’s death, how they felt guilty for being blind to the dark, hollow, weighted mass that occupied that person’s mind, and how they blamed themselves for their light being put out. Usually, this would bring me back to focus. I would feel conscious again. These thoughts would stop and they would be replaced with heavy, active thoughts of nothing. On countless occasions, one of my major mental barriers was what I call the “what if I did it today” thought. The thought that if I did it today, it would be near his big event, it would be on her birthday, it would be just after our fight. The thought of my stain leaving behind a frustrating legacy of guilt with those I love was unbearable – so much worse than the thought of going on numb, not understanding my mind or how I felt.

I listened to a podcast before presented by a man who suffers from clinical depression. In it, he attempts to shed light on a subject that is so dark. In one particular episode, his guest said something that stuck with me. She said, “I never realised that it wasn’t normal to think of killing yourself.” A moment of clarity hit. I suddenly realised I thought the same.

To put it metaphorically, I imagined our minds as long rooms. Every room had many doors. Each door represented an option, a reaction, a way of coping.

To me, suicide was just another door – less frequently used, of course – but still another door. I don’t know why, but I never knew it was abnormal to think about not being here, to wonder about the ease of just not being present, to crave the peace in feeling nothing.

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Sometimes I think that people look at those who suffer from mental illnesses like toys. When the toy works, it radiates joy. You can’t get enough of it. You are a small child and you want to bring it everywhere you go. But eventually, toys break. People sincerely do try to fix the toy, they genuinely want it to work again so they can play with it like they used to, but it won’t. In reality, there is only so much time you are going to spend fixing something that just won’t fix. Eventually, you grow tired of its lack of adventure, become bored at its limp attempts at play and, whether it be a conscious or subconscious action, you move on. This is fair: no one wants to play with a broken toy. But what I feel like people forget is that nobody wants to BE a broken toy either. Feeling like a burden when you used to feel like a present is the worst thing in the whole wide world. You know they don’t know how to fix you, but you don’t know how to fix you either. You don’t even know if you deserve to be fixed, or if it will ever be done. Just like a broken toy, you observe. You observe everyone smiling and having fun.

You observe people feeling happy, feeling sad, learning and growing, but you are just observing. Life becomes a real-time movie. You are only able to watch it play.

My best friend once said that he admired how empathetic I can be. I do not see myself as empathetic. I see myself as scared. Scared that when one of my friends feels hurt or down they feel how I feel when I am depressed. I know that they didn’t know when I felt at my worst, so I live in constant fear that I won’t know if they feel that either, no matter how much I try. Sometimes I can almost feel my concern being mistaken for nagging, my questions being translated into annoyance, my presence being misinterpreted for pestering. This tension feels so real to me that I almost feel like I can touch it. I have the best friends in the world and would give absolutely anything in my life up, put myself in any sort of danger or risk anything to ensure they never ever feel like that. This does not mean I am selfless; this just means I am scared – scared of being one of the ones left behind.

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I don’t know what I thought therapy would be like at the start, but I didn’t imagine it would be like what it was. I think I thought I would sit down with this being who just knew everything about me and knew perfectly what I was feeling and how to fix me. I never imagined I would have to explain any of it. I think, looking back on my whole life, therapy was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. To admit how I was feeling and to be honest made me feel violently vulnerable. But gradually, it got easier. Saying things aloud to someone who didn’t know me gave me perspective. It made me realise that there is nothing to gain from wanting to be gone. No games can be won by not trying.

No battle can be won from not fighting.

People say the first step to feeling better is getting help. For me, this wasn’t true. I started to feel better when I began to accept that I am not normal. That for whatever reason, I do not react to certain situations or cope with certain things the way my friends do. When I stopped making excuses for feeling the way I was feeling, ceased trying to keep up with everyone else but live at my own pace and promised myself I was finished feeling guilty and hating myself for feeling nervous and lost, I felt liberated. I began to identify the people and small things in my life that made me happy, and decided to see and do them more. I began to meditate and write. I am a relatively cynical person, but this realisation and these practices didn’t just change my life, they made me live.

When I was little, I loved to act. I was not a good enough actor to make it big, but I realise now I was a good enough actor to play a happy character to those around me and sometimes, even to myself. This is why mental illness is so dangerous: it is too easy to hide and in so many ways, too easy to hide from. When I am unwell, I am aware that I appear as a happy person, easy-going and funny. Unlike a physical illness, mental illness has a self-destructive mind of its own. You would never feel like you were cheating, being a burden or being dramatic for accepting help for a broken arm or a sore throat, so why feel that way if you are suffering mentally?

With regard to mental illness, bad things only stem from silence.

I would be lying if I said I do not have bad days anymore. But the difference now is that I know they are just bad days. I know I can get through them. There is so much more to life than silence, and so much more to gain from living and not just observing. The word “sonder” is the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. To me, it means you create your own story, that life is your own movie. You are in charge of who plays a part in it and who does not, you choose what path your character takes and what kind of character you play. You write the script, you play the lead. So, if life is a movie and you only get to star in one, why not make it the best movie the world has ever seen, a movie perfectly tailored to you? Make choices, don’t just be. Treat yourself like you treat others, make your life a good movie. Play the game, fight the fight.