Ah, trusty Wikipedia. When you’re sitting in a comfy study room, in a world-famous (and unworldly expensive too) specialist university, trying desperately to write/research/be a useful intellectual member of academia, a world that I bought into to begin with, and you feel that familiar sense of malaise. What is the typical 21st century response? Google an answer. If you can label the unease, then surely you can quantify it, control it, obliterate it with words, thoughts, remedies, pharmaceuticals, if need be.
What is mental health? Wikipedia asserts it’s “either a level of cognitive or emotional well-being or an absence of a mental disorder,” amongst other things. I know, and have known for some time now, that this feeling of “unease” – let’s just call it that, comes upon me like an unwanted yet unsurprising wave a couple of times a year. I don’t know when exactly my mala fide friend first came to visit – I was subject to fits of restlessness and inexplicable disagreeableness as a child (growing pains?), I did my fair share of teenage rebellion, but nothing that stands out as particularly memorable. It’s within the realms of normalcy that, as a kid, you one day decide to act out and roll about, or lock yourself in the bathroom and try and have an hour-long crying marathon. That’s the joy of being a kid, you know that you can easily put obnoxious behaviour down to immaturity.
As a teenager, you’re supposed to discover the joys of finding holes in your parents’ once watertight logic. You find your own values, beliefs, principles, and you challenge authority, because you can, and you should. Everyone knows teenagers are supposed to be moody in the process.
Post-age of consent, you transition. Identity starts solidifying – still malleable, but structurally you know what sort of animal you are. If you go to university, you’re almost invariably going to have some form of crisis, as you have to decide the sort of person you are based on some pliable trade. All within the realms of normal.
So far, it’s normal to have episodes – if you’re a kid, teenager, young adult. It’s normal to have a crisis once in a while, question your identity, challenge assumptions. So what is normal once you’re done with your crisis points, when you know who you are, when you understand and accept the world around you, when major traumas are dealt with, what happens when you’re sitting here, calmly drinking tea, responsive and contributive to society, trying to basically get on with the day, and the unease creeps in, a niggling feeling in your mind that you just can’t cast off?
I’m not depressed – I have known people who have gone through periods of “proper” (i.e. diagnosable) depression and I don’t resemble anything like that. I am a functioning, social human being. I’m in a steady relationship that thrills me, am engaged in academic interests that by large stimulate me, I watch what I eat – greens, no preservative nasties, hell, I even watch how much coffee I drink. I don’t smoke, take drugs, sleep a minimum of 7 hours a night, I exercise, have friends, eat vitamins. I’m doing everything by the book. And yet, I’m still vulnerable to a surprise attack my Unease.
I’ve narrowed down the list of suspects: hormones, prescriptions, the weather, psychoanalysing my childhood, evaluating my sense of self-fulfillment, ambitions, religion, social consciousness, self-esteem etc. I’ve looked at the paradigms of happiness. Honestly, there is no clear reason why I should feel this way with such periodic regularity. It’s not even serious or prolonged enough to go seek therapy about it. It simply comes and goes. Without warning, without reason.
That, to me, is what is most disturbing. Caused by no obvious trauma, and seemingly cured by nothing more than time, sheer will and maybe the help of a few B vitamins and herbal teas, everytime I self-remedy myself into reaching equilibrium, I feel both triumphant that I’ve finally beaten it and hopeful that it won’t come back.
So what the hell is this? Do other people have a voice in their head that occasionally tells them, at periods when things are going fine, that all good things will ultimately come to an end? Sometimes its not even worth talking to others about, if you have nothing “bad” to report, feeling “bad” is just self-indulgent.
Just give me a sugar pill and tell me it’ll make it go away.
On a related note: The Guardian had an article on whether the 1-in-4 statistic of people suffering from some form of a mental health problem in the UK is really true.