There’s an unfortunate habit of journalists to treat stories of mental illness as triumphs of will.
She fought an eating disorder and won! Now she’s happy with her body and wears whatever she wants!
He battled depression, and now he is this Super Famous Person I Don’t Recognize!
I don’t want to knock this idea on the personal level. I’m quite sure that for some, the metaphor is useful. Maybe even the most helpful way of envisioning recovery. That’s spectacular. I’ll promote any method of recovery. Imagining tapdancing bananas? Go for it.
My concern is for how the media elects to find one narrative–a story that automatically excludes perhaps even a majority of those with mental illness, and what that means for our understanding. “Fighting” doesn’t mean miraculously getting well for everyone, sometimes fighting means just staying here.
There’s exactly three dresses on hangers in my closet. Not because I own three dresses–I almost never wear pants–but because everything else is crumpled on the floor, the bed, the desk. I’ve tried on eight outfits. Maybe ten. And right now? I’m curled up in the corner in the same shorts and shirt I started in.
I’m going to put on nice clothes and go out at some point, because it’s one of my best friend’s birthdays, and you don’t get to do otherwise. Because I want to, and because isolation when clothes make me anxious seems like failing.
But first I have to breathe. The world has to stop closing in. The music is too loud and I can feel every inch of my skin. It’s not the romance novel kind, right before the heroine lands on 6,000 count Egyptian cotton sheets–it’s raw nerves and sandpaper air. It’s been weeks since this happened, and and and…
The thing about clothes is that you have to wear them. You cannot show up to an interview, to class, to any function, without clothes. So I’ll find something to wear. Eventually.
Don’t you dare tell us to fight back.
We fight to be the awkward guy with at the edge of the conversation, to show up to parties and turn in homework. We fight embarrassment when we can’t drink punch at your party, when your ‘OCD’ means you cleaned your room, and ours means obsessions and compulsions. We fight to meet deadlines and call hotlines when things get bad.
Some of us fight just to be here.