My “Why” is for my son, Kevin – and for my family and friends’ loved ones who currently suffer and those who will suffer in the future. Please read his words.
“My name is Kevin MacDonald. I’m 24 years old, and since I was 14, I have suffered from a major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. It took me three-and-a-half years to seek therapy and medication. It’s taken me seven years to finally figure out best practices to mitigate the symptoms of my illness.
My illness - these illnesses - have made me particularly susceptible to substance abuse, and for years I struggled with drug addiction. Throughout those years, my suffering prevented me from succeeding in school, finding satisfying, fulfilling work, and ‘putting myself out there’ to find and receive love (it can be hard, if not impossible, to believe someone is capable of loving you, especially when you’re not capable of loving yourself). All these conditions have almost forced me to kill myself twice - and I say forced because it’s an involuntary, irrational response to an already inscrutable, inexplicable, intangible issue. My physical health continued to deteriorate and between the internal critiques and the external critiques from frustrated loved ones who couldn’t understand why I do (or don’t do) what I do, helplessness became the default setting.
You wake up, wondering what kind of shit the world will drag you through that day, and you hope and pray that you won’t fall victim to your own mind, the one thing that is supposed to be your greatest ally and strength. Every day becomes a trial instead of an opportunity. Time is filled and broken down into micro-instances where the sufferer has to denote incredible amounts of energy and focus, where their conscious state is dominated by an omnipresent lethargy, to performing simple things most healthy people can perform without batting an eye, ie, making breakfast; showering; brushing teeth; changing and wearing clean clothes; washing dishes; etc. The lack of hygiene almost becomes, in a twisted way, the only way to show people who can’t understand what’s going on within you how you feel - ‘if you won’t believe me, maybe the sight of me will be proof.’
And the thing is, you spend all day, every day, beating yourself up over everything you could be doing but aren’t, and you know why you can’t do what you should, but everyone who once supported or believed in you suddenly starts blaming you for causing or capitalizing on the very illness that’s the source of your malaise, and then the internal voice and external voice combine to create this deafening cacaphony of shame and self-hatred, a chorus communicating a message that says, “Yes, you’re right, maybe the world and all your loved ones would be better off without you... After all, the only thing you’ve ever done is disappoint people who once loved and believed in you. Maybe everyone would be better off without you.” And once you get to that point, days become less about capitalizing on existence and more so about fighting off the impulse to say a final, silent, lonely, misunderstood goodbye.
That was me before I acknowledged that I was seriously ill and that it wasn’t my fault. Seeking therapy, medication and support - and helping loved ones understand my illness all help me grapple with the fact that, yes, I’m seriously ill and that it isn’t my fault. And every day is a struggle, but living a healthy, productive life and suffering from mental illness are not mutually exclusive, I’ve learned. I’ve been sober for around three months, and every day I stay sober is a victory — there are more victories than losses now. I’ve learned that prioritizing exercise, prioritizing eight hours of sleep and falling asleep/waking up at the same time, prioritizing stimulation through reading or writing, and prioritizing nutrition are probably the best things I can do to feel good about myself and to ensure that I can properly handle and mitigate the impact of my illness. Instead of comparing myself to some idealized image of what I can and should be doing, I focus on appreciating and maximizing what I am.
So, when you want someone to live a healthy and productive life, encourage them to do the things they need to mitigate their symptoms: Seek help and get support; talk with loved ones; help them believe they have strength of mind even when their your own mind tries to convince them they don’t, and when they get disappointed and feel weak, permit themselves to feel that way.
Embrace their struggles, imperfections, invisible battles, and realize that, no matter what anyone says, their very survival is a symbol of their strength, not their weakness. They are a warrior. And, most importantly, they are deserving. And need your support!
Support those who are suffering. Maybe you’ll give them a reason to believe something about themselves that they can’t. And, most importantly, try to be as understanding as possible.
As the sufferer, try and help your loved ones understand what can be expected of you. As a loved one, try and understand how you can help. There isn’t a formula for support. That’s why we have to be open to discussing these things. And these discussions are how we remove the stigma and find a common understanding.
None of us are alone in this struggle, and every conversation and instance of support helps. Every day you survive changes the world; every day you help someone else survive changes the world. Embrace your strength, embrace your suffering, and embrace your humanity. Let’s change the world together.”