We lost a brave soul yesterday. Someone brave enough to state her convictions, loudly and repeatedly to anyone who would listen, despite the risk that she would alienate almost everyone she knew. Someone brave enough to suffer pain and abuse most of us cannot even fathom without ever disparaging the human race that dealt it to her. Someone brave enough to endure the shock of a failed suicide and turn right around and push the various bureaucracies around her to let her resume her studies immediately — brazenly rejecting their requests that she take time off to recover — just to minimize the financial burden taking a break would impose on her family.
We love a brave, beautiful soul yesterday, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Mental illness is a funny thing. If you were trying to design the most cunning, vexing, insidious way to destroy someone, I think you would come up with something pretty similar to that which we call “mental illness.” In so many different ways, from so many different perspectives, it is puzzling and merciless and endlessly frustrating.
For the sufferer it is so real, but for everyone on the outside it’s fully invisible. Perhaps someday we will have techniques that enable us to observe and quantify it, but for now, we can only rely on self-reporting — meaning that we only see it through the haze of human language, a vessel wholly unfit to carry semantic content of such importance and nuance.
For the clinician, it’s something of a ghost — generally, nothing you throw at it seems to do more than just slow it down.
For the community, it is a thief in the night robbing us of many of our best and brightest — and, even worse, of many of our most conscientious and kindhearted.
Most unfair of all, for a world we like to think is just, it serves as a sort of built-in insult to injury, often preying on those very people who have just recently been subjected to great losses and calamities.
For me, today, mental illness has made it impossible to deny that I am viewing the world with a huge blind spot. I had a multitude of opportunities to pick up on this friend’s distress and try to do something about it, but I essentially did nothing. I doubt it would’ve helped, but having tried and failed would have been infinitely better than having to live with the knowledge that I did nothing. When confronted with the ugliness of mental illness (even when it’s emanating from inside a beautiful young woman), it’s all too easy to look away. To find something, anything else, to think about and turn one’s efforts towards. It’s not a fun problem to try to solve — how many times can you try to tackle a ghost before you start to suspect that your repeated failures to catch hold of anything are proof that you, yourself, are a ghost as well? No, it’s far from fun, and at times it’s downright terrifying; but it’s a task we must embrace. We must meet the bravery of those who suffer with equal bravery of our own.
“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
– Newton’s Third Law
Yesterday, we suffered a great loss. The world lost someone who could have — who absolutely should have — brought great joy and beauty into being for decades to come. The only way I can make sense of it is to pray that Newton was right. I hope beyond hope that with her leaving, something new and equally good as her came into being. I hope that she — with her fearless writings on mental illness, carefully recorded over the years — has left us a blueprint for tackling (or at least understanding) the ghost that we now, after seeing the devastation it is capable of reaping, should finally be ready to address. I hope that the ripples she left in her wake, as choppy and jarring as they are now, somehow bring those of us still floating on the ocean of life a little closer together.
Put another way: In a closed system (e.g., a universe), energy can neither be created nor destroyed — it can only move around. I know her energy was so great that even now that it is being dispersed across the universe, its glow will still be visible for some time to come.