Mental Illness is a Liar; And So am I

Tell your story….

For those of you who don’t write on Medium (and, if you don’t, you should, because I’m telling you to and I’m kind of a white guy so I know things about stuff) that’s how the creative template looks when you open a new draft. Medium implores you to

Tell your story….

Facebook asks you

What’s on your mind, Gabriel?

As if it didn’t already know. Get out of my head, Zuckerberg. Get out of my dreams, get into my car. Get. OUT.

I work for a mental health online publication where I encourage people to tell their story. Their story of mental health recovery. Of addiction. Of trauma, pain, grief, loss, struggle, anxiety, depression, schizoaffectivebipolardisorderdissociativepersonalityschizoidsocialmediaagoraphobiaocdptsdsyndrome.

Tell your story, I say. It’ll be therapeutic, as if I know what that word even means. As if I know what any of these words mean, these words that I’m typing here on Medium. These words that have gotten me nearly thrown out of college, these words that have gotten me into trouble with people, friends, lovers, loved ones.

Word salad, hold the Bacos. They’re nasty.

When I talk to people about mental illness, I’m fond of saying (I probably stole it from someone, because I am a thief and a liar and a plagiarizer) that the biggest lie mental illness tells you is that you’re alone. It whispers insidious lies into your ear as its tongue flicks at your ear hair (I have ear hair, maybe you don’t) and says, “There is nobody as sick or as wrong or as bad as you; you should die, you’re revolting and unlovable — if people only knew.”

Etcetera. Etcetera. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Sorry, I meant, “Defeat.”

But maybe that isn’t the biggest lie that mental illness is able to accomplish. Maybe the most grand whopper is that it plays mix-and-match with the memories, beliefs, incidents, philosophies, constructs and algorithms inside your mind so that you get to the point where you turn around and you have no idea if you’re looking ahead or in the rearview mirror — if what you say and believe about yourself and your (hi)story is actually true. It lies and so, almost by necessity, it turns you into a liar.

I will be giving a speech this weekend at a music/mental health event. I’m terrified. Next week, a talk at a college about mental illness and I’m wondering if the shame and guilt that I feel will result in me vomiting all over the podium. Will there be a podium? I don’t know. Perhaps I should offer a tarp to the students in the front row(s) like it’s a Gallagher routine. Perhaps I should just smash a watermelon with a huge hammer. Perhaps I should just stand there and look at them for my allocated fifteen minutes, and have them look back at me, and see which of us starts crying first; me or them.

Him or her.

What do I say? What will be true? Where does the illness end and I begin? Maybe that’s what I’ll talk about. Maybe I’ll write down every word I’m going to say. Maybe I’ll have bullet point notes. Maybe I’ll have nothing and just wing it. Maybe I’ll make a healthy choice for lunch today, but I kind of doubt it. I enjoyed homemade Indian leftovers from a friend for two days, and now they’re gone, and I almost cried.

There are days when I don’t actually believe that I meet the diagnostic criteria for anything other than being an asshole. This idea fascinates me — spending years in therapy, lots and lots of money on said therapy and accompanying psychiatric medications, and quite possibly my anxiety and depression just don’t actually exist. Maybe I’m just making it all up to create some sort of alternate reality and some sort of bizarre quasi-career out of it. Maybe I’m a manipulative, malevolent genius banality of evil fuckface with glasses lying to myself and everybody and doing it so well that it’s just time to pick up dog poop in the back yard because we live in a nice neighborhood and won’t you be my neighbor and I never watched Mr. Rogers growing up but maybe I should have.

We watched “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and my mother called Pee Wee Herman “Penis Larman.” I call that growing up great.

I should have called my friend back instead of writing this essay. There are dishes in the sink and the dog’s nails are too long and I have to pee and those things are still in the wall from the curtains we took down and everything is everywhere, and it is all everything. Today, that’s my story. And I told it. To you.

Mark Twain’s wife, Livy, once wrote, “Sometimes I just want to be somebody’s baby.” When I think about that woman and how she must have felt when she wrote that, wanting, as a grown woman, to just magically shrink under the weightless cadence of some faerie’s pixie dust and curl up onto a familiar lap, when I think of that woman saying those words, telling her story, that woman who was married to that man whose stories always got told instead of hers, well, I wonder what lies were whispered into her ears at night.

What’s on your mind, Livy?



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Gabriel Nathan

Gabriel Nathan

Gabe is Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, an online mental health publication. He owns far too many ties.