Raise your hand if you’ve ever been labeled with a ‘disorder’? For me it was ADD, anxiety, and depression. There are many other fancy terms of disorders and mental ‘illnesses’ you’ve likely been labeled with.
Here’s a question: what if we aren’t any of those things? What if, instead, we’re actually…perfectly healthy and fine?
Our internal mental regulator might be highly resistant to accepting this message. We’ve likely been carrying this label for so long, it’s become deeply entrenched in our identity.
But, what if there actually is nothing wrong? What if it is actually the system that is sick, and not us at all?
When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed as ADD. I could not keep up with the academic pressures of middle school, I needed medication to cope and succeed.
When I was in my mid 20s, I finally caved in and started taking anti-depressant medication. Depression ran in my family, anxiety felt high in me, the energetic lows I was feeling eventually made me capitulate.
Today, I am proudly off of any regular pharmaceutical medications. Yet my disposition towards academia and diligence, depression and anxiety has shifted little.
Rather, I have radically transformed my life set-up, experience, thought processes and tools to support me being me in ways that feel better than ever — without the need for external chemical support.
If you put me back in middle school today, I would likely struggle in a similar way. The material would be easier for me, I hope; but being forced to sit at a desk and absorb information talked at me for many hours a day would still feel like cruel torture. With all of the greater capabilities and abilities I now have, enduring a year of middle school even as the current me, feels like a certain recipe for ADD and depression, even today.
When ‘depression’ finally won out over and settled down in me, I was working my first ‘real’ job after college. It was an incredible job in so many ways — I got to travel the world, grow with a small company, live the dream in many ways.
Yet, ultimately it felt like there was never enough time for me. When traveling I was supporting groups of people, when back home I was working in an office from 9 -5, minimum. Add in commuting time and after-hour emails and phone calls, it felt like I barely had enough time to take care of my bare essentials, let alone my happiness and well-being.
Doctors and psychiatrists and family and society all gladly wrote this off as a disorder. In fact, it only took the psychiatrist 15 minutes of assessment to write me my first prescription. After, we switched my medications a handful of times until we found one that didn’t result in overtly gnarly side-effects (sweating, physical discomfort in body, mental aloofness, loss of appetite…).
When I inquired with my physician years in, he told me there was no problem nor side effects of being on this medication for the rest of my life. He called it my vitamin. Just the way I am, what I need.
And so I believed it — the man with the degree and white trench coat told me it was so. That was it: I was deficient, insufficient, incapable on my own, broken.
This is the message we are sending in our mental ‘health’ system.
Because ultimately, our mental health system’s goal is to return patients to baseline. To get patients to where they can function in society again.
To get patients to the point that they can reasonably tolerate returning to the cruel and slow torture they are putting themselves through. Back to the jobs they don’t like, the relationships that don’t feel good, the eating habits that are poisonous, the numbing out with distractions.
When I found work that I was passionate about, I no longer ‘suffered’ from ADD — because the work captivated my attention. When I broke out of the 9-5 grind and stepped into my passion and purpose — ending human suffering and transforming the planet — I no longer suffered from ‘depression’.
I set my life up to support me, and therefore felt great being me in it. Before I was trying to contort myself to fit in the box that society had been locking me in and pruning me for since my earliest days. Of course I needed medication to feel good in this — it inherently felt horrible without it!
I still feel anxiety, still experience full body upsetness, still can’t concentrate on things for longer than feels good in the moment.
Now, I honor all of these emotions and experiences. As feedback to myself. It doesn’t feel good sitting around working on my computer all day; I get nervous before big conversations and presentations; I get upset when relationships enter difficulties.
And this is healthy! I do not desire to numb out these experiences — my body is generating them to continually guide me on the path that best serves me.
It is only when we label our feelings as wrong that they become disorders. Otherwise, they are here to teach us and serve us in stepping continually forward and bettering our lives.
When we allow fear to stop us from taking (scary) big steps that our feelings are telling us to pursue (quit the job, end the relationship, move in new uncomfortable ways), we are living in dissonance with self. This is what causes depression, anxiety, etc.
Our internal emotional experience is yelling at us to take action, and we are ignoring it. Of course medication is then needed to artificially feel better — because we are not taking the natural action that our emotions are guiding us to do.
We are perfect, whole, and complete exactly as we are. We get to design a life to support us in that. Be bold, be brave, be large. It is then you’ll find that the medications and disorders were only needed to placate the life you were settling for.
Note: None of this addresses the immense difficulty of getting off these medications. Tragically, nobody seems concerned about this aspect when pushing these pills far and wide. This is a conversation for another day.