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  • One of the cruellest aspects of mental illness is that it strips us of any ability to believe that other people might be suffering in the way we are.

  • We aren't being willfully egocentric or arrogant.

  • We are condemned by our illness to a feeling that we are uniquely pitiful, uniquely unacceptable, uniquely awful.

  • The central legacy of mental illness, and a major contributor to our suicidal impulses, is a feeling of exceptionalism.

  • We start to run away from other people.

  • Gatherings become impossible, for we grow preemptively terrified of the presumed invulnerability and judgmentalness of those we might meet.

  • We can't possibly make small talk or concentrate on what someone else is saying when our heads are filled with catastrophic scenarios and an intrusive voice is telling us that we should die.

  • There seems no compact or acceptable way to share with old friends what we have been going throughthey knew us as chatty and optimistic.

  • What would they make of the tortured characters we have become?

  • We start to assume that no one on earth could possibly know, let alone accept, what it is like to be us.

  • This is especially tragic because the central cure for mental illness is company.

  • Our disease denies us access to precisely what we most need in order to get better.

  • In 1891, the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler exhibited "The Disappointed Souls".

  • Five figures are pictured in varied states of dejection.

  • We don't know quite what has gone wrong in their lives, but Hodler's talent invites us to imagine possibilities: a marriage here, a social disgrace there, a depression, a feeling of overwhelming anxiety.

  • However awful the individuals' stories might be, the true horror of the painting emerges from the way each crisis is unfolding in complete isolation from its neighbors.

  • The disconsolate figures are only millimetres away from one another, but they might as well be in other countries.

  • It should be so easy to reach out, to share the burden, to lend a comforting hand, to swap stories, and it would be so life-giving, but no fellowship seems possible in this insular hell.

  • Sadness has wrapped each sufferer up in a pitiless sense of their own singularity.

  • Hodler wasn't painting any one scenehe intended his work as an allegory of modern society as a whole, with its absence of community, its lonely cities, and its alienating technologies.

  • But in this very depiction lies the possibility of redemption.

  • We will start to heal when we realize that we are, in fact, always extremely close to someone who is as wretched as we are.

  • We should hence be able to reach out to a similarly broken neighbor and lament in unison.

  • We should learn to come together for a very particular kind of social occasion whose whole focus would be an exchange of notes on the misery and lacerations of existence.

  • In an ideal gathering of the unwell, in a comfortable safe room, we would take it in turns to reveal to one another the torments in our minds.

  • Each of us would detail the latest challenges.

  • We'd hear of how others were going through sleepless nights, were unable to eat, were too terrified to go outside, were hearing voices, and had to fight against constant impulses to kill themselves.

  • The material would be dark, no doubt, but to hear it would be a balm for our stricken lonely souls.

  • Ideally, we would keep meeting the same people week after week so that our lives would grow entwined with theirs and we could exchange mutual support as we traveled through the valleys of sickness.

  • We would know who was in particular difficulty, who needed tenderness, and who might benefit from an ordinary-sounding chat about the garden or the weather.

  • It isn't possible that we are as alone as we currently feel; biology doesn't produce complete one-offs.

  • There are fellow creatures among the seven billion of our species.

  • They are there, but we have lost all confidence in our right to find them.

  • We feel isolated, not because we are so, but because we are unwell.

  • We should dare to believe that a fellow disappointed soul is, right now, sitting next to us on the bench, waiting for us to make a sign.

One of the cruellest aspects of mental illness is that it strips us of any ability to believe that other people might be suffering in the way we are.

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B1 illness mental illness disappointed ferdinand unwell mental

Our Need for Connection

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/19
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