Mental Illness Doesn’t Care How Good You Are

It is six o’clock in the morning and I wake up suddenly. My body is trembling. My thoughts are beginning to spiral and my breath is shortening – every inhale becomes smaller, and smaller, and smaller until I fear that the oxygen in the room might run out.

I try to remember what my psychiatrist told me, about how breathing through a straw never killed anyone. I swear that this time it might.

When I fall asleep, I dream that I live in a house on the beach. I am staring out at the ocean until I see the waves grow taller, and bigger, and louder. The tide is creeping up on me now. I run inside, waiting for the first floor to flood, then the second. I keep climbing the stairs, trying to get away.

I know that I need to get to higher ground. I abandon the house and start running up a hill. No matter how high I climb, there’s always water on my heels. Sometimes it’s up to my ankles. No matter how fast I run, it’s always at my feet. All I can do is wait for the water to recede and hope that it doesn’t take me with it.

I tell myself, “No one ever drowned in an inch of water, Sam.” I swear that this time I might.

When I wake up again, my partner is next to me. I tell them about my panic attack, and about my dream. “I think I know what it means,” I explain. “That sometimes all you can do is keep searching for higher ground.”

Neither of us needs to acknowledge out loud that we’re talking about my mental illness.

About how, for the last eight months since I was hospitalized, I have watched the waves come in and out, chasing me uphill and luring me back down. I have known the kind of grief of being small in the face of something that could eclipse you, could make you disappear effortlessly.

When I see my psychiatrist later that week, I tell him that I have something to say, and that it isn’t nice. He tells me that I don’t have to be nice, that I should say how I feel. I tell him that I feel broken. I tell him that I feel irredeemable. I tell him that I am ashamed. I tell him that I am tired. I tell him that six medications is too much and too little. I want to know –

“Why you are the way you are,” he says quietly. This is a tender wound that I try to avoid. 

I nod, choking back words – words like, this isn’t fair, I don’t deserve this, I only ever tried to be good, I only ever tried to be kind, I shouldn’t be here, I should never have been here, fuck this and fuck you.

I know that maybe he has asked himself this before, about me, about the others. Because when I look at him, I don’t see pity – I see pain.

The unspoken truth: There is a particular kind of agony that comes with the realization that you could be good in every way, and mental illness will still chew you up and spit you back out.

You can do everything right – take all of your pills, go to all of your therapy appointments, read every bit of literature, do all your self-care – and still be trapped between the incisors, gnawed to pieces in the aftermath of another episode.

Some days, I can be standing on the platform waiting for a train, or cleaning up my apartment, or having lunch with a friend – and like a sudden, unexpected punch in the gut, I want to weep because I know I’ve been good, I want to weep because I know I’ve tried, and here we are.

I’ve tried so hard.

When I tell a friend about my dream, I quietly comment, “The ocean doesn’t care about how good you are.”

They tell me, “I know.”

I keep looking for someplace safe, somewhere high enough, somewhere untouched. And when I think I’ve found it, all I can do is wait. All I can do is wait, overcome with bitterness, overcome with rage, weeping with the force of a hurricane, breathing through a straw.

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18 thoughts on “Mental Illness Doesn’t Care How Good You Are

  1. lucifare says:

    I want to say things get better. I want to give you words of hope. I want to take away your pain. But I understand what you’ve said, and how you feel. All I can offer is that there is strength in numbers. I have no explanation for why we are the way we are, but life is like an eternal battle. We are waging war to love ourselves, and to feel whole. It isn’t fair, but to choose life is it’s own victory. There is good in the world, and you will find it.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      It comes and goes, sadness like this! I know that I’m going to get to a point soon where I’m back to my more optimistic self. For now I’m just giving myself space to feel this way and grieve, because suppressing the grief is not going to serve my wellness in the long run, you know? Thanks so much for your comment – looking forward to getting to a brighter place soon. ❤

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Kei-Survivor says:

    This was beautiful; heartbreaking; true; terrifying; and so much more.
    It was all of this because I have been there (I am there).
    It was all of this because I know that even despite you’re breaks and rises and falls; you are my way of knowing that I can keep going.
    Thank you for writing and expressing this in ways I never can!

    And know; that I know the difference betweeb it’ll be okay and you’ll be okay. And I can say; Sam. You. Will. Be. Okay.

    Mental illness sucks!
    Its hard!
    And it seems to hurt the ones it shouldn’t; but sometimes. It means we can be open; and share. And by doing that it helps.
    By being open and brutally honest; you helped me.

    Thank you!

    ; The story goes on!
    Peace ~ Kei

    Liked by 4 people

  3. bobcabkings says:

    No, it certainly doesn’t care how good you are, any more than any other chronic illness. It does its thing and you do yours as best you can, one day at a time. The dream image of waves may strangely help. Having lived by the ocean (second time in two days that’s come up — Hmmmm) and paid attention to its waves and their changes, I was fascinated by their comings and goings, calms and rages. Monterrey Bay could be glass smooth or have the giant storm driven rollers almost topping the sea cliffs or a surfer’s dream or anything between. Waves change. That too may be a message in the dream. Wishing you calm seas and a prosperous voyage, soon. Mendelssohn wrote a piece by that title. Its quite lovely and calming.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Curious Mother says:

    Sam, Sam … you can write like no one else I know. You’re putting into words places I’ve been, things I’ve felt. No, mental illness doesn’t care that you’re good, that you’re kind, that you’re obedient and you take all your pills.
    Mental illness also doesn’t make you a bad person. I know some people avoid me because I’ve been mentally ill, but I’m a good, kind person who tries hard, harder than some of them will ever know.
    It’s four years since I was hospitalised. When I was, I wrote every day. I thought I’d lost what I wrote but yesterday I found all my writings.
    To my surprise the writing was good. It still made sense. I was able to look back on the person I was then and marvel at how I got to here.
    I’m double your age so I feel kind of motherly, in the sense that I wish you could just be enveloped in warmth and peace and that this struggle would cease to exist. That you would cease to even remember it.
    I want so much for this to go away for you but I’m pretty sure that’s not how this works. All I know is that you are one of the finest writers I’ve ever met. I’m saving some of your articles for my young trans son in the hope that they will transform his thinking as you have mine.
    I’m so sorry it hurts so much. I wish so much it didn’t. But you are marvellous Sam Dylan Finch. So so much more than good. x

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Quinn says:

    I live with treatment resistant bipolar disorder (among other diagnoses) and this thought you describe is one that tortured me for a long time. I can certainly relate to the futility that comes with such a realization as well as the peace (small as it may be) in knowing that my symptoms constantly fluctuating are actually one of the more constant aspects in my life.

    It wasn’t until I compared this perspective against those in my past up to that point that I could see any hope in it. You see, I spent such a big part of my life believing I deserved to be miserable and that every mood swing and panic attack was life’s way of telling me I wasn’t very good at it. I was sure I must be doing everything wrong to deserve such a difficult life, so there was something freeing about learning that doing everything perfect made no difference in the way my mental illness unfolded. I spent my youth being obsessed with doing things perfectly but when I found it made no difference either way that perfection held less power over me. I allowed myself space to make mistakes, to start learning to be ok with whatever my best was in the moment.

    I expected that every time that tide would come in and I got wet I would drown… but that hasn’t been the case. Turns out simply accepting I’m bound to get wet sooner or later takes a lot of the fear out of it and the less I panic, the less I drown.

    Great blog by the way. I’ve just come out as transgender and it has helped me a lot to read about your experiences, thanks a lot for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Rayne says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Your writing is exquisite and powerful, and I could almost feel your emotions as I read. I can relate to this so much. Life is cruel, life is unfair. Mental illness is unfair, and like you said, it doesn’t care how ‘good’ you are. That’s a very sad fact. *hugs*

    Liked by 1 person

  7. mariner2mother says:

    You’re absolutely 100% correct. Mental illness doesn’t give a fuck if you are good or not. And the worry about being good has screwed up more people. Having to live with a brain that sneaks up and lies to you six ways to Sunday sucks and isn’t fair. But then again life isn’t about being fair. It’s more about compassion. For yourself; knowing that you are not your illness (as much as it can royally suck). And those who support you to know compassion. For me to feel compassion for my son, whose brain fucks with him, and for my brain, when it tells me I’m tired of being here (living). You describe it all so painfully well.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Kristina Steiner says:

    I wish I could write something to make it better, to make you feel better. But every word doesn’t even come close to how you’re probably feeling. I’m sending you my love and well wishes. Never give up and keep fighting. You’ll make it. You are worth it. And you are good.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Iphios says:

    Reading these words…reading the phrase “Why you are the way you are” shook me. I am asking that same question today. I am thinking similar thoughts to this post these past few weeks.
    Being mentally ill, struggling through it, caring for myself as much as I can to manage the coming of my depression there are moments i get tired. And when i come to you blog, read you words on mental illness, i feel less alone because no matter how much i explain to those dear me to me what I’m going through they can never really understand.
    Thank you…this post brought me too tears. This post went straight to my heart. Because sometimes, sometimes, i wish being good was enough to keep this mental illness away. I wish i didn’t feel lonely going through it. I wish someone knew that when i said i was tired that depression was taking over they didn’t think trivialize it.

    here’s to continuing to search for higher ground! for weeping and still trying.
    thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing these words. It means so much to read this today.

    Liked by 2 people

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