6 Quotes That Help Me Live With Mental Illness
Whenever I feel I’m losing sight of the bigger picture, these words of wisdom bring me back on track.
For ten of my soon-to-be twenty-four years on Earth, I’ve grappled with mental illness. Although my symptoms have abated gradually over the past four years, I still have periods when my being feels overwhelmed, weighed down by the shockingly oppressive depression. Until 2020, I also had to contend with ravaging and acutely draining panic attacks.
There were times when I lost focus. When I felt like the lowest person alive. When I froze, paralyzed, unable to overcome the past. When life seemed without meaning. A senseless miasma of pain and misery. And every time the following quotes restored in me the will to fight, to keep going.
Some capture how I want to be remembered, the person I want to become. Others are more practical. But each addresses a different facet of my mental illness and reminds me why I want to keep living in the first place. I hope they shall play a similar role in your life.
“This too shall pass.” — Persian Adage
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my decade-long struggle, it’s that nothing, including mental illness, is permanent. Sure, sometimes depression lasts forever. But if one finds the optimal mix of medication and therapy it becomes manageable to the point of seeming only a minor hindrance. Trust me. I know.
Five years ago, my daily routine consisted of waking up, crying, dragging myself through the day in self-seclusion, having at least one fifteen-minute panic attack, eating little, and crying myself to two to four hours of disturbed sleep. Sometimes I’d wake up paralyzed. That was freaky.
Now? Well, not everything’s magically fixed. I don’t sail through the day, high-fiving strangers and belting tunes in the middle of the street. But I’m seldom depressed to the extent and for as long as I used to be. On the rare occasions I do become depressed the cloud lifts far sooner than it did in those days. And I haven’t had a panic attack since 2020.
Age is a contributing factor. Five years ago, I was a teenager. Approximately 50% of teenagers shed their depression in their twenties. And while I haven’t completely, it has become easier to deal with. And, of course, I’ve found my ideal mix of medication and support.
Look, logically, nothing lasts forever. The planet itself will have moved 460 meters for each second it’ll have taken me to type this sentence. A common thought depressives have when happy is the feeling won’t last. Neither will the depression. It will leave. And sure, maybe it’ll come back, then leave, then return once more. Maybe it’ll be a cycle. But aren’t the happy moments worth toughing out the sad ones for?
If there’s even a 1% chance your condition will improve, isn’t it worth sticking around to find out?
“Be kind, work hard, and amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien
This isn’t strictly related to mental illness. But this quote by Conan captures what I feel is the ideal attitude to life. It’s not wholly true, either. Some people work hard and are selfless and receive not so much as an acknowledgement from the universe. It falls upon me to tell her she’s the best mother in the world. Not often, though. That’d get to her head.
But I firmly believe it’s important to treat people with compassion. After all, the data suggests nearly one billion people are living with mental illness. And if that seems unrepresentative, it is. Not everybody reports their struggles. Depending on their culture, not everybody’s encouraged to report their struggles. The reality’s in all probability far, far worse.
While I think I work (reasonably) hard I won’t claim to have treated everybody kindly. I’ve snapped at people. I’ve yelled at people. Wherever I could, I’ve apologized and tried to make amends. It’s impossible to be kind and considerate all the time. Sometimes we’re going through too much to maintain our composure.
But one must never feel entitled. I did — when I was fourteen and dealing with depression for the first time. My peers seemed happy. I was miserable. I believed I was owed. And that’s a dangerous slope to slide down. None of us has the right to inflict harm upon others simply because harm has been inflicted upon us. We suffer from mental illness. Somebody else might have an abusive, alcoholic father. Others might live in poverty.
We’re all trying to make lemonade with rotten lemons. Let’s not treat others unfairly just because us having mental illness is unfair.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor E. Frankl
I’m… let’s say a fan of Viktor Frankl… ever since I read Man’s Search for Meaning when I was eighteen. That’s right; I read a book to help me deal with an existential crisis when I was eighteen. Can you believe some people say I’ve aged early? Pfft.
Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. In fact, as for the previous section, he narrated a story in Man’s Search for Meaning where after their liberation one of his friends was carelessly trampling flowers (or plants; I forget the details) in a field and when Frankl admonished him. He shouted he was entitled to trample flowers because he was a Holocaust victim.
Now, I won’t dare judge him; I’ve never been a victim of a genocidal “cleansing” and have no right to judge a Holocaust survivor. But Frankl did. And he did. This was, he said, when he realized how dangerous it was to feel one could hurt others because of one’s own suffering.
Getting back to this quote. You suffer from mental illness. And that’s deeply traumatizing. You have every right to feel wronged, desperate, despondent. But believe me, the worst thing is having mental illness and feeling like a failure. I’m not asking you to be Mr. Productivity, but try your best to get things done. If you can’t, that’s fine too. Mental illness sometimes has physical ramifications that preclude activity.
But bitterness accomplishes nothing except making yourself feel worse. Just try your best. Something’s better than nothing. And it all adds up.
“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” — Viktor E. Frankl
Many live their lives in pursuit of happiness. Happiness, to them, is a goal to work toward. Bullcrap. First off, what is happiness? Is it temporary? Permanent? Is it a feeling? A state of mind? Could a person be happy and sad simultaneously? Would that tarnish the validity of their happiness?
The more one tries to define happiness, especially as a goal, the more elusive it becomes. It’s like me and romance in fiction. I don’t watch romantic movies. But I always enjoy a well-written romance as a side plot in, say, a suspense thriller or a whodunnit. You can’t make romance a goal. If you chase love you’ll think you’re in love with somebody when you’re not, because you want to be in love.
If you chase happiness… I don’t know how to put it in words; it’s just dumb. Actually, don’t take my word for it. There are studies. More than one. Pursuing happiness would mean constantly monitoring your emotions, consciously assessing your mental state, asking questions like, “Am I truly happy?” and worrying when the answer comes back in the negative.
How does it make sense to pursue an emotion? Pursue practical feats that result in that emotion. Would a particular academic or work-related achievement make you feel proud and self-satisfied? Then work toward it. Would earning enough to take your dream holiday make you happy? Again, work toward it. Happiness is a fleeting byproduct, not an end goal.
“You are not your illness.” — Julian Seifer
By my late teens, depression had become all I’d ever known. It’d become a friend. I sought solace and comfort in it, for I no longer recognized myself without depression. Like how a 50-year old might struggle to find themselves after losing their childhood sweetheart. He was a husband. A lover. That was part of his identity. Had been his entire life.
Depression had become part of my identity. I was Chandrayan Gupta, depressed author, panic-ridden law student. I’m speaking as though I’ve completely untangled myself from my mental illness now. I haven’t. It’s been a gradual process and I’ve made substantial progress, more than I’d thought possible. But every time the depression returns I’m nineteen years old again. It’ll take time.
There’s an analogy I heard once, I can’t remember exactly where, about wounds over time. It’s not that they heal, it’s that the person keeps growing and having new experiences until that wound becomes a small part of a huge whole. That’s how I look at mental illness.
It’s not a small thing. It’s not easily surmountable. But it’s not insurmountable, either. At one point it was all I was. Now it’s something that happened to me, something I have enough resources to fight whenever I need to. A small part of a huge whole. There was a time, though, when I subconsciously fought recovery because depression was my entire identity.
Don’t do that.
“No one has all the answers.” — Edwards Deming
I’ve always been introverted. But in my teens, I had proper social anxiety. I refused to speak to anybody on the phone, avoided social gatherings, and generally hid from society. Why? I was afraid. Of people. Because I also always felt inferior to everybody else.
To an extent I still do. But definitely not nearly as much as before. I’m not kidding; I actually dropped out of college in 2019 because there were throngs of people on every corner of the campus and I kept having severe panic attacks.
At some point as I got older, I don’t remember when, I realized something: nobody is inferior to anybody. Nobody is superior to anybody. Saying “I’m inferior” implies one’s inferior to others across the board. That never happens. I can write. Somebody else can’t. But they can dance. I can’t.
Everybody has a unique skillset. And there’s no objective skill ranking. Everybody (myself included) reveres scientists. But you know what? Those same scientists, if they didn’t read a book or watch a movie or even a funny YouTube video once in a while, would go insane.
Everybody has a role to play. Besides, nobody really knows what they’re doing. Nobody has the blueprint to success. Nobody’s brilliant in all areas of life. We’re all doing our best. We’re all on a rock hurtling through space, just waiting to be wiped out by those pesky Martians.
Nobody’s better than you. And you’re better than nobody.
And there you have it. Six quotes that ground me whenever things get too intense. Sorry if things got a little preachy there. When I get started I don’t know when to stop. I hope at least one line in this article has resonated with you and will reel you back in when you feel overwhelmed.
I can’t recommend Man’s Search for Meaning enough. Nearly every line in that book is endlessly quotable. Viktor Frankl was a wise, wise man, and I highly suggest you give it a read. It pulled me out of a mental jam when I needed a jam-puller. Hopefully, it’ll serve you the same purpose.
Reprinted with permission of the author in Invisible Illness on Medium.com.
Chandrayan Gupta is a law student, psychological crime thriller author, and prolific writer. Sign up for his newsletter to keep in touch!