This column has thus far spun around the soft idea of joy. Joy in a coffee cup, joy in a surfboard, joy in the little
things. Joy in stability, good food and the people we love.
content warning: mental illness, references to anxiety
This column has thus far spun around the soft idea of joy. Joy in a coffee cup, joy in a surfboard, joy in the little things. Joy in stability, good food and the people we love.
And sometimes life goes like this: the sky glitters blue, sunlight suffuses you with a deep and lazy warmth, serotonin floods the body. Joy is a deep-running emotion, like a bubbling river that fills your veins and transforms your heart into a vessel taking flight.
But sometimes joy is inaccessible.
Mental illnesses can evaporate joy. My own experience with anxiety has taught me this through many stretches of time.
When anxiety descends, I imagine a black padded suit cloaking me. I feel the presence of an immediate threat, but there is nothing. A simple walk down the street feels stifling, every incoming thought makes me nauseous. The idea of the yards and yards of life still left induces an elemental panic. I curse evolution and genetics for giving me a brain that makes getting through the day almost unbearable.
I try to remind myself that I am not alone. I think of my great-grandmother who couldn’t get out of bed for months at a time, and was sent for electro-therapy. An affliction so heavy no one in my family has ever found the words to explain.
I think about some of the greatest artists who were painting, drawing and writing from a hinterland of darkness: Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Sylvia Plath’s poems, Jackson Pollock’s bolts of colour.
Just as his incandescent sunflowers show no hint of Van Gogh’s heavy struggle, mental illness can look different for everyone. It can look like someone in foetal position in the bathtub, unable to get out as the water cools. It can also look like the most confident woman you know, clad in a blazer and heels, grinning on her way to work. It can look like your best friend, your teacher, the person working at the Coles checkout, or a presenter on the 6 o’clock news.
4.8 million Australians are experiencing a mental health condition. Almost half the population will experience one at some point in their life-time. Every day, at least 6 Australians will take their own life. But millions of people don’t get help.
I want to haul mental illness out into the sun. People have struggled with debilitating mental health conditions for centuries in the closing darkness of their bedrooms. But we have turned a page. You should never have to suffer alone.
If you are experiencing struggles with your mental health, reach out for help. Life is certainly not always joyful, but everyone deserves to feel lightness and ordinary joys each day.