It’s mental illness that I write about, not so much mental health. I don’t have the long, clear stretches of remarkable health in my adult life to consult for wisdom or writing material, and the mental health I have known resides in a foggier pocket of my memory.
I live in fear of illness. An anxious and pessimistic person by nature, health seems more of a ruse than an opportunity for thankfulness. I wonder: what will be the next addition to the cocktail when I fall to pieces again?
It is as in Jane Kenyon’s “Having it Out with Melancholy”:
Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.
It sounds to be a negative conclusion: “Unholy ghost,/you are certain to come again.” Maybe it is. But it also is a sincere allowance of a certain truth, just as her words in “Otherwise” point toward the inescapable future:
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But, one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
“. . . I believe only in this moment/of well-being.” Kenyon admits to not trusting or hoping in the longevity of what can feel like medical miracles, of what we call health. But she also embraces and believes in the reality of this moment, this moment of well-being.
Why, when I could smile on the now and have faith in this very moment, do I dwell on that “otherwise,” then? I can’t help it. That’s why. My mind tends towards a certain degree of honesty with itself—no matter how painful—the honesty that embraces the inevitable “otherwise.” I save most of my dishonesty and avoidance for others:
“How’s your head-space, Annie?”
That’s a creative way to ask about mental (in)stability.
“Fine . . . stable . . . I’m fine. Fine.”
I know. Predicting downfall robs this moment of its goodness, this mental state of its health. I’ll not be as well as I could if I go carrying the weight of “what if” and “when.” But the fall. Will not it be less rough if I am aware? I worry that if I allow myself to get lost in the now, I’ll miss the signs of illness coming on, and it’ll hit me like the twenty-four hour flu. And then some. Because each time it hits, it’s worse. Inevitably worse. The sickness has grown stronger—it must in order to overcome the pharmacy I keep—and knocks me out harder. And that is why I fail to trust in this moment. This moment is too uncertain. “Otherwise” I can trust.