Stoicism and my experience with mental illness

Imagine you’re a schizophrenic for just a second.  You wake up in the morning and the sun is beaming into your eyes and you feel at peace.  Except, you immediately start hearing inside your head, “shut up!”  “kill yourself”  “you’re fuckin’ worthless.”  “Go die!”  “Jump out your window, do it do it do it do it!”  These thoughts are pretty disturbing.  What’s more disturbing is it’s not even you saying them.  It sounds like some other person is shouting into your ears these thoughts.  And you keep hearing them throughout the day until maybe you interact with some actual real human being and maybe you get a little bit of peace from the voices.

Well, mental illness is not exactly something easy to live with.  Especially the most boring disease ever created by God:  DEPRESSION.  Yes.  Depression is the worst.  Especially when it’s major depression.  Depression isn’t being sad.  No it’s worse than sad.  It’s not having any hope, any motivation, or any reason to do anything.  It can make you become psychotic.  No, not a psychopath.  Psychotic.  That’s when you lose touch with reality and start believing all kinds of nonsense like someone stole your organs or your wife is cheating on you even though she’s with you in the house all day.

When it comes to super super major major depression, there’s not a lot Stoicism can do for you sadly.  I’ve been there.  Mental gymnastics just couldn’t snap me out of it.  I would lie on the floor in the kitchen for hours just begging God to kill me and send me somewhere less painful like Hell.  Initially I wasn’t even responding to medication.  Eventually, I just had to get my brain shocked and rebooted.  I had to have an electric arc pass through my brain to reshuffle all the damn neurotransmitters so that maybe they would start doing something right.  And it worked.  Amazingly, it worked.

Saying to yourself that “virtue is the only good” when you’re a schizophrenic or have major depression and not properly shocked/rebooted or medicated, you’re just not going to get where you need to.  I would like to say though that it’s true that virtue is the only good.  And the Stoics actually give us a good means to getting to virtue:  PREFERRED INDIFFERENTS.  Once you eat 3 meals a day, and sleep 8 hours, and you can get all your essential vitamins and even your psychiatric meds if necessary, you can then pursue virtue as the only good.

I’m not sure how the Stoics handled people with “disordered minds”.  Perhaps they just thought of them as strange anomalies.  Perhaps people with mental illnesses were never an issue to them because maybe anyone with a “disordered mind” would just be abandoned in a forest somewhere and starve to death.

Anyway, I would like to end by saying that if you have a “disordered mind” like mine you can certainly find comfort that you live in a technological civilization that can fix your brain neurotransmitters or reset/reboot them.  Just remember, “virtue is the only good”  BUT pursue your preferred indifferents as well.  Take care of your health.  Take especial care of your mental health.

assorted medication capsules
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3 thoughts on “Stoicism and my experience with mental illness

  1. Thanks for this post. You make excellent points here.
    Reading and reflecting on this brings me to consider again, and be grateful for, my health, mental, physical, and otherwise.
    Thank goodness for what enables a reboot of ourselves when things fall off center. And thank goodness too for those pathways, like Stoicism, that give us good orientation.
    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post recalls something I have thought a lot about, namely the logical incongruity of the concept of ‘preferred indifferents’. If one preferes something, how can it be indifferent? And if something is indifferent, how can it still be preferred? Yes, with a stretch it is possible to combine this concepts but at the expense of a dash of hypocricy or intellectual dishonesty. And nowhere it is more visible than when one talks about health. Surely there are instances where virtuous life is virtually impossible in any sensible way without enjoying at least some degree of good health.
    Please do not consider this as in any way picking up on you; on the contrary, I absolutely love and admire your frankness and I know that you do believe what you write. It’s just that I’m a bit sceptical about how far preferred indifferents can go.

    Liked by 1 person

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