No matter how challenging things can be in life, keep going. Never give up or quit. There are no other realistic options. We are all pushed to our limits at times, and there may seem to be no way out, no reason to move on, and no solution to whatever it is that is causing us to go through hell. What remains is hope, faith, and belief, although hope, faith and belief on their own often cannot fix the problems and challenges we all face as we journey through our life experiences—but action will. Keep trying over and over again. Through action, we will likely, though not necessarily, find a solution. When you've tried everything you can, change your approach, your perspective, or your angle, and battle onward. Do whatever you can. Just don't stop. I think this is what the saying "If you're going through hell, keep going" suggests. Keep going, because if you can hang in there long enough, ultimately, things can and often will change for the better.
When I was initially diagnosed with depression in 1994 at the age of 18, I was prescribed antidepressants, including the newest of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Unfortunately, the SSRIs triggered mania, and to combat it, I began to drink, which intensified my psychological instability and led to an addiction that I was finally able to overcome when I was 26. However, as difficult as the disorders have been, in many ways, I have been blessed. Many call me a gifted artist, and I have frequently used my art to exorcise my demons of isolation and loneliness. In 1998, I dramatized these issues in my award-winning film Ten Years, which I wrote produced, and directed while attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. In 2008, I once again dramatized the themes of isolation and loneliness in another award-winning film, On the Bus, which also explores the horrors and chaos of mental illness. Through the eyes of the main character, we see the uncontrollable, tumultuous symptoms of schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as brought on by a random act of violence. A single act of violence rarely causes severe mental illness; current research indicates that mental illness is a result of a genetic predisposition combined with environmental factors. My case would seem to validate that research, as there is a history of mental illness in my family, and I have suffered repeated trauma. Whatever the genesis, beginning in 2009 and culminating in the summer of 2010, I experienced a severe psychotic break that manifested in inappropriate, violent outbursts and destructive behavior. Ultimately, however, this break brought me the help I needed, including a comprehensive psychological evaluation that provided me with an accurate diagnosis and the right medication.
Now psychologically stable, I invite others to witness my candid daily encounters with the symptoms of schizophrenia. I willingly and genuinely share my life through my literature, film productions, and iTunes podcast, "Schizophrenia Raw." In the vein of prolific figures such as Elyn R. Saks and Kay Redfield Jamison, I illustrate my ongoing personal struggles with chronic mental illness, nurturing truth, acceptance, and community. My art, imagination, and various creative outlets are simply my catalyst for continuous resiliency and recovery. As I turn another engaging and uplifting page of my story, I hope to impact others positively through my publicized journey of how one individual copes with the perpetual whirlwind of schizophrenia and Tourette's syndrome.
The quote "If you're going through hell, keep going" is often attributed to Winston Churchill though I have never come across any clear-cut citations. How can we apply this quote to mental illness and its associated stigma? It can be applied to life in general in countless ways, and for mental health conditions, it can bring our experiences to another degree.
Let's cut to the chase and keep it simple: Don't give up. You are walking through what is or what seems like hell. Are you going to just sit there and suffer, or will you choose to keep going, to overcome? Take baby steps. If you're in a difficult situation, keep moving on to get out of it. Recall the quote, "Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." This means that you should not stop going until you get all the way through, and therefore out! You're in a bad situation? Plunge forward. Things get better.
What if there is no way out? What if things don't get better? Maybe you’ve had a stroke, or you have ALS, Alzheimer's, and so forth, where there is no improvement, only deterioration. Are you a victim? Change your approach, your perspective, your angle. Consider how far the famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has come with Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), or those struggling with multiple sclerosis (MS). This means keeping the course, and things will get better. Life often gets worse before it can get better. Life can press your brake pedal. What is there to do? How are we to deal with it? Do you roll over and take what life throws at you, crying poor me? Do you stand up to life without fear?
Are you worrying it's not going to be easy? Nothing worthwhile is. It's how you deal with things and overcome what life throws at you that matters; it's about finding your worth, who you are, and finding your place in the world and what you give to the world—and what the world gives to you. There is joy and sorrow, it's about learning about both life and how you deal with it. It means that if things are really bad, and life seems hellish, don't give up and stop trying. Keep battling on until things improve.
If you think about it, life itself means "Don't give up." You walk through what is or seems like hell at times. "Just sit there," says that voice in your head, that imp, "and suffer." I suggest you fight intrusive, self-sabotaging thoughts. Keep going through it to get through it. When I find myself in a difficult situation, I do my best, as gently on myself as I can, to keep moving forward. I may never get out of schizophrenia—rather, schizophrenia may never, in my lifetime, get out of me. I keep hope and faith alive. I always do my best, and sometimes I miss the mark completely, over and over again.
So many quotes and famous sayings from Henry Ford come to mind. I invite you to ponder this quote until next time, although it might not seem relevant to my thesis in this essay: "My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." Make schizophrenia or your mental health condition your friend. Befriend yourself, trust the universe, and allow the universe to trust you. Trust in your higher power or God, if you have one, or just the reasonable part of you, your core, with mental illness stripped away. Be who you are. Make mistakes. Dance. Love. Dislike. Judge or be judged. We are all here just trying our best to get by, playing it by ear. Life is in real time. There is no dress rehearsal, and part of the reason I prefer writing over communicating verbally in real time is that I can rehearse by editing my writing while following my number one rule to write first drafts, which I often publish, with no censor.
I often describe my experience with schizophrenia as every neuron in my brain misfiring. It sounds devastating. It is devastating. But if and when I can change my angle and perspective on suffering, I struggle, but I don't suffer. And I keep going. Hell? Hell no!
Maybe you have schizophrenia dominating your life as I do. Maybe you have a mental illness or physical ailment. Or maybe you're a "normie," an average person living life diagnosis-free. We all have our issues, and to quote one of my books, "We all have problems, but let's not kid ourselves: it's how we deal with them that makes the difference." I consider myself a still-recovering schizophrenic, an accomplished writer, producer, and musician who blogs and podcasts about mental illness, New Age ideas and transgressive literature.
In closing, be kind to yourself and others. Everyone is fighting their battles and many unspoken secret wars. I am grateful that my readers often consider me one of the many great voices who can communicate what far too many cannot for various reasons. Keep on keeping on.
Until next time.
You can also find Jonathan on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. Author Jonathan Harnisch has written a semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical bestselling novel, Jonathan Harnisch: An Alibiography, which is available on Amazon and through most major booksellers. He is also a noted, and sometimes controversial, mental health advocate, a fine artist, blogger, podcast host, patent holder, hedge fund manager, musician, and film and TV writer and producer. Google him for more information.