I love inspirational quotes and sayings. Most are simply reminders of how we should live life. Of course, this is easier said than done, and I think that's why they seem to float around everywhere, from Facebook and Twitter to blogs.
No matter how challenging things are 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—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 is meant by the saying "If you're going through hell, keep going". Keep going, because if you 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 so, to combat this, 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.
However, a single act of violence rarely causes severe mental illness; current research indicates that mental illness is the 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 podcasts. In the vein of prolific figures such as Elyn R. Saks, Kay Redfield Jamison, and liver Sacks. I illustrate my ongoing personal struggles with chronic mental illness, nurturing truth, acceptance, and community. My art, imagination, and various creative outlets are 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 this 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?
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. Maybe you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease) or Alzheimer's, 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 ALS. Hold the course, and then 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 that 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 your place in the world—what you give to the world and what the world gives to you. There is joy and sorrow. It is about learning about life and how we deal with it. It means that if things are really bad and life seems hellish, you 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 at times is or seems like hell. "Just sit there," says that voice in your head, that imp, "and suffer." I suggest you fight intrusive, self-sabotaging thinking. Keep going through it to get through it. When I find myself in a difficult situation, I do my best, as gently 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, 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 when the mental illness is 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. Part of the reason I prefer writing over communicating verbally is that I can later rehearse my writing by editing while also following my number one rule of writing first drafts, which I often publish, without any 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 am able to change my angle and perspective on suffering, I find that 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. 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 own battles and many unspoken secret wars. I am grateful that my readers sometimes consider me one of those voices that is able to communicate what far too many cannot.
Keep on keeping on.
Jonathan Harnisch, The Brutal Truth