The Mutations of Mental Health

I read a post recently that made reference to the idea that mental health is not just something for the mentally ill to worry about, any more than physical health is only for the sick. It’s health and something that everyone has to manage for their own well-being. This is important to consider because there’s no line in the sand between the mentally well and the mentally ill; it’s a gradient in millions of colors, and your place in it can change from moment to moment.

Like many people, I first came to terms with my depression in my late teens. But there was no moment of revelation, no incident; no day that I woke up depressed, having been cheerful and happy the night before. Rather, I remember a gradual fading of interest, a sense of boredom and ennui, and a graying of the world that took place over the course of an entire year. By the time I entered my senior year of high school, I was skipping classes, staying in bed all day, and cutting myself with razors.

Now, some fifteen years later, I’m a different person. I hold a steady job, have a teenage son of my own (who thankfully isn’t showing any signs of depression yet), and have written several novels. But am I well? Oh, heavens no!

Since my teenage years, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t felt depression of some kind. There hasn’t been a moment that I haven’t identified as depressed, or mentally unwell in some capacity. It’s simply that over the years, my depression has changed, mutated into other things, and redefined itself. Only a few years ago did I get a diagnosis of Bipolar Type II, and set myself on a path of therapy and medication to cope.

I say cope because there is no cure. There is no getting ‘better’. This is fundamental to understand. Our mental health is not defined by ‘ill’ and ‘well’. I may feel better on some days than others, but in the end what I really needed was a way to handle the incongruent messages my brain was sending me. I believe this is true of everyone, and whilst some people have coping mechanisms that work without outside aid, for many others it requires coaching, relearning, and often, medication to rebuild the pathways in our brains.

In the end, I will probably always identify as depressed. Not even bipolar, because that could change into something else down the line. But depression has been the one constant in my life for more than fifteen years, and there’s a small part of me that doesn’t want it to ever go away. But I understand now that my mental health is not fixed: it’s a fluid, ever-changing spectrum, and as it has changed over the years, it will continue to evolve in the years to come.

I just need to learn how to cope with it.

unsplash-logoLiam Welch

Author: CM North, Author

C.M. North is a trained musician, coffee addict and author of 22 Scars, a young adult novel about teenage depression and growing up with tragedy and trauma. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son and cat Pia, who insists she take precedence over writing.

22 thoughts on “The Mutations of Mental Health”

    1. Too true; if we can learn that wellness isn’t a goal, but something to work at every day as best we can, we can try to avoid the despair of not ever getting there.


    1. Hope is the antithesis of despair, which is what destroys us with depression and anxiety. The difficulty is in finding it.


  1. There is something hugely important here that I want people in general to understand, and that would help reduce the stigma of mental illness – “there’s no line in the sand between the mentally well and the mentally ill”. When I went into working in the mental health field, I took as one of my touchstones something similar from Gregory Bateson. Giving a talk on his studies of schizophrenia (done at the Palo Alto VA hospital in the late 1950s) he said that schizophrenia is not separate from the range of mental process, but an integral part of that spectrum. Someone in the audience asked, “What do you think zero schizophrenia would look like?” Bateson thought for a few moments and answered, “A very well programmed computer.” I think much the same can be said for any of the categories in the DSM. where the criteria of diagnosis depend very importantly on the intensity, frequency, and duration of some particular experience or behavior, rather than saying “If you ever do this or feel this, then you have such and such mental illness.”

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    1. Yes – this is what I’m trying to get at. Everything is a spectrum, and a broad one at that, when it comes to mental health. I was diagnosed as bipolar because of my behavior externally visible to others, but for me internally I just feel like I’m a little further out on the seesaw than some others – the same, but less balanced.

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  2. I completely agree that mental health and wellbeing is on a spectrum. How it manifests internally and externally is completely individual and it sounds like you’ve made brilliant progress over the years with learning how to manage it. What’s your opinion on the labels that come with these sorts of diagnoses? Some people I meet hate the labels because of the stigma that still unfortunately exists. Others find them really helpful to explain and understand their mental health more.

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    1. I feel like the labels (e.g. depression, bipolar, etc.) are most useful to the doctors and family members trying to understand the affliction. I’m a big proponent of the right medication for the right people, and if my symptoms match a particular label, then it can help the doctor find the medication that will help me function again. As for myself, I don’t really associate with or identify as any particular illness; I’m just me, with problems that prevent me from functioning as well as I’d like in society and in the world.

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  3. Amazing post! I can relate to this on so many levels. I have had depression for as long as I can remember. When I am not in a depressed state I have this ever looming fear of when it will “come back”. In reality, I know it’s never really “gone” just in a remission of sorts. The good thing about having depression for so many years is that I have learned the warning signs. I know when I am headed back down that same dark road again. This helps me fight against it and even if I don’t completely “stop” it from returning, I can sometimes make it a little more manageable because I know what to expect. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. It’s so important to be able to recognize the signs of relapse, and to be able to prepare for what’s to come. Surround yourself with support, comfort and the knowledge that you might not be functional for a while, and you can get through it, I think, much more easily than if you try to power through a depressive period with no help whatsoever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree or if you’re in denial about it. That makes it so much harder on you. It’s best to acknowledge it, gather a support system, and try to push through until you can get back up again.

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  4. Very true. Mental illness can manifest itself in different ways as you grow and go through life experiences and physical changes. I was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 12, and thought I was “cured” in my late teens when I didn’t struggle with my compulsions any more after years of medication and behavioral therapy. But the illness just manifested itself into generalized anxiety and depression, and a spiral ensued when I weened myself off medication. We will always have to keep fighting the good fight, many times in different ways, but I’ve accepted this and have learned to cope with my disorder. In whatever form it cares to take.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It’s also often the case that the medication for one problem can cause others in itself, and it becomes a fine line between which is the lesser evil. As long as we all understand it’s an ongoing process, we can make it.

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