A few short, glancing thoughts on Turtles All the Way Down and mental health.
It’s no secret that Turtles All the Down deals with the heavy theme of mental health. John Green has made it clear that his new book would attempt to illustrate to the reader a specific form of mental illness: thought spirals; and that the book will also combat the romanticization and fascination with mental illness that society grasps onto.
As someone who has recently, in my late 20’s, been diagnosed with a mild anxiety disorder, I have been looking forward to this book to garner a better understanding of my own nascent journey and what I have to look forward to as time presses on. Turtles delivered in a big way.
I will attempt to outline, without spoilers, but with page numbers, the thoughts and revelations as they came to me regarding mental illness; what it means for me, and what it means for those around me. These thoughts are personal revelations, nothing more.
218 – Mental health is NOT a spectrum. It’s more than that.
I’ve always thought of mental illness as a wide spectrum ranging from very mild disorders akin to my anxiety, to severe disorders of which plague only the most unlucky who end up in padded cells. My disorder has developed only recently, later in life, as many disorders do, and though mild, it has left me to wonder where on this spectrum I fall, now and in the future. This leads to a constant measuring against those around me that I consider “normal”, and contrarily, against those who I hope are “worse” or more “ill”. As I read Turtles, I kept looking for indicators. “Yes, I commiserate with that,” or, “no I’ve never been THAT bad.” (p. 218) This is not something I’m proud of, or of which I was even cognizant previously, but it dawned on me, in that moment on page 218, that the idea of mental health as a spectrum is a limited one, fraught with flaws.
It is unfair and maybe even small-minded to think of mental illnesses as comparable or judge them against each other in degree or quality, just as it is unfair to compare and judge minds in general. Mind’s are unpredictable, unique, special, beautiful, and wholly individual. It makes sense then too, that afflictions of the mind will be specific, unique, and distinct. There are staggering amounts of individuals affected by mental illness, and each illness is its own journey, with unique manifestations, symptoms, severities, and treatments.
Which brings me to…
263 – Mental illness feels isolating, but it shouldn’t.
A quick Google unveils that, “Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.” That feeling of isolation, that no one understands, that you are “crazy”, that you are a “freak”, is not affirmed by the numbers. How is it that society still has a stigma surrounding mental health disorders? I have personally experienced it, and I know a vast many of you have as well. Books like this that utilize a massive platform and force mental health to the forefront of the societal conversation are a welcome sight. I doubt Green set out on some quixotic journey to slay misunderstanding of mental illness, but he has certainly marked himself as a trademark ally to the cause.
What the numbers reveal is that those of us afflicted by mental health disorders, however severe or minor, need to speak freely about them, and those who are unaffected need to create an atmosphere in which one feels safe to do so. Mental illness touches the lives of everyone in its wake; not just those afflicted.
Which brings me to…
216, 272 – Mental illness creates a need for two-way empathy.
Turtles illustrates beautifully the scars that can be left on those who care for someone on a mental illness journey. I know from first-hand experience it is nearly impossible to focus on the needs of those around me when I am in a battle with my mind itself. People feel neglected, relationships feel strained, friends and family feel forgotten; they feel this way because they are.No one comes out unscathed, but it is up to those of us with mental illness to do everything in our power to show compassion and empathy for those loved ones who take care of us, just as our loved ones are so constantly called upon to do the same. We can’t always show our gratitude, or our love, but it is important that we try.
Turtles has challenged me to continue growing in my understanding of mental health/illness, but one thing has been made clear: In battles of the mind, just as in life, extreme empathy from all parties seems to be the closest thing to a solution that we have.
Thanks for reading. Let it be known that my own anxiety disorder is very mild and stable.
In no way am I a mental health expert or a medical professional. My opinions are wholly my own and do not attempt to touch on the medical or clinical aspects of this serious topic.