The uniquities of mental illness have been a recurring thing in my life over the past few years. I have been at my highest and lowest, my brain hasn’t functioned as it normally did for about a few years now and it’s been exhausting. I haven’t been able to trust my own brain for so long and I have felt betrayed by it numerous times. I am constantly fighting for my life and it has become a rollercoaster I’ve become used to. I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing but I move I guess. These past few years, I’ve felt and deeply experienced what it means to be mentally ill. I knew about the concept of mental health from the internet but it was just a vague buzzword and something I would occasionally think about when I had a bad day. But now I know it intimately.
I feel it inside of my body and it’s been shaping my identity even if I don’t want it to be. I relate deeply to strangers on the internet and fictional characters because we have this same plight in common and I’ve come to develop comfort in this. Finding out Mary was my sertraline sister was the highlight of me getting proper treatment and a maybe positive sign. I now have skin in the game and find myself unconsciously advocating for mentally ill people on almost every platform because I know how that very specific pain feels. And that’s exactly what made this particular episode of Ozark quite triggering. Ozark is a show about drug dealing and the art of money laundering so from a narrow purview one can’t see how mental illness would even fit in this narrative. But the writers came with nuance. A lot of themes were explored in this season and episode but the overarching theme I deduced was dealing with mental illness in high-stress situations.
Obviously, an extremely high-stress situation is working for a drug lord that can have you killed anytime and at any whim. Without giving too much away to avoid being attacked by the spoiler bandits the gist of the story is that the protagonist, Wendy, works for a drug lord and her mentally ill brother comes to stay a while only to become wrapped up with everything. The first thing I recall is Ben being briefly outraged when he found out about the whole ordeal but he had to accept that was his sister’s life. He acclimated quite easily in fact and started doing some odd jobs to help the ‘family’ business.
In hindsight, I think that partially mirrors exactly how I receive and deal with stressful situations. I might do a little fake outrage for humour but I end up rolling with it silently because the truth is I’m totally numb. At this point, life has thrown so many things at me that it might as well become a routine. I lowkey expect it so I no longer harbour any resulting feelings. It undoubtedly affects my mental health but I stopped thinking about that a long time ago. I mostly use my energy towards surviving. And people might say that that’s barely existing but honestly, that’s as much as I can afford to do. One day I hope to transition to living and thriving than merely floating and even worse drowning. Most of the time, I can barely keep my head above water.
My mind does one of two things when under intense pressure; it hyper fixates on one main thing which is usually helpful when I have something urgent like exams or it completely shuts down. Ozark did a great job of showing the different array of emotions and experiences a mentally ill person can go through in this situation. From the untethered rants to fear to their misguided notion of help and to even detrimental cluelessness. All these possible actions have their loved ones in perpetual fear so they want to be sure of a certain level of control and sanity. Although this might be justified from a certain angle, it breeds contempt and might have us feeling wholly like a burden.
As someone with trust and hyper independence issues, the last thing I ever want to feel like to anyone is a burden. And maybe that’s why I handled my situation so differently from my brother. It’s my worst nightmare, I avoid relying on people and it doesn’t help that the few people that I’ve chosen to do so with have proved me right. Obviously, there’s some nuance here but my mentally ill brain can’t comprehend that. The highlight of this episode for me was how much Ben was portrayed as a burden. He carried out a series of events that ended up being detrimental to his life and his family’s lives. He was off his medication and he couldn’t help it. And as I watched all the sequences of his family trying to get a handle on the situation from Ruth’s yelling to Wendy driving the getaway car, I felt his pain. Not from the outside looking in but a lot more intimately. Seeing his family treat him as somewhat of a child during the whole thing mellowed me. It brought me back to that place- a place of helplessness, a complete lack of self-reliance and being extremely perceived by multiple people. Being a burden because of something you can’t control is a different kind of pain. It doesn’t matter if your loved ones don’t see you or treat you that way, the truth is we often tell ourselves a different story.
A similar issue I experienced is the high level of people-pleasing that sometimes comes with this. Having established that our mental illness can be a burden, we can sometimes try to do things that we know we can’t handle just to prove to ourselves that we might be normal or to make our loved ones happy. Although our family should never even put us in that position, it’s quite plausible because of the situation’s complexity. The dynamic of our relationships change afterwards and that’s what Ben had to deal with. He went off his medication because he wanted to make love to his girlfriend and he had to deal with the different opinions of how he should be taken care from his sister and girlfriend. I know that all too well and wish I didn’t because although they might have the right intentions they are never going to understand your plight and that disconnect is forever apparent.
This episode was very triggering for me, I had chills throughout and I connected with it on a level that I never thought I could connect to fictional stories. This part of Ben’s monologue at the start of the episode has something I would like to highlight:
“And my father was not a good person, but… I imagine him there at the end [sniffles] I just want to hold him. You know? [sniffles] That’s kind of always been a problem of mine. I’ll go deep into another person’s shit. Or I spin out on a thing that hasn’t happened yet. It might not happen. But I worry. I just worry. Like Tom Petty. What a shame. [inhales deeply, sighs] My day’s been going good, man. How’s your day been going? “
Worry and overthinking are feelings that everyone experiences but mentally ill people experience them on a different level because the stakes are higher.