I came of age in the time of Animorphs. The story was, a bunch of kids are given the ability to morph into animals by an alien. It’s their job to save the world from another species of alien. The bad aliens are called Yeerks, and they’re intergalactic slugs which crawl inside your head and sit on your brain, controlling your every move. They enslave entire species in a twisted parasitic relationship, because while their minds are mighty, they’ve just got little slug bodies which can’t really do much without a host.
What got me thinking about the Yeerks again was trying to explain how it feels to have a mental illness. The more I reflect on it, the more apt a comparison it seems. The illness, whatever it is, integrates itself into your life, and even as you’re trying to overcome it, it’s warping your thoughts to make you do its bidding. The difference comes with killing the Yeerks. They need to feed off energy from their sun (or a synthetic equivalent for those off-planet), and if they stay inside a host for three days instead of coming out to feed, they die. A mental illness is not so easy to beat down. It grows stronger off your weakness, and, well, you can’t exactly blame an alien slug for the things you think and do. As much as it is separate from you, it is also a part of you.
Dealing with this unwelcome guest takes a lot longer than three days, and requires an arsenal of weapons. The harsh realisation I’ve come to is that defeating a mental illness is not about defeating it at all, but accepting it and learning to live with it and what it does to you. For all we know about the human mind, there are still many questions which aren’t answered, but I think those will come with time (and good funding for science programs). Maybe one day we’ll be able to better control the neuron storms inside our brains. Maybe not. Maybe, as they say, some suffering is necessary.
At the end of the day, I keep my own Yeerks at bay with the hope that tomorrow will be better. That there is a deeper meaning to this suffering that we can’t yet comprehend. Life is about survival, and hope is one of the best defences you can have.