Mental Illness and Capability

A quick journal on mental illness and feeling capable.


“Capable” is a word I’ve often struggled with over the years. What does it mean, to be capable of something? Perhaps more importantly, does being capable have any core value?

As humans, we are all capable of great feats and wrongdoings. Consciously or not, we make choices every day that have great impact on each other. We persevere through our pasts to forge our own futures, to plant our seeds and nurture them, watching under determined, protective, and careful eyes. We don’t just leave the seeds alone to wither and die, we shield them from the sun, water them as often as needed, and sometimes we even transfer the seeds to a different garden, someone else’s garden, when the soil was wrong at our own.

Or at least, that’s what some people can do. Living with mental illness feels like a constant pull and push of negative emotions and behaviors that are out to cut away any sprout of new growth. For those of us who struggle to feel capable getting out of bed in the morning, it can feel nearly impossible to put energy in to growth. When you’re entirely focused on survival, personal pleasures and growth aren’t even kept in mind.

For every drop of water, there’s a flood, or a drought that must be dealt with and lived through. The sun often feels too hot or too cold and the people we need to shield us are standing at the wrong angle and we don’t know how to tell them to move. There are times where our leaves and stems are gorgeous but root rot is spreading under the surface. Our seeds reject being in others’ gardens for too long, even if the soil is better than anything we’ve known before. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in a harsh place where the process is known rather than go to a potentially better place, through a new process, where it’s all… unknown.

What I urge people to understand is that this is an everyday reality that millions of people around the world struggle with. We do not need pity, and we do not always need “help”. What we do need is understanding, patience, accountability, and more awareness. We need those who understand that we can’t always control these things, but who will still hold us accountable for any poor behavior. We need those who will stand up for us when we’re not in earshot. We need the knowledge that someone will be there for us when we pull through a particularly hard time. We need people to lend an open mind and listening ear instead of immediate judgement. These things help get us on the right path and provide us tools to begin down the rocky road of recovery. The goal isn’t necessarily to completely recover, because frankly, that’s just not always possible. Instead, we seek the same thing anyone else does: personal growth, safety, good relationships, and peace of mind.

(Disclaimer: I cannot speak for everyone with a mental illness, as we have just as much diversity and individuality as those without. I am a young, white adult living in North America, and do not wish to speak over those who have very different experiences.)

Separating what one is capable of doing from what one feels capable of doing can mean all the difference for those who struggle with mental illness. It’s the people who fight their feelings of being incapable, who rise above and do their best to heal and take control, that end up being the most capable. It’s not just having the ability to do things, but the follow through and discipline to do them. One of my favorite quotes from Jimmy Dean describes this fight:

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”


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