Imagine you’re a schizophrenic for just a second. You wake up in the morning and the sun is beaming into your eyes and you feel at peace. Except, you immediately start hearing inside your head, “shut up!” “kill yourself” “you’re fuckin’ worthless.” “Go die!” “Jump out your window, do it do it do it do it!” These thoughts are pretty disturbing. What’s more disturbing is it’s not even you saying them. It sounds like some other person is shouting into your ears these thoughts. And you keep hearing them throughout the day until maybe you interact with some actual real human being and maybe you get a little bit of peace from the voices.
Well, mental illness is not exactly something easy to live with. Especially the most boring disease ever created by God: DEPRESSION. Yes. Depression is the worst. Especially when it’s major depression. Depression isn’t being sad. No it’s worse than sad. It’s not having any hope, any motivation, or any reason to do anything. It can make you become psychotic. No, not a psychopath. Psychotic. That’s when you lose touch with reality and start believing all kinds of nonsense like someone stole your organs or your wife is cheating on you even though she’s with you in the house all day.
When it comes to super super major major depression, there’s not a lot Stoicism can do for you sadly. I’ve been there. Mental gymnastics just couldn’t snap me out of it. I would lie on the floor in the kitchen for hours just begging God to kill me and send me somewhere less painful like Hell. Initially I wasn’t even responding to medication. Eventually, I just had to get my brain shocked and rebooted. I had to have an electric arc pass through my brain to reshuffle all the damn neurotransmitters so that maybe they would start doing something right. And it worked. Amazingly, it worked.
Saying to yourself that “virtue is the only good” when you’re a schizophrenic or have major depression and not properly shocked/rebooted or medicated, you’re just not going to get where you need to. I would like to say though that it’s true that virtue is the only good. And the Stoics actually give us a good means to getting to virtue: PREFERRED INDIFFERENTS. Once you eat 3 meals a day, and sleep 8 hours, and you can get all your essential vitamins and even your psychiatric meds if necessary, you can then pursue virtue as the only good.
I’m not sure how the Stoics handled people with “disordered minds”. Perhaps they just thought of them as strange anomalies. Perhaps people with mental illnesses were never an issue to them because maybe anyone with a “disordered mind” would just be abandoned in a forest somewhere and starve to death.
Anyway, I would like to end by saying that if you have a “disordered mind” like mine you can certainly find comfort that you live in a technological civilization that can fix your brain neurotransmitters or reset/reboot them. Just remember, “virtue is the only good” BUT pursue your preferred indifferents as well. Take care of your health. Take especial care of your mental health.
Sometimes life can take a turn for the worst. Let’s say all these scenarios happen: You lose your close family in an accident, your friends stab you in the back, you fall into a fire and melt your beautiful face, and you suffer from intense chronic pain throughout your body coupled with drug and therapy resistant depression. If such a situation was to occur and you couldn’t bear the thought of living anymore, would it be acceptable if you wanted to take your life? Would taking your life be forfeiting a virtuous life?
The Stoics didn’t believe taking your life would necessarily forfeit virtue. If they saw your situation so dire and you had such crippling depression and intense chronic pain, they’d understand if you took the path of euthanasia. Largely because chronic pain and crippling depression coupled with all these ill circumstances is going to make it difficult for you to be virtuous. And without virtue, then there is no eudaimonia. There is no praiseworthiness. So the only thing virtuous left to do would be to take your life.
Zeno of Citium famously took his life because he broke his toe. This may seem ridiculous to us moderns but a broken toe in the ancient days for an old man could’ve been difficult to treat. Plus the pain associated with the broken toe would’ve made it difficult to live a life of virtue and excellence.
Another thing to bear in mind is that we’re only human. None of us are Sages. Remember that before judging anyone too harshly when they decide on euthanasia.
I’ve always been an anxious fellow. I’ve always had a lot of phobias. I mostly was afraid of people though (social anxiety disorder). I was always worried what they would think. When I talked to people, it was difficult for me to string sentences together because I was so worried that my speech and facial gestures would be judged harshly. As I aged these fears began to go away. But they never went completely away until I started practicing Stoicism in 2011.
Starting in 2010 I had a lot of anger problems too. Some of it was because of my right-libertarian political beliefs at the time. But as I practiced Stoicism my anger and my anxiety subsided. Premeditatio malorum (more popularly known as negative visualization) really helped alleviate most of my anger and anxiety.
Even though I had mastered my anxiety and anger by 2012, I fell into a depression that caused psychosis. No amount of Stoicism helped in this respect especially since it was a complete mental breakdown and it happened within a week. It was just rapid depression turning into a loss of touch with reality. After hospitalization, I was heavily medicated and I was able to think straight again. Sometimes I still feel down or lose interest in daily life activities but my Stoicism really helps me adapt to this attitude. I can easily get myself out of bed with Stoicism.
One of the things I’ve learned is that Stoicism can help me master some of my mental issues but not all of them. Sometimes Stoicism’s mental therapies just don’t do the trick. But they do at least help me when things are moderately severe. Stoicism also helps me with pain.
In 2013 I was hospitalized for spontaneous stomach bleeding. I lost a lot of blood but even though I did I was Stoically content. The surgery was really painful because they had to cut through my belly in order to fix my stomach. The nurses were very impressed with how I was able to cope with my pain. Stoicism really prepared me for painful things like sharp cuts through the abdomen.
Stoicism can’t fix all your issues. Don’t believe any one thing can just fix everything unless it’s like nanobots or something out of Star Trek. Stoicism can’t completely fix you, marijuana can’t cure all cancers, vegan diets can’t cure all diabetes. Don’t believe that only one thing can fix all things. But Stoicism really does help a lot when you need something else other than medication or group therapy.
Stoicism is probably the most helpful philosophy I’ve ever had. I don’t know where I’d be without it.