Author John Green on chronic mental illness

Dave Cortright
3 min readFeb 10, 2023

This is a partial transcript of this video embedded below. I encourage you to watch the 2-minute video; his performance really brings it to life.

I have a mental illness called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which, is often associated with anxiety and depression problems. I try to talk about that sometimes because I don’t think that there should be anything embarrassing about mental illness. But, I don’t talk about it that much because 1, it’s personal; and 2, I find it difficult to talk about my own experiences with chronic illness.

Because the central way we imagine sickness—as a thing that we must conquer and then put behind us—doesn’t really apply to chronic illness. Like, when you go to the store to get a card for a sick friend; you go to the “Get Well Soon” section. But, for people living with chronic illness, it often isn’t a question of getting “well soon”. Hank, I hope that someday they cure ulcerative colitis; but, I don’t expect you to “get well soon”. Instead, my hope for you is that you live a rich and full life; and that you aren’t marginalized because of your illness.

I have a theory about this, Hank: I don’t think we humans like to imagine our lives as “random”. We need human lives to be narratives that make sense; so, if we can’t find causation, we just create it. Like, people get depression because they’re weak; or they get diabetes because they don’t eat well; or they have heart failure because they don’t exercise. All of that stuff is either totally inaccurate or overly simplistic, but we want every effect to have a cause. And when we can’t find that cause, we invent one.

Anyway, Hank, as you know, I have been very sick over the last several weeks as I’ve tried to figure out a new medication regimen. Over the years of living with my illness, I’ve learned about how to make it tolerable. I’ve learned to celebrate small successes; I’ve learned to encourage myself without being cruel. And, most importantly, I’ve learned that there is hope; and that when I feel like there isn’t hope, my brain is lying to me.

But still, it is awful! And, after years of relatively good health, I have been reminded in the last several weeks just how painful and crushing that this stuff can be. And, that’s despite my having all kinds of advantages that make it easier to live with; an incredibly supportive family, total job flexibility, an excellent therapist and psychiatrist, money to afford medication, etcetera. Most people don’t have all of those resources, and that worsens any kind of illness.

Hank, I’ve mentioned all of this for three reasons. First, to tell people who may be living with mental illness that there is hope. That mental illness is almost always treatable; and that, how you feel when you are at your sickest is not how you will always feel. And, down in the description, you can find the links to resources that I’ve found helpful, and that the people I know have found helpful. Secondly, I want to remind all of us, that what we see in videos or on Instagram isn’t the whole story. Like, my friends and family have known that I have been unwell over the last several weeks because it is impossible for me to hide it from them; but, it is very possible for me to hide it with jump cuts. And lastly, to say thanks! Thank you for watching these videos.

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Dave Cortright

Professional coach, effective altruist and audaciously optimistic about helping to fix the global mental health crisis. https://designingthis.life