Living with mental illness: The truth about puzzles

by | May 17, 2023

Puzzles: with an unsettled mind they just keep coming. In fact, I’ve been working on a couple of toughies for some time. The truth about puzzles when you’re living with mental illness? You can’t solve ‘em all.

’You struggle to make the change because the old behavior is still meeting a need. Instead of shaming yourself…”

I’m a mental illness lifer.

My first derealization episode hit when I was nine. And things went full throttle generalized anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, social anxiety, OCD, depression, and alcohol 11 years later.

Sharing air with mental illness for the bulk of my 68 years has been an odyssey.

Physical, emotional, and mental puzzles

If you’ve coexisted with mental illness – what I really prefer calling emotional/mental disorders – for any length of time, you’re likely not stunned when a new puzzle gets tossed your way.

And human beings that we are, we don’t much like aggravation and pain. So if a particular puzzle delivers a good portion of it, we’re going to do all we can to solve it.

But is it always possible? My version of the truth…

Physical puzzles

When it comes to anatomy, physiology, and genetics puzzles, there’s no way they’re all going to be solved.

I don’t get wound up about it because I’ve studied and written about them for years. And when you view the lay of the land you realize an unsolved puzzle isn’t going to do you in.

We also have to consider the fact that the brain and the rest of the body will always generate “unsolved psych mysteries.” And if the greatest minds in the world can’t solve the puzzles, why should we sweat nails over them?

Emotional and mental puzzles

Now, those emotional and mental puzzles – I absolutely get wound up about them. To underscore the point I’m going to share those “couple of toughies” I mentioned in the opening.

But before we jump in…

It’s hard for me to open up about deeply personal information. It would be one thing if I were telling you I’ve always wanted to be a CIA agent. But to me, what you’re about to read exceeds Top Secret.

Still, it’s good to get it off my chest. And who knows, it may hit home for someone, providing a measure of relief.

The unsolvables

Generalized anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, social anxiety, OCD, depression: as challenging as they are, they aren’t puzzles to me anymore. They’re just part of life.

But low self-esteem and emptiness – the “toughies?” In my mind, they’re 1,000 piecers. Solving them would be an unexpected gift.

I’ll open the book…

Low self-esteem

I struggle with self-esteem. And that means self-confidence and insecurity can also become problems. I call them the “Big 3.”

The puzzle doesn’t include awareness or acceptance. Even why isn’t much of a factor anymore. But it definitely includes what to do about it.

emotional and mental puzzles

“I guess I’m going to have to let this one go – unsolved. I tried and that’s all I can do.”

I’ve wrestled with the Big 3 since I was a kid. I mean, the derealization episode I mentioned earlier bears witness to the fact that goofy things were going on in my head.

Curiously, most things came easy to me growing up. Athletics, social life – you name it – I did well. And I enjoyed the spotlight. I’ll even go so far as to say I was a lot of people’s “pick to click” in life. That is until the puzzles appeared and devoured me at the age of 20.

I’d fooled my share of people, most of all myself. There was a ton of mind work to be done and it didn’t happen. But then again, I didn’t know.

What to do about it? I work hard on coming to grips with myself. Will the puzzle ultimately be solved? No.


Just as my self-esteem puzzle is a combo package, so it is with emptiness. Its partner is loneliness.

By the way, isn’t it interesting that we’re most often dealing with a constellation of signs and symptoms? Never seems to be just one thing, does it.

Okay, for years I’ve affectionately referred to it as “The Feeling.” It’s this overwhelming sense of emptiness – desolation. Maybe I could call it “The Black Hole.”

And that’s just what it is – a feeling of gnawing anxiety, loneliness, and “Where did everybody go?” “Everybody” includes me.

No problem tracing its roots to childhood, so the why’s are handled. What to do about it? Just like self-esteem, I do everything I can to manage, but the puzzle will never be solved.

I never grew up

As long as I’m on a revelation roll, I may as well go all the way.

Low self-esteem, low self-confidence, insecurity, emptiness, loneliness, and more. I really believe I never learned how to live. And in many ways, I never grew up.

That accounts for a whole lot of unsolvable puzzles.

New ways to meet the need

As we begin to wrap things up, take a look at this brilliant observation I found on The EQ School’s website…

You struggle to make the change because the old behavior is still meeting a need. Instead of shaming yourself, identify the deeper need and allow it to exist. Then get curious about a new way to meet it.

Regardless of your truth on the solvability of puzzles, what a remarkable take – and great advice.

You can’t solve ‘em all

Anatomy, physiology, genetics, the emotional and mental: puzzles just keep coming when you’re living with mental illness. And that’s never going to change.

The truth is, you can’t solve ‘em all.

Looking to improve your emotional intelligence? See what’s up at The EQ School.

And if you’d like to read more Chipur info and inspiration articles, just hit the titles.

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