I learned about osmosis in school quite some time ago. The way water moves between cells on instinct. The instinct of what, I’m not sure. Osmosis is where water moves through a semi-permeable membrane from an area that has a lot of water to an area that does not.
In a sense, the cells become aware of one another and share the water so that non-cell falls into dehydration. I’m not a scientist. But this is how osmosis seems to be. The cells help each other out. Automatically. It’s in their nature.
For a while, I think I believed I could fix myself in the same way, via osmosis. I thought that if I could lead others to heal, by talking about mental health and writing about it and making people feel that they weren’t alone then maybe I’d heal, too. I thought that if I could become a resource for others that their newfound well-being would also bleed into me.
Their healing might transfer to me via osmosis and we’d all improve together, the way the cells of plants do. That’s what I think I must have thought, but it isn’t how these things work.
It doesn’t work because when those you’ve helped have adjusted and moved on, and you’re left in the silence of their departure, you can still feel it. The pain. You can hear the quiet voices in the blanket of nothing. The unaddressed issues beating in the darkness.
It is of course nice to want to help people. We should all strive to do that as much as we can. However, it is destructive to run from your issues, and use helping others as an excuse to not have to address them. Despite the enduring hope, nobody is coming to save us. No one descends from the clouds and makes everything all right.
The only person who can save you is you. A realisation that often comes too late, or not at all.
But we often do have this knowledge, despite pretending not to. We bury it. We know there are things, painful things, which we leave to fester in the darkness like rotting carcasses. We choose to leave them there because we can tolerate them when they are out of sight. Their presence doesn’t dwindle, but our awareness of them does. Whatever problems these painful experiences drum up, we learn to endure. We can withstand the pain for the most part.
Eventually, we look back. And we see how much destruction those unresolved issues have caused. We may not realise that we’ve cut off our limbs while accepting them to be tolerable sacrifices.
Addressing the unaddressed is painful. And it takes work. So much work that we often opt for the slow destruction of tolerated pain rather than facing up to the monsters.
They can seem insurmountable when you look at them all at once. If we ignore them, at least we don’t have to look upon the flaws that scar our souls.
No matter what we do, those flaws and ignored faults surface. The cracks appear. Ripples across our personalities. Biting and jagged edges. So it is better, surely, to choose to look upon them now, while you have the strength, and find a way to challenge them head-on.
Healing through osmosis doesn’t work. We don’t have membranes that mental health can seep through from others. Throwing yourself into work doesn’t make the problems disappear. Chasing achievement after achievement doesn’t erase the pain. I’ve tried all of these things and none of them works. They just mask the problem. They treat the symptoms rather than the root of the disease. Short-term fixes are all they are, to distract your mind from the fact that there are flaws that need your attention.
We are not yet capable of healing each other through some sort of shared telepathy. Plants can do this. We, however, can help one another along. Words are our source, our sole but powerful source. We can communicate and express our emotions. We can reach across the divide as no other creature can, and we can let one another know that we are together. We are the same and we will get through whatever needs getting through.
Perhaps this is our osmosis. Our ability to use words. Delicately, imperfectly. Perhaps this is how we help one another to heal.
Daragh Fleming is a writer and author at Thoughts Too Big.