I recently finished a very thought-provoking young adult novel by David Levithan called “Every Day.” It’s about a person named “A” who has no body of his own and every day for as long as he can remember he wakes up in the body of another person, has access to their memories, and must live out the day as this new person without drawing too much attention to himself. (NOTE: I’m going to refer to A using male pronouns because that’s how I viewed him in the book, but he is in no way either a he or a she. He’s both and neither, and it’s a very refreshing and radical approach to gender).
A’s is a lonely existence. He has no mother, father, grandparents, or siblings. He can have no true friends because his existence is too difficult to explain. And having a relationship is practically out of the question because he has no gender and no body of his own—something about which humans are surprisingly picky. We like to say that we love the person “inside” the body, that we’d love them no matter what they looked like, but how many of us have relationships with people that change their body daily? Well, none that I know of.
While the main plot of “Every Day” follows A as he falls in love with one girl and attempts to form a relationship with her despite his ever changing physical form and location, what struck me as most interesting about this tale is its fine attention to the nuances of the body. We take for granted our physical form. We know how we walk and talk and move and function without having to think about it, but if our consciousness was suddenly thrown into someone else’s physical body, and we had to pass off as them for a day, I imagine that we would become much more aware of the physical demands the body makes on us and how that affects who we are.
What fascinated me the most, though, was the portrayal of mental illness as seen through the eyes of a body jumper. A very clearly states that mental illness is something chemically connected to the body. However, throughout history, society has tried to convince us that mental illness is something inherent in our minds. That it is our mind, our soul, our very being that is sick, but science has shown this just isn’t the case. Our environment and past can create many obstacles for us mentally that therapy can help work out and teach us to cope with, but many people have a chemical imbalance in their bodies that causes the real culprit of mental illness—the depression, anxiety, OCD, and on and on.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.”
-David Levithan, Every Day
As A jumps from body to body, one day he lands in that of a teenage girl who struggles with deep depression. He knows this from the moment he wakes up. He can feel the weight of it. The loss. The utter despair and defeat. And even though he has no mental illness, the body takes a toll on him. In a way, the body is it’s own entity. It wants things and demands to have them (e.g. he spent a day in the body of drug addict which was utter torture for himself as he keep himself locked inside of a room all day to avoid shooting up with heroin). And through this demanding the body can have detrimental effects on the mind.
“She is so lost in her sadness that she has no idea how visible it is.”
-David Levithan, Every Day
When you struggle with depression or other mental illnesses, it’s very likely that you don’t know what it’s like to live without depression. You accept the defeat and the drag and the weight as a part of who you are—as a part of your mind and soul. But in truth, it’s not! If you could step into another body like A does every day you would realize that many of your struggles are coming from your physical being. It’s why there are so many drugs for mental illness. It’s why taking care of your body (i.e. eating well, exercising, etc.) is so important. It’s why, I would suggest, suicide is such an unfortunate self-prescribed fix. Because you want to escape that body that feels like it’s trapping you.
It’s true, in a way, when you have a mental illness your body feels like a prison. But you’re not stuck that way forever with no escape except the unthinkable method of suicide.
Ask for help.
In A’s case, he did something he normally forbids himself from doing: making a life-altering choice for his host. But once he found a notebook full of extremely detailed suicide plans with an execution date just six days in the future, he knew he couldn’t follow his own rules. He questioned the ethics of asking for help since he was not in fact the owner of the body who would eventually receive it, but can you really argue with his decision? If your friend was struggling—if ANYONE was struggling—wouldn’t you throw ethics to the wind in order to provide the appropriate and needed care. Many times, those of us with mental illnesses don’t ask for help. Quite frankly, some of us don’t even know how to tell that something is wrong. We think the way we think and act and our misery is some kind of sick self-punishment that we deserve.
I’ve thought like that.
And I don’t want to ever think that’s normal again.
If you or someone you know thinks this way, ask for help. You don’t deserve this kind of “punishment.” No one does. And with the right medications, therapy, and support, you can overcome mental illness. It won’t be easy by far, but you are worth trying.
“I am always amazed by people who know something is wrong but still insist on ignoring it, as if that will somehow make it go away. They spare themselves the confrontation, but end up boiling in resentment anyway.”
-David Levithan, Every Day
As a side note, A’s experience in this suicidal teen’s body is only one day, one chapter in his own story. While he may not have to battle a mental illness every day, there is its own kind of torture in never being able to call one body home. And so I think that no matter how unfortunate our own physical situation may seem, we have to be grateful. Because we will always have something he doesn’t: time.
I greatly enjoyed David Leviathan’s “Every Day” and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique story with a though-provoking premise.