Musings

Do You Know The Face Of Mental Illness?

Every year during Mental Health Awareness Month, I write about some aspect of mental health – being an advocate, getting involved, taking the pledge, volunteering.  It’s the last day of May & I haven’t done my usual post.

This year I had a hard time with what I would say – I mean I can keep telling you the same things so much until you either do it (that would be AWEsome) or stop paying attention (I definitely don’t want that).

I kept wracking my brain, looking for a sign – because usually these things just come to me.

I noticed that I was seeing lots of stories & social media posts about people’s anxieties, introverts trying to break out of their shells, people battling depression, bipolar & other mental illnesses.  And this got me to thinking… “how many people really know the face of mental illness?”

 

Reading these very personal stories, most folks might think “oh how sad”, “poor thing”, “that’s tough” or something to that effect.  But honestly, they weren’t really sad moments to read; I never really thought any of those things.  I thought things like “yah, me too”, “been there, still visit sometimes”, “I feel ya”, & “this is real life”.

Then I remembered & could not stop thinking about an anonymous conversation I had with someone close to me a couple of years ago.


I won’t get into all the details but let’s just call my “friend” Alison.  She was young, very smart & driven with the rest of her life ahead of her.  She went to college & like most of us, did well sometimes, not so well other times.  But overall she was doing all the “right” things.

Somewhere along the way, something happened & she lost her way.  She stopped going to class & eventually dropped out.  She started drinking a lot and then came the Rx drugs.  I don’t know what all she took, and it doesn’t really matter.  She struggled ever since.

Anyway, on this 1 particular day we were talking about life & I was encouraging her about school.  She really wanted to get back in but felt lost & like it might not matter anyway.

Well… everyone knows that I was on an 8 year degree plan.  My curriculum took a detour into working – you know so I could party & buy stuff – dating, & eventually having a child before going back on the curriculum the school required to get my degree.

We talked about that.  And we got deeper.

We talked about how I found out at age 24, almost a year after my oldest was born, that all the things I had been feeling & going through for years was a combination of clinical depression & generalized anxiety disorder.  Not some form of postpartum that might soon go away, but real. Life. Depression. And GAD.

*Note:  this is not to say that PPD is not a serious condition that can lead to other more long term mental illness.  I am making the distinction between a treatable , less long term condition that could have a finite end.


13 Graphs Anyone Who's Ever Been Anxious Will Understand
Source

 

All that time feeling disjointed, misunderstood, a lack of belonging, a dejected spirit.

And we talked about how that changed my life forEVER.  It allowed me to accept what was/is & be free to do something about it.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”When you accept what is, you can be free to do something about it or do something with it.” quote=”When you accept what is, you can be free to do something about it or do something with it.”]

 

And that was the moment when I threw myself back into school, while working full time.

That was the moment I began to LIVE.  For my son & for myself, the way God intended.

You know what the response was… “WHY didn’t I ever know this?!  I feel like I could have been talking to you all this time because you understand.”

Seriously, my heart sank.  She was right.  Even though I accepted my truth a long time ago, even talked to some people about it randomly in attempt to support them, I really missed the mark.

All that time, I could have been a blessing to Alison.  I hadn’t been but I dern sure made it a point to br available after that, without being pushy.

Let’s consider the prize we each have been given is our ability to offer full and interested attention to people seeking our counsel. And seldom does a day pass that we aren’t given the opportunity to listen, to nurture, to offer hope where it’s been dashed.

 

We are not separate, one from another. Interdependence is our blessing; however, we fail to recognize it at our crucial crossroads. Alone we ponder. Around us, others, too, are often suffering in silence.

 

Our emotional well-being is enhanced each time we share ourselves – our stories or our attentive ears. We need to be a part of someone else’s pain and growth in order to make use of the pain that we have grown beyond.

 

Pain has its purpose in our lives. And in the lives of our friends too. It’s our connection to one another, the bridge that closes the gap. Secrets keep us sick. Today, let’s listen and share and be well! Much love and untold blessings!

~~Chaplain Roger Ward

 

You may say oh that’s really sad that I could have been there for someone but wasn’t.  And you’re right it is.

But what’s more sad is that people try to drown themselves in unhealthy habits to mask their pain.

What’s more sad is that people don’t want to acknowledge that they need help.

What’s more sad is that people can’t get the help when they finally do accept that they need it.

What’s more sad is that even if they can get help, people don’t even want to because they don’t want anyone to know.  Or judge.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”What’s most sad is that when people finally accept that they need #mentalhealth help, they either can’t get it, or don’t even want to because they don’t want anyone to know.  Or judge.” quote=”What’s most sad is that when people finally accept that they need mental health help, they either can’t get it, or don’t even want to because they don’t want anyone to know.  Or judge.”]

My own family never knew that I struggle with depression & anxiety until I pulled together a NAMIWalks team back in 2015.  When I tell you I struggled with how to bring it up… if I should talk to my immediate family 1st, should it be in person or via email.  It was a mess.

I was a hot mess.  Scared to death, like a little child – still after all that time; grown, with a family, home, & life of my own.  Scared.

In the end, I talked with my immediate family – the ones who had seen me go through things & come out on the other side winning, accomplishing things, doing this thing called life – and being there with me through all of that.

They did not flinch.  They were supportive & yet again I had to accept that my anxiety had gotten the best of me.  AND my NAMIWalks team was storming ahead.  As a matter of fact, I recall my mom being a little upset that I hadn’t told her sooner because she could have gotten far more sponsorship for our team.

Now I know.  😉

The rest of the family & friends got an email explaining what was going on & why they were being invited to participate or donate.

How’d it go?

Pretty dern well, I must say.  Thank the Lord for Jesus & thank God for his children!

I still don’t shove it down people’s throats.  I take opportunity where I can but… Family is 1 thing, the world is another.


This is not to get into all the things we go through to come to grips with & cope with our illness or that of our family or friends. It’s just to say that sometimes the best thing we can do to advocate for mental health is to share our own stories of hope & encouragement.  Even the not so great parts.

Over the years I have learned a lot:

  • coping mechanisms for when I have an anxiety attack
  • how to “navigate a room” when the anxiety is high
  • how to “psych myself up” for potentially stressful situations (and there’s just so many of them, lol)
  • how to let myself shut down & feel what I feel when I feel it
  • how to tell my friends & family what I’m feeling
  • how to tell people to leave me alone {nicely} when I just need a minute (or a week)
  • how important it is to have a “happy space” – a space/home that makes me feel all warm & fuzzy & safe & happy.
  • when it’s time “edit” my life & how to do it

To begin editing your life, simply think about your positive and negative  experiences. When you determine what parts of your life are no longer serving you, make the commitment to remove them.  It is important to remember that there is no proper timing or way to do this, and patience and compassion for yourself are always important during this process.

 

Then, ask yourself what has brought you profound bliss and consider how you can make those experiences and beliefs part of your life now.

 

With a little editing, you’ll be able to clear out what/who is no longer serving you and make room in your life for more happiness, love, and wisdom!

~~Chaplain Roger Ward

 

But the most important thing I’ve learned is to NOT hide.  

Who I am, who you are is a blessing to others.  Everyone has a gift & a story.

So… Do you know the face of mental illness?  It has no color, no gender, no hair type, no nationality.  It is not (always) homeless, violent, unkempt, or completely “checked out” & definitely doesn’t start out in those ways.  I am the face of mental illness.  The person next to you may be too.

Be Kind

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