My experience this past month can best be summarized in a short phrase: When it rains, it pours. Recently there have been issues with our living situation, a stressful period at work, and, most importantly and unfortunately, an extremely close family member was involved in a horrific car accident. And after all of this, I became ill and had to have emergency surgery this past Tuesday. It has been a month.
But this isn’t exactly what I want to talk about today. I’m not going to sit here and write all about how hard things are and just complain about what I am feeling. With all of this going on, it has given me a lot of time to think about the nature of these feelings themselves. Given that it’s World Mental Health Week, I felt that these thoughts might be worth sharing.
I suffer from mental illness. I have for as long as I can remember, and during times of stress or misfortune, unsurprisingly, it tends to rear its ugly head. I have also known a large number of people who suffer from various mental illnesses, and have lost a person very close to my heart due to his condition. For all of these reasons, Mental Health Week is extremely important to me.
Our society’s perspective on mental health is, for lack of a better word, completely fucked. Aside from the recent push for self-care (that I am in no way discounting), the general opinion of the American people seems to be “suck it up, it’s not so bad.” This widespread minimizing of mental illness has serious repercussions, and furthers the intense shame that often accompanies mental illness. I know the metaphor is heavily used, but would you tell someone with a broken leg to simply walk it off and change their perspective?
For a look at this opinion that is at times infuriating and at times hilarious, check out Wow Thanks I’m Cured on Reddit.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, and this misinformation leads to a lack of understanding of the reality of these illnesses. This misunderstanding of the situation can lead a lot of well-intentioned friends and family members to minimize the condition in an attempt to help the person who is suffering. Despite the positive intentions of many chronic minimizers, advising people suffering from severe mental illness to try just eating plant-based, or to simply try not being sad can cause a lot more harm than good. Consistently reminding them that other people have it worse will not lessen their pain and only risks invalidating their own feelings, making them feel even worse.
For this reason, if you suspect that a loved one may be suffering in silence, or if you are lucky enough to have them turn to your in their hour of need, the best thing you can do for them is to take the time to understand. Admit what you don’t know, but be open to learn. If you offer them your love and support, they may open up to you about what they feel and what their perspective is. Listen to this. Just listen. Unless they are in danger or are a danger to others (in which case you should absolutely seek professional intervention) this is not the time to correct their misconceptions and tell them that they are wrong. If they hurt, that is okay. Their feelings are valid, even if they are not logical or you do not understand them. You can use what they share with you as you learn how to best support them going forward.
If you take on a supportive role for someone in this situation, once you’ve listened to them and admitted what you don’t know, take that time to learn. There are so many resources out there for those who wish to support their loved ones, but I am including a few at the end of this post that have some really wonderful information.
If you happen to be someone who suffers from mental illness yourself, the most important thing that you can do is to take part in weeks like this one. Speak up. The strongest barrier to finding help is the immense shame that can come hand-in-hand with this kind of condition, and the only way we can remove that shame is by bringing mental health into the sunlight. We need to stop hiding it in closets and under the bed, battling it in the night when no one can see or hear.
One of the most crucial moments in my mental health journey was stumbling across a YouTube video. I know that I would not be where I am today had I not come across a video of a young woman who struggled with the same disorders that I struggle with. In hearing her story, I found that I was not alone. That my daily battles are not shameful or isolating, but rather a common pattern for people like me. She was a beautiful, put-together young woman who radiated confidence, and in hearing her story, I felt that maybe it was okay to talk to others about it. Maybe it was okay to be me.
Now I try my hardest to do the same for others. I do my best to not shy away from topics that hit close to home, and speak as proudly as I can about my own journey. Seeking help and working on yourself is not weakness, it is strength. Having the courage to share that strength can make all the difference.