Here’s the Hard Part: Mental Health

I don’t know if you happened to see the video of Sinead O’Connor which she posted to her Facebook page this week. In all manner of speaking, this video is heart-wrenching. I urge you to watch it. It’s not easy to watch someone in this condition. Her second video is not any easier to watch, though she has since followed up and shared with us that she is being admitted to a hospital for treatment.

What many people don’t understand is the bravery shown here. Social media gives us a platform to share all aspects of our lives, and so many people often see videos/pictures such as this as “attention seeking” and fail to recognize it for what it actually is. This is a cry for help. This is real. Sinead is the real and true face of mental illness and to come forward and publish a glimpse into her life should not be seen as anything other than someone asserting their will to live despite a daily struggle that involves sometimes wanting to die. She is right about one thing, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are.

Admitting you are in desperate need of help is not easy. Admitting yourself into a hospital is even harder. Sinead isn’t stupid, though there are some who might believe her to be. She indicates that being in the hospital is obviously the best thing for her, and that the team of people who surround her there will provide nothing but top-notch quality care. That’s not an irrational thought process.

People with mental health illnesses don’t look at all like you and me.
People with mental health illnesses look exactly like you and me.

They look like our parents and our siblings and our best friends.
I would assume that 95% of the time, we cannot see someone standing in the coffee line before us and, looking them over, decide that they are suffering from bi-polar. Or from PTSD. Or from Seasonal Affective Disorder. It doesn’t happen like that. Sure, we’ve all seen someone and thought, “Hmm, they look a little off.” But it’s just a little different than looking at a person and going, “You’re a complete moron.” Because you can pretty much look at someone and figure out if they’re an idiot before they open their mouth…

Anyway…

There is nothing easy about discussing mental health issues and the symptoms that people who suffer with these diseases experience on the daily. I can say with certainty that this fact ALONE is often what keeps people from opening up about their illnesses. It’s an uncomfortable topic that dredges up some intense feelings for all parties involved. We would much rather leave dark topics in dark places instead of pulling back the curtain to let the light in… And what makes it even harder is that the questions asked commonly don’t have definitive answers. “Why do you feel this way?”…. “I just don’t know why.” Some understand that answer. Some do not.

I think I’m pretty high-functioning for someone who lives with depression. No, it’s not all doom and gloom and there isn’t a gray raincloud hanging perpetually above my head. I laugh. I laugh a lot. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But I also isolate myself. One time, I had 5 days off from work and I managed to leave the house one time to go to the grocery store. I didn’t shower for 3 of those days and couldn’t even force myself to open up the curtains to let the sun in. It isn’t always a quick turnaround from feeling awful to feeling good again, but there are just some things, like work, that require me to get up and get back to reality. I am thankful for that.

We all have good days and bad days. We all have peaks and valleys. The struggle is real for so many of us. I want to express the importance of resources…. Friends, family, professionals, your dog, whoever makes you feel comfortable enough to discuss what you’re going through. Read books, find blogs (like this one, yeah?!), go to a support group. Try a new exercise routine, experiment with a new diet, or maybe see if a prescription medication might be helpful.

I’m as guilty as anyone of not reaching out when I need a hand. The fact is, talking about feeling shitty feels really shitty. And who wants to subject others to that? My best friend, Lindsay, and I had dinner a couple weeks ago after not seeing each other for some time. The first thing we did was promise each other that no matter how busy we got, we were going to try to get together at least once a week. Now, we talk nearly every day anyway, but chatting via text is not nearly as good as seeing your best friend in person. Side note: Don’t undervalue these little catch-up meetings with friends and the benefit that they hold for you.

As we dined, I caught her up on how things had been going since I last saw her. I confessed that I had been feeling pretty down lately. I told her that I was having a hard time getting my head straight. I also told her that I had decided to try antidepressants again to see if that might help resolve some of the trouble. It sucks having to admit that. Nobody wants to be on medication because they can’t seem to get control over their own thoughts. It has been many years since I’ve been on meds, and really this time was easier, because my only thought was, “What do I have to lose?”

She waited until I was finished, then looked at me and said, “You need to call me when you feel like this. I’m a good listener.” She is. How lucky am I to have a friend who would take up my burden as her own. I smiled but at the same time I was feeling a little embarrassed because of the whole “I need to take pills to try to fix myself” thing. Lindsay tells me, “You don’t need to explain yourself. I might not relate to everything you’re going through, but I do understand some of the feelings.” I could have cried. How often do we wait to hear those words and actually have it be true… “I understand.”

So my goal is to get better at talking. Funny, because I’m willing to share so much here. The written word provides me a comfort like nothing else. Expressing myself this way is ten thousand times easier than talk therapy. But… I need to explore these options. I need to really commit to improving my self-care. I can’t always predict when my mood will turn bad, but I know how it feels. It feels like standing on the beach, where the sand meets the waves, and the tide is coming in. It seems slow, gradual, but suddenly I’m up to my neck and I can’t put my feet back on the sand. I am drowning, wondering how I’m going to swim myself out of this when I realize… That’s why they have Life Guards on the beach… All I have to do is reach out my hand…

Cheers to you, cheers to me, and cheers to all of us doing our best every day.
And thank you, Life Guards.

#OneOfMillions
#EndTheStigma
#1in5

~ AP