May is National Chocolate Custard Month.
It is also National Mental Health Awareness Month — something many of us are acutely more aware of.
Everyone is part of a special interest group, and this is mine. I’m willing to bet that many more of you can relate than are keen to share, even with those who are close to you.
I know this not because I keep my own struggles under wraps, but because I posted an article on my blog last year that got thousands of clicks — a blog that I only share on my personal Facebook. Curiously, I only received a couple comments on the article itself. My private inbox, however, exploded.
Most of the messages said: “Thank you so much for writing this.”
I was surprised at the sheer number of people who hinted they could personally relate to what I had written… But rarely did a someone come right out and say it.
Like all things, everyone with mental illness has their own unique brand. Symptoms can include (but not limited to): not being able to get out of bed or not being able to sleep for, literally, days; frequent panic attacks or absolutely apathy; a compulsion to clean or a compulsion to hoard. Diagnostic criteria exists but mental illnesses are not cut-and-dried, and they often swing back and forth between debilitation and remission. Major contributing factors here include medication compliance (!!!), stress, exercise, sleep schedules, and sometimes just luck.
When I first started seeing my significant other, I told him that winters are rough. Like, really rough sometimes. As many people do, he brushed it off and blamed it on past life circumstances and espoused the idea that mental illness isn’t “really” real.
That winter he changed his mind.
His change of heart came not from me and my proselytizing, but from seeing firsthand what I had described. The concept was no longer an abstract one and it was as debilitating as I had warned.
I hope that the rest of you who are mentally healthy realize that just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it’s not as serious as people say. I hear a lot of references to girls who cut themselves as “attention-seekers.” But I’ve always wondered: even if it’s for attention, isn’t that still concerning behavior?
I realize that this isn’t a topic that is very popular at dinner parties, but for many people it’s a conversation that has to be had. It shouldn’t be hidden in the dark like a shameful secret. Mental illnesses contribute not only to suicide, but to drug abuse, physical abuse, child neglect, and on and on.
Now, I have separate messages for you depending on where you are in relation to mental health/illness.
1. If you’re healthy: mental illness is impossible to understand from the outside. Saying “happiness is a choice” is not only insulting, it’s untrue and makes many people feel even more incompetent than they already do. “If happiness is a choice, then why am I doing this to myself?”
2. If you need help and you aren’t getting it: please go. You probably feel like you’re being childish or overreacting or not strong enough. Go to the doctor. You may be losing years of happiness with yourself and your loved ones if you wait. Men — this goes twofold for you.
3. If you’re working on getting healthy: don’t stop taking your meds without working with your doctor! Trust your diagnosis! And don’t be afraid to tell your doc that you want to want to try something new/different. It’s your care and your brain… just don’t do it alone.
And to all of you: learn to practice self-care; embrace empathy; and recognize that the human experience is wide and beautiful. And that’s okay.