We, as a whole, haven’t been talking about mental health all that long, have we? I mean, even with my writing all the gory details and struggles and putting them out there for the world to read, there are some people who haven’t so much as mentioned it to me. And that’s really ok. I mean, it’s hard to know what to say, I guess. “Hey, how’s the crippling anxiety today?” Or possibly they’re afraid to say anything to me for fear I’ll burst into tears for no discernible reason (this is a real and valid possibility, I’m afraid). But I have to wonder, were I suffering from a different sort of illness, would the response be different? If I had a broken bone, or a grave injury, would people have shown up to offer assistance? To be clear, there have been some, and I’m forever and eternally grateful.
But if you had a broken bone, or a grave injury, you wouldn’t be able to do the things you needed to do, right? That’s different, isn’t it? You wouldn’t have been able to clean, or cook, or do more than the bare necessities, if you were really ill or injured. If you think having a mental health struggle isn’t being “really ill”, you have clearly never suffered with a mental illness. Not only is mental illness a “real” illness, but it has a huge mortality rate. That means people die from mental illnesses. A lot. Every day. Veterans choosing suicide over living with PTSD. People whose depression convinces them the world would be better off if they weren’t in it. People who are too ashamed to seek treatment for mental illness, because they don’t want to be labeled as “crazy”. People who suffer from eating disorders, a mental illness that is more fatal than any of the ones mentioned above. I could go on.
But we can’t talk about it? Bullshit. I know I’m not the first one to say this, but if it were any other “disease” killing all these people, we’d be shouting it from the rooftops. There would be foundations set up. Folks would be running 5K’s and having colored powder tossed on them to raise money for – therapy and psychiatry, or whatever. But there’s not. People are still afraid of being judged and labeled. In addition, it’s hard to know a lot about a person’s genetic mental health history. If someone actually had a diagnosis, it was never talked about, except in hushed tones as though it were something to be ashamed of. I think, more likely, most people were just not diagnosed. They were the lazy ones, the ones who didn’t do all the chores that needed done. The ones whose children weren’t cared for well because they weren’t able. The ones who became dependent on alcohol or other substances to medicate themselves for an illness they didn’t know they had. I don’t know a lot about my genetics as it relates to my mental health. I have some suspicions from observations I’ve made, but very little hard data to work with.
This is how I feel about all that. If you want to give me a label, please do so. Diagnose me with something, and do it as accurately as you can, so I can get back to my life. Please, help me feel human again. I’m working so hard. The shrink tells me, “You have some bipolar tendencies, let’s look at treating that.” I’m like, “Awesome. Tell me more. Let’s kick its ass.” My therapist tells me I need to meditate and talk to my inner child. Done. I’ve been having daily conversations with seven-year-old me for two weeks now. I can only stick with it for about ten minutes at a time because usually I cry like a baby the whole time. I figure there must be something there I need to work out with her. Also, she has pretty hair.
I want to talk about this. I want people out there who are suffering in silence to be unafraid to get help for themselves.
Last time I saw the psychiatrist I started crying in his office. “I don’t understand. I was so good for so many years. I did all the stuff. I yoga’d. I meditated. I ate the vegetables and drank the smoothies. And I was ok. Why now? Why did I fail?”
This is what he told me. “All that stuff you did, it’s still in there. All the years of work you did, it still worked. Because you need help right now, it doesn’t mean you failed.”
I looked at him. “It feels like I did. I feel like I failed. At being strong. At caring for myself. At being enough.”
“I know,” he says, “That’s why I’m telling you – you did not fail. Keep trying and working and you will get better.”
I don’t know why that helped, but that’s what I keep telling myself. As I move through the good days and fight through the bad days. I did not fail.