May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought this post would be fitting.
I’ve struggled with bouts of depression and was diagnosed a few years back with PTSD caused by my abusive ex-husband. I’ve known numerous people who struggle with depression, as well as manic episodes. I’ve known people who have committed suicide because they saw no other way out of the situation they were in.
The more I look around these days, the more mental well-being seems to be declining. Mass shootings and suicides are plastered all over the news. Over prescribing pain meds and antidepressants are on the rise. It’s almost become a way of life. We have to stop fighting over gun laws and not engage each other in, “I’m right, you’re wrong” fights and start fighting the unrelenting monster called mental illness.
Why are there so many school shootings? Why are more than one out of three Americans on painkillers? Why is it that one out of six Americans is on antidepressants? These percentages far surpass those in other countries. I don’t have the answers, but believe we have to find them.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ~Galatians 3:28
You know… the look you get when you don’t know if you’ve just over shared. I’m at a place in life where I can be open about my OCD. It’s my hope that by doing so I can help someone else get over the stigma of saying they have a silent illness.
I’ve been taking a training this week about how to initiate “critical conversations.” Those types of conversations that are uncomfortable but often necessary to have. Communicating correctly is a skill dying in this digital age. After being in this training for awhile, I shared a thought with my workshop partner a total stranger until this class. We were speaking on how personalities can get in the way of conversations and brainstorming strategies to overcome that roadblock. I shared that I’ve been told by friends that when they first met me I seemed… cold. Once they came to know me though, they shared they were happy to find I was the complete opposite.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.~Psalm 34:4-5
What they didn’t know with their first glance is that I have a mental illness. My aloofness is nothing more than finding a safe place for me to be. I have to study people and new situations to make sure I’m comfortable. Last thing I want is to be triggered into a state that has me in tears and a cycle of obsession. My workshop partner looked on me as if to say, “you’re mentally ill?” I could tell by his expression and body language that he was trying to figure out how he didn’t know that from day one.
If anyone has the honor of ever meeting Linda, you’d know from the start that she has cerebral palsy. It’s evident in her left arm and hand, her limp and her speech. These are cues anyone can take to deduct that she has a story to tell. It’s not that way with the silent diseases. It’s not always comfortable to be candid and admit, when appropriate, that I’ve OCD. But I think it’s vital. Here’s why…
Later my partner asked if I thought the seating assignments would be rearranged for the next class. I said I hoped not… it messes with me. I’d have to get used to the change, and spend time getting comfortable all over again.
He laughed and said, “I hate it too. Things like that are what really stirs up my–,”
…. and it’s that pause that is so essential. The odds are he was going to say “his OCD” for it looked like he had it perched on his lips. If I had a dime for every time someone used OCD as a designer term for a quirk or a preference, I’d be a millionaire. Only on a rare few occasions have I met someone who legitimately shared my struggle. Instead, he stopped and said it “bugs” him.
I’m left to wonder…. was he one of the millions out there suffering with OCD and unable to trust their vulnerability enough to share it? Or was he one of the few to learn that this is a serious illness and deserves respect? If it’s the former, I hope my vulnerability helps him find courage to speak his story. If the latter, kudos and thanks for rephrasing.
I show my vulnerability to helps others. I’ve seen the power speaking out can have in helping others find their path to healing. Linda bears her soul to prove what abilities hide in the weaknesses we THINK we have. Shame can be turned to a strength if all trust and faith is placed in God. I think I speak for both of us when I admit that in each of our struggles came a healthy dose of feeling shame. Stepping outside of that prison and sharing a story, can open doors. We need to be in authentic relationships with our neighbors and we hope we can spread that awareness.
This past week my family and I lost a very dear friend to suicide stemming from bi-polar depression.
It’s been incredibly hard to see such a bright light extinguished by mental illness. Chris was only 24, way too soon to die. He was kind and caring, and always had a smile on his face. My daughter says Chris was her ‘crush’. He will be greatly missed.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.~ Matthew 5:4
Every one close to him, even those who lived with him, saw no sign he’d capable of doing such a horrific act as taking his own life. But Chris had demons; demons hiding deep within… and hid well until he was too tired and weak to fight back. That’s how I see it anyway. None of us will ever be the same…
His girlfriend, Jessie, said to me that she never understood why people say suicide is selfish. Now she understands just how selfish it truly is. He left a gaping whole in each and every heart he touched. The heart of his mother, father, his brother… the hearts of all of his friends, especially me and my family, not to mention the hearts of his girlfriend and her family whom he lived with for the past two years.
I keep looking back on the last few weeks trying to see if I can uncover even the smallest cue telling me that something was off with him. My husband, Ryan, has been doing the same. Both of us noticed that Chris was a little down, but nothing that would indicate what would happen. We just thought it was the result of a long winter. After all, he still always had that stupid infectious smile on his face. I’m not even sure even if we did notice something it would have made a bit of a difference. The reason I say this is because he wasn’t on any medication. Chris couldn’t handle the side effects.
This reason has a very familiar ring to it. A close family member stopped taking meds for bipolar because of the very same reason. Although my family member is doing well, there’s always a risk that they won’t be. It’s a day-by-day process.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. ~Psalm 34: 18
My advice for people who love others with bipolar, or any other kind of mental illness, is to encourage them to get help. Have them go to a local mental health physician or call the mental health hotline at 1-888-679-1575. If they won’t do that, love them and give them support. Take it day-by-day. Don’t take what they do or say personally, however, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU STAY WITH SOMEONE IF THEY ARE ABUSING OR HARMING YOU IN ANY WAY.