August 18, 2014 by rebelwithalabelmaker
It is very easy to think “if only he/she’d made the call”, unless you’ve thought about making that call. About checking into a hospital, explaining it to your son’s teachers, explaining why you won’t be at the Church board meeting. I have never lived with life-threatening depression, but I have definitely had days where it took half an hour to work up to putting my bowl in the dishwasher. And days when I couldn’t work up to it at all.
It doesn’t all fall on the person. We can meet that person, who is sitting with the phone in their hand, halfway. We, those who are not terminally ill or gasping for air can be a part of creating a culture of speaking up about mental health. It is not a conversation to have as a last resort, or as a lifesaving measure. Talking about these things should not be a spiritual hemilich maneuver–a crazy weird dance reserved only for the moment when someone’s life is on the line. We can create a world where a person who stands up to say “I am struggling” is not a single voice ringing out into an echoing room with all eyes on them.
People are using the hashtag #thisistheface to come out of the closet about their struggles with mental illnesses. Many of these people are fighting battles I can’t understand or speak on behalf of. I have never been potentially terminally depressed, or been diagnosed with a major mental illness. But I can be a part of a conversation about mental health, because I have a mental health. We all do. Like a lot of us, I have good days and bad days. And just because the bad days are okay enough that I can hide them doesn’t mean I should.
Mental health wise, I have the equivalent of a bad back and asthma… I need to manage it on a regular basis, and I have stories about times where it was pretty bad.
About six months ago, I stopped saying “people need to be more open about this stuff in every day conversations” and realized that I’m a people. And I started being more open. And I learned that after the initial surprise (along the lines of “I didn’t think you were the type of person who has allergies”), people were relieved to hear me talk about struggling with my mental health.
Because they had stories, too. About times when they were less than healthy. And I started to see how I wanted to be able to talk about mental health with you… not as “a post” or “a story”, but as something that weaves naturally into all of the rest of life. Not to diminish the stories of those with major illness, but to stand in solidarity with them.
This is not a blog about coping with highs and lows. It’s a blog about all kinds of stuff, written by someone who copes with highs and lows.
I will write parenting posts, and tell you stories about life with my kids because I love my kids and I want to share all that I am grateful for. And if you look closely in the happy family photos of us playing on the beach, you will see more than a dozen old scars from self mutilating. One part of a larger story.
I will write stories about my relationship to my body (coming soon) and there will be parts about my history where I struggle with bulimia, and parts where the most important thing I have to say about my body is that I can do THREE PULLUPS and climb trees like a preschooler. One part of a larger story.
I will write funny stories about my marriage, because I think they might be helpful or amusing to you, and because I’m so thrilled to be in it. And I will tell you about how I struggle with significant highs and lows, and how it can interfere seriously with our life at times, and how we’ve learned to cope and compensate and live alongside it. And if you have met Gary you will understand what I mean when I tell you that he loves and cherishes me as his wife and also there have been times when he has fantasized about leasing his own apartment. Not to be with another woman or anything, just to be… not with me. For just a couple of minutes. One part of a larger story.
I will write about speaking and blogging and contributing to my community, because that’s a big part of what my life is made of. And I will tell you about my learning challenges, because they make a lot of things hard for me. That’s why I can’t take more than two classes a year. It’s also why I’m able to write the way I do, and why I am so easily able to make bad things into Great Adventures. One part of a larger story.
I will tell you stories about the family sing-alongs and my mom teaching me our family’s recipes and my dad dispensing all kinds of wisdom and also stories about being in foster care and homeless as a teen. And if you ask “how did you go from the sing-alongs to the street” I won’t tell you every detail because it’s not all my story to tell. I will say that I come from a good family, and we just had one more challenge than we could sustain at that time. And when it comes to families who are “in trouble”, that does not make me the exception. It makes me very, very typical. The world is not divided into kids whose parents were good people and kids who end up in care. One part of a larger story.
I did not conquer these things and move on. Most of them are not nearly so large in my life as they once were, but I still live alongside every one of these pieces of me. And here is the thing that I have learned in the last six months of being more honest about this stuff in conversations with those close to me.
Mental health ebbs and flows. We do not heal from what is wrong in order to become amazing, talented, happy creatures. There are all these stories of terrible pain and they are carried by people who are so awe inspiring in their skill, generosity, and general awesomeness. And that kind of makes the world a swirling tragedy, but it also kind of makes it filled to the brim with crazy punch drunk un-suppressible hope.
I am both.
I am guessing you are too.
The world is a miracle that way.
There have been days when I desperately needed us to be having a conversation about mental health. Today is not that day, but tomorrow might be.
Today is the day that the conversation needs me.