It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, but if you’re reading this long after the awareness week has passed, please keep reading… please, keep reading.
Because the conversation needs to continue for more than a week if there is ever going to be any lasting change, it needs to be ongoing.
How can you help me to keep it going? Well, it starts with having a conversation, with anyone… with everyone, about mental health.
The CMHA, otherwise known as The Canadian Mental Health Association, relies on the generosity of donors, like yourself, to ensure their programs are easily accessible to everyone across Canada. In my opinion if you have a brain, mental health is of concern to you.
The smile that you see on the outside isn’t always what’s happening on the inside, and it’s sad to say that people will still be suffering in silence next week, next month, next year.
Please… start and let’s keep the conversation going.
We’re facing an epidemic crisis of social stress, anxiety, and depression. We cannot stop talking, caring, and helping because the week is over.
I guarantee you know someone who is struggling with their mental health at this very moment.
So when the friend who always says yes to lunch, stops… she needs you. When the pal who doesn’t come out to hockey anymore, well he needs you, too. Your Mom or Dad, when they just yell for no reason and say they “… just can’t”… they need you, and when your son or daughter just sleeps all day and doesn’t want to do “anything” with the family any more, they need you.
Whether it’s a hug, to hold their hand, to share a coffee or to sit on a bench outside and watch the world go by, do it. It doesn’t matter how they need you, but please, just be there for them in the way that they say they do. It may mean the difference between life and death.
Yeah, I just said that… LIFE… AND DEATH.
Finally I ask that you don’t stop talking because the C.M.H.A. needs you and people, like me, need you.
I urge you to realize that mental illness is not to be talked about in hushed tones, mocked or shamed, and if you have family or friends that do that, please gently and caringly educate them that it’s okay to be public about it; that it indeed helps those suffering to feel accepted just as they are, in that moment… just as a person with Diabetes who needs medication at the dinner table would be. We HAVE to end the stigma around mental health issues and it starts with you and me.
No one asks for it and it’s hard enough to fit in to this world when you do fit in, but add on social anxiety, chemical imbalance, arrested development or the myriad of other stressors to one’s mental illness and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for a tragic life story ending.
I have lost a two people in my life to suicide in the last 8 years and it’s heartbreaking to be sitting at the funeral hearing comments like, “I wish they new how much I loved them. I wish they knew I was here for them.” But here’s the thing… you THOUGHT they know, but truth is they didn’t feel it.
Don’t think, MAKE them know because here’s where the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” applies. Show up for them. ALWAYS show up for them.
I’ve had health issues all my life, but the physical kind. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I suffered from a depression. Brought on as a side-effect of taking an ill-prescribed medication. I was left with a chemical imbalance and predisposition for the recurrence… so I’ve been told. I’ve had four more depressive episodes since. They are isolating, frustrating, and paralyzing, and when family and friends don’t support you, when they tell you to “just get over it” or don’t even try to understand what’s underneath what they see, it’s traumatizing on top of everything else you’re reeling from. I learned early on that It’s easier to disappear from events and gatherings; just to walk away, than to try to explain what you just can’t put into words.
Reeling from all the constant pain I was in, one day when I was in my ’20s, I lined up a half bottle of acetaminophen pills on the coffee table and just stared and wondered what would happen if… would the kids be okay, would my husband get home in time to stop it, would I be successful or would I just really mess things up worse?
It didn’t matter, because for those moments, I just wanted to take them all and close my eyes. THIS needed to stop, whatever THIS was. I was exhausted with little sleep and life was hard as a new mom with 2 kids under 15 months old. Finding out I was also suffering from a post-partum depression was the tipping point. I was barely getting through the days as it was. I was existing by just going through the motions; struggling because everything seemed to be the same day over and over… and over, with no light in sight, no break, and no help until the evening when my husband returned home from work. Despite the fact that wasn’t my true reality and people believed I was okay – maybe just quiet – I was beside myself and filled with an overwhelming sadness that I was losing my battle. On top of it all, I believed I had made a mistake in having kids so soon after losing our first baby, and then having the two I had so close together (even though there was a good reasoning for it.) I couldn’t shake the feeling I would be an awful mother. I knew I had very little chance of having kids at all due to having a severe case of endometriosis so wasn’t this a blessing? Shouldn’t I just deal with it; suck it up and get over it?
I tried… boy did I try.
But that’s NOT how depression works.
On the outside, I had it all. Married to a successful businessman, I was, at 24, a full-time stay-at-home-Mom of two under two. My only job was to raise these kids, pay the bills, and manage the house, and I was failing. It was our choice for me to stay home because most of my salary would be eaten up in daycare and commuter fees so we decided I could make the income difference by me doing work from home, but I wasn’t even there yet. I couldn’t even dress two kids, feed them, and take care of myself! We had everything, so it seemed. What was wrong with me?
l managed to stop the rollercoaster of emotions for a second and found clarity, “Call Lee.”
In that moment of strength, I called my husband to say, “Come home and help me. I’m in trouble.”, and he did without hesitation.
There’s a lot more to the story but it’s enough for now to demonstrate that when you think you’re at the end of your rope, you’re really not because there is someone you can reach out to for help. I’m lucky I had my someone. I’m grateful every day for my husband.
I’m not embarrassed to tell that story because my story matters, and I know it, like… deep down inside, know it. It matters to me when I’m feeling fragile, even now, and it matters to my kids to show them I am real and flawed and still able to succeed in life and work, to be loved and to give love, to have joy in my life, and to thrive. It matters that I’ve learned, that I teach my children to learn mental health or brain health, just like physical health, matters to us all.
The real validation of that thought though presented itself as a stranger I met one evening while speaking at an event many years later. He connected with me afterwards to say that hearing my story had given him the strength to go home and talk to his wife about what he was going through because he, too, suffered from depression, and no one knew. I later learned that he did go home and tell her, that he was so surprised by how supportive she was on hearing his confession, and that it wasn’t half as hard as he though it would be. Even though he was terrified to tell her, he did it and they found an unexpected closeness in their marriage afterwards because of it. If only I knew then how making it through that day was going to matter!
Had I not made it, I would have missed so much. I would not have had a third child and known what it’s like to be married for 30 years, and have a house full of incredible kids, and chaos and laughter, and fun. I would not have experienced the years of memories, the good and the bad – and even the ugly – of life that’s happened since. I’m so grateful I had someone in my life who cared enough about me to drop everything and run to me.
My husband saved me that day (or … he helped me to save myself.) And so that’s why I write about mental health issues and it’s why I care so deeply about people suffering from ill mental health.
So I ask you to keep the conversation going; talk to the someone you think needs to have a friend reach out. Be the person who makes a difference in someone’s life who is feeling troubled, overwhelmed or sad. Call them, text them, write them as soon as you finish reading this. You know who they are.
You won’t regret you did, and you may just save somebody you care about.
Go… right now!
They’ll be thankful you did.