In my experience, making yourself available to help others with their struggles is a form of therapy in itself. I had this friend a long time ago that texted me while he was in crisis at about 2 AM or so because he was feeling in a little bit of crisis but missed it because I was asleep. From then on, I stopped putting my phone on silent at night because I don’t think I could live with myself if someone I cared about did something to themselves because they couldn’t reach anyone. So, since I made that resolve, it’s given me a bit more of a reason to stick around myself.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Shelly Lawson. She is an author of mystery and contemporary fiction from a small town in Southern Texas. Her current published works include the Copake Lake Mysteries series and an upcoming contemporary fiction with the working title Last Words.
Thank you so much for joining us Shelly! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up, I daydreamed a lot, so it sort of made sense to me to start writing them down.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I have this theory that it probably stems from the whole “survival of the fittest” mentality that’s been present with us since practically the dawn of mankind. If we didn’t have this mentality drilled into us from the moment we came from the womb, things would probably be a lot different today. I mean, it had its purpose back then, I guess, but the world is a very different place than it was so many years ago.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
One thing I’ve always hated is how the entertainment world tends to portray, not only mental illness itself but also the help that is out there. Both therapy and hospitalization are demonized so much that it has people believing that getting help is the worst thing in the world because all they see are straight jackets and padded rooms when it is not like that at all, so I try to write more realistic portrayals of what the mental health system is like to ease the minds of those in need of help.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
Well, I actually just did this radio interview a couple of days ago for this show called Outer Limits of Inner Truth where I talked about this. Because of the way the entertainment world portrays getting mental help, I had to almost die to even find out that that was the purpose of psych wards. Now, I sort of see it as my responsibility to make sure that others who are going through a tough time know this before it’s too late for them like it could have been for me.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
a) The best thing that anyone can do is to actually speak up about their real-life experiences so that we can make it so that the truth of it is more prevalent than the propaganda of the entertainment industry. Also, one of the things I have struggled within my own personal life is the fact that there are people out there who think that all mental illness fits in a tiny little box and is all the same when the reality is that symptoms can be polar opposites even within the same diagnosis but all the person’s knowledge comes from before your specific diagnosis was even discovered but they still think that because these individuals may have known someone with depression or another mental illness, that all mental illness must fit in the same box and try to treat you according to what might have been right for that person but that is not necessarily right for you.
b) I think that possibly getting the facts and figures of just how prevalent mental illness is becoming in recent years might help erase some of the stigmas that are out there.
c) Possibly better funding of mental health services.
What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1) Definitely talking about it helps a lot and maybe the reason I am still here. Sometimes getting something out is the best thing you can do for yourself.
2) In my experience, making yourself available to help others with their struggles is a form of therapy in itself. I had this friend a long time ago that texted me while he was in crisis at about 2 AM or so because he was feeling in a little bit of crisis but missed it because I was asleep and, from then on, I stopped putting my phone on silent at night because I don’t think I could live with myself if someone I cared about did something to themselves because they couldn’t reach anyone. So, since I made that resolve, it’s given me a bit more of a reason to stick around myself.
3) In recent years, I have learned the value of distraction. It annoys my parents to no end when I spend a lot of time on my phone, but there are so many different forms of distraction available there.
4) In a way, my writing is a big part of it. There are a lot of advocates for journaling out there but what I do is a little different. Basically, I take things I may have gone through and put them in a fictional setting and circumstance, sometimes without even realize I’m doing it, and sometimes it helps me understand that event a lot better and even sometimes gives me a whole new perspective on it. I think this works better for me than traditional journaling because of the self-hatred I’ve struggled with most of my life, so if I see something in the context of someone else, even a fictional character, the caretaker in me is more apt to be more understanding than if I were thinking about myself.
5) A therapist I had a while back did this incredible thing for me one time. Because of the extreme self-hatred that I’ve suffered from, she told me to ask everyone I know for two or three good things about me and send them to her, which I did, and the next appointment, she had organized them all on a big poster board. She then instructed me to read it twice a day and to make a conscious effort to tell myself at least two of those positive thoughts for every negative bit of self-talk that went through my head and, honestly, I think it might have been one of the most miraculous methods that I’ve ever come across.
6) Probably the most important thing I’ve ever done is surround myself with people that experience similar emotions because one of the biggest reasons I attempted to end my own life in the first place is because I felt so alone in everything I felt. I felt so different from everyone else I knew like I wasn’t even human.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I’ll listen, watch or read anything that is realistic about what it’s really like. One example of a book I’ve read so many times because of its accurate portrayal of what it’s like to go through difficult times is probably A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that book over the years. It never gets old and I learn something new every time I read it.
Also, I’ve noticed that a lot of YouTubers are using that platform to talk about what’s going on in their life and offering their advice. One specific one that has definitely been through the wringer in recent years is Joshua David Evans from the channel JoshuaDTV, who, even though he’s been through so much, still continues to use his experiences to help others. I think anyone who uses their own experiences to help others is really special.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!