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What is Mental Health & Why Does it Matter?

A personal story on how to see your mental health as a priority. Not as a silly stigma.

Happiness, Mental Health

I didn’t really want to write this blog post. Nope. Not one bit. But I felt I needed to. Not for others to see me as knowledgeable or a leader in the mental health arena. But rather share some insight from someone who has struggled with mental health for most of her life.

There, I said it.

If you could only see the look on my face right now, you wouldn’t believe me when I say it. You would wonder what gives? What’s the deal? Why is it so hard to say that?

And the deal is. I do not accept this as my bill of health. I do not accept that this is my end game. That “world, here I am, I am crazy! I have mood swings, I have highs and lows, I have anxiety, I sometimes don’t sleep well. For most of my life I expressed my feelings by self-harming”.

Does any person ever really want to say something like that to anyone, let alone the entire world?

Most people can’t even admit their actual weight on their driver’s license, a piece of plastic that rarely anyone sees unless you like to dance with the law. Even then, I’m pretty certain the officer with your ID in hand could care less that you lied about 10 pounds.

The truth is writing those words makes me feel broken. Like a little lamb incapable of fending for herself. And if you have ever met me in person you would say with certainty that I am anything but an incapable little lamb.

But that’s just it.

Mental illness (there it is again, that pit in my stomach when I refer to myself with those words) is real and it’s not verbiage I like to throw around lightly. Why? Because I do not believe I am a victim of anything, and I do believe that I can live a happy life. I know I can. Because 98% of the time I am.

Maybe the cards were kind of stacked against me. Looking back my grandmother struggled with depression and most definitely low self-esteem, and took what she called her “nerve pill” every day. I now interpret that as anxiety.

And my father, one of the most hardworking men I have EVER met in my entire life. Someone who has done and seen things in his lifetime NO ONE, and I mean no one in his right mind would EVER choose to do or see. But there he was. And in some ways, he is my hero. In other ways…well, it’s complicated.

But like me, he has had his own demons to face in this lifetime, and I am pretty certain if I would even whisper the words “mental health” to him the hairs on his back would stand up like a dog ready to attack.

As for me, I’m pretty sure I was in the boat before I even knew it. But in 1996 (I was 12 by the way) who was talking about mental health? Unless you were a Ph D. attending elite conferences far away from my Wisconsin hometown, you didn’t even know that existed. Because people with mental health issues lived in institutions with padded walls and were drugged to the point of walking zombies. Right?

And I say that with slight humor, but that is my cover for the complete discomfort I still feel when I categorize myself as someone with mental health issues.

In today’s world, we, fortunately, have a hyper sense of awareness for the issues that surround us on a daily basis. But it is also my observation that we are at the same time equally disconnected from the world and people around us at the same time.

And knowledge is power. But knowledge not applied is like a piece of paper used as a paperweight. Useless.

I wish I knew then, what I know now. Things may have been different.

I wish my parents would have been more comfortable and knowledgeable with dealing with a child with addiction, depression, and anxiety. But then they would had to have been more comfortable with their own confrontations with it as well.

I wish I would have understood more about what was going on inside me when I was 12, 14, 18 all the while feeling alone, embarrassed, and judged.

I wish…a lot of things. But I am now 35 and cannot change the past, nor to do I want to.

Truly, I don’t want to change any of it. It’s my life. My story. And maybe it doesn’t bother me quite as much as it use to because I’ve survived. I decided long ago to fight. To not just mask the issues, but uncover them, and start dealing with them.

I found out I was chemically imbalanced and a holistic nutritionist helped me with that.

I was low in just about every single vital nutrient, thank you eating disorder, and I got help.

I ate my feelings for more than a decade and got help with that.

I didn’t like to talk about my feelings, express my feelings, or just feel anything that was scary to me in that moment. And I got help with that.

It’s 2019, and I do not feel I need to wear a sticker proclaiming my support for mental health awareness. Because as someone who has dealt with this firsthand, a sticker actually makes me feel anxious. A sticker actually makes me uncomfortable.

You will most likely never seem me wear a sticker, because, well, we all have mental health. We all need to take care of our mental health. Just some more than others. Instead, I chose to be compassionate. Be open to help others in reducing the stigma around feeling broken because you may need more care and attention than others.

I lost a friend two years ago, and she struggled with mental health as well. And it was something she said to me years before that has always stuck with me. “Hope, I can’t go get help, because it will be in my file, and I might then lose my job”. Be that true or not. It was true to her. And as a result, she didn’t feel she could get the help she needed when she wanted… she passed from drug-use two years ago.

What if she had felt comfortable enough to get help?

What if she had felt safe enough to share her struggles?

What if she would have felt mental health was as easy to care for as a broken bone? Or as accepted as seeking cancer treatment?

I will never know that answer.

But I do know help is available. And it is VITAL. Let me say that again. It is VITAL that you reach out. Those uncomfortable feelings you feel just thinking about reaching, out won’t last. The possible label you may have is minor compared to living a life full of struggle, secrets, and sadness. Or worse not having one to live. Is worth it.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. And you won’t see me wearing a sticker. But you will hear my voice.

You will hear my story.

You will see me breaking down the barriers to mental health by making it a big deal simply by making it not such a big deal.

I see you. I see you over there. I see you like the way I wish someone would have seen me.

I won’t tell you that you are broken. I won’t tell you that you need help. I won’t tell you anything if you don’t want me to.

But please know I see you, I know what you are going through. And I want to tell you, it can and will get better. Believe it can, even when your mind doesn’t want you to. Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope. Because without hope, all you have is a sticker.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and one of the best things you can do is be willing to take care of you.

See your mental health as a priority. Not as a silly stigma.

Not as  “I’ll wait until it gets really bad kind of priority”. Talk to your partner about your struggles, because they are your partner, let them in. Do not be embarrassed about seeking out a therapist. I think everyone, and I mean everyone, could and can benefit from an outside perspective and sound advice.

Support others on their journey. They may not be ready to talk about their struggles or concerns with you. And they may never be, but support them by simply holding a space of safety for them. By learning what the warning signs are that they may be struggling. By giving them room to breathe and at the same time letting them know you are there, with a card, a text, even a call.

And if you are feeling like you need the care yourself. Then do not. I repeat do not hesitate. The world needs you. You have something amazing to offer and this. This one moment is a part of that amazing journey unfolding.

We all have to take care of our health: physically, emotionally and mentally. And let this month just be a gentle reminder that there is help out there, I’m living proof it works.

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