This post was pretty emotional for me to write, so please bare with me.
From the time I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to change the world. How I would change the world was what would change over the years. At first I thought I needed to be a celebrity in order to make any sort of change- I needed to have a big voice in the world. Then I remember watching the movie Blood Diamond and thinking I’ll be a journalist! Bring light to the injustices of the world through writing. I had spent hours researching so many different injustices, looking at stats, and giving my poor mom mini-presentations. But it still didn’t feel right. Then in high school I took my first psychology class and I finally felt like I found something that clicked.
I chose psychology because I quickly began to learn that sometimes changing the world starts with one person at a time. I wanted to be someone in a person’s life who believed in them and was willing to give them the support they needed for another chance. As I dove deeper into my studies, my focus steered towards mental health.
Mental health is a passion of mine, something I hold very near and dear to my heart. Just like it is important to take care of our physical selves, it’s also important to take care of our mental selves. But we tend to forget about it or don’t always acknowledge it. It seems to be a lot easier for someone to sympathize with someone who broke their arm rather than someone who has anxiety or is depressed.
But in my mind dealing with mental health is SO much more challenging than dealing with a broken arm. With a broken arm there isn’t much you can do to help speed up the healing- you can just avoid hurting it further. But with mental health we have to live with it day in and day out when it’s not managed and it comes down to being our responsibility to somehow make it better. If only it were that simple and could be quickly snapped away.
I have dealt with my own bouts of depression and anxiety. I have felt first hand the mental prison it can leave you feeling, but no one around you always seems to notice. I would be lying if I didn’t say my mind didn’t go there. I have wondered if anyone would really miss me. I have thought about how maybe it would be hard in the beginning but people do move on. I have wondered if I have even made an impact on this world. My goal was to change the world and especially with my illness I felt like I was just bringing everyone down instead. Who had I really changed? Who have I helped?
It’s so hard not to go there. It’s so easy to get caught in the downwards spiral of things and just want to give up. To feel like you are drowning and sinking into the darkness. And for a little bit, it felt comforting. It felt comforting to be in my darkness and feel alone. But we are humans- we need human connection.
It was my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my co-workers, my dog, my dreams and goals, and so much more that kept me pushing. It’s knowing everyday when I wake up in pain that I am not alone. Someone out there knows exactly what it feels like. It was the little moments when I was okay to do things like go to a concert and feel the glimmer of happiness again and remembering that I can get to a better place- it just takes time. It was sharing laughter and beautiful moments of happiness with the people I love so much. It was people asking if I was okay, people checking in on me, people telling me how much they care.
Sometimes you just need to hear it.
People look at me and maybe they don’t think I need to hear it. Maybe they assume that I just know. And with a clearer mind, I do know. But in those dark moments I can’t see past my own consuming thoughts, these thoughts then turn into feelings of no one cares. That I make people’s lives harder. And I know people reading this who have been there will get it. People who have loved someone with depression or mental illness and have seen this may also get it.
Human connection drives us. It is what makes us feel like we belong to something or someone and that is such an important feeling. Experiences can connect people in ways you can’t even describe.
I promised to write you quickly about my story from my anger management course I teach and this was it:
I had stepped into the course to teach about halfway through, so I hadn’t had the chance to build a connection with anyone. When people look at me as I am teaching all they see is how young I am so what could I possibly know? Fair. As the course progressed and I shared some of my own personal experiences, it became easier to connect. During our second last class I shared my struggles with change due to my illness. I shared my frustrations and hopes. It was such a still moment- I could literally feel everyone’s eyes on me and I suddenly just froze as I became aware of this silence. What did I do wrong? But then one of our participants started crying. She had felt like she was the only one struggling with similar things in her own goals for change. And I realized the silence was a good thing- people were engaged and connected.
On our last day almost everyone was there. We had again recapped what other’s had missed the previous week and again I disclosed my own experiences with my illness. We had been able to finish the class 45 minutes early, expecting everyone would go home. But they all stayed. They stayed and talked about their own experiences and in this moment we built this incredible empathy for one another. One participant in particular really impacted me. He was a bit of a smart mouth and was instructed by his wife to be here. He would participate but give us a bit of a hard time. I had a particularly hard time connecting with him, most likely because of my age. He was already a grandfather. He was usually the first to leave through the doors, but on the last day he was the last one to leave.
After disclosing my illness, he came to the front of the room and asked me more about it. We began talking about his own struggles. He suffered from a brain injury to his frontal and temporal lobe due to a work accident. His life was completely ripped upside down and in his mind he felt like a different person. He explained that in a lot of ways he has forgotten what it was like to feel emotions. While we do not have the same back story, where we connected was the invisible illness aspect. To anyone, he looked like a regular guy. You would never truly know the impact this accident has had on him- I sure as hell didn’t. I just thought he was a smart mouth old man. But this connection we shared was so powerful. He had this same glimmer of hope in his eyes that I had when I felt it for the first time- that I am not alone.
Sometimes all we need to do is tell someone we care. To tell them how important they are to us. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open so that we may give others the permission to be vulnerable and open as well.
Mental health, positive or negative, can be so powerful. Our mind can drive us to do things we may have normally not done. Suicide is one of those tricky ones. Suicide is something that I feel is really on the rise, not a decline. I almost lost one of the most important people to me because of suicide. And someone else who is like family. Recently a former classmate of mine lost his life to addictions and mental health.
My own mind has gone to that dark place. While I never had intentions, it was easy to see how quickly I could go to those thoughts. So for some it’s not that much harder to then go to a plan. Shaming people for suicidal thoughts is not a solution. They may already feel shame.
I fought tooth and nail for someone’s life. I spent hours by their side praying that I did enough. I created albums to remind them of our own connection, I bribed them in order to save their life, and I visited them everyday that I could while they got treatment. While most are quick to say it’s a selfish thing to do, I would then ask: is this person in that moment the person you have known all your life? For my case, it wasn’t. This person had become someone else. I didn’t recognize the words coming out of their mouths or the thoughts processing in their mind. This wasn’t the loving person I knew.
The mind is powerful. So why do we act like it’s not a big deal? Break the stigma. Talk about it. Make invisible illness visible.
So now everyday I try to practice gratitude. I try to be more mindful and aware. Hug the ones you love. Listen with open ears and an open heart. And be kind- you never know what someone is battling. Sometimes it just takes one kind act to turn things around.
Change starts by talking. And by one person at a time.
While this topic was heavy, I am glad I got it off my chest and I hope this post can also just help someone consider things in a different light.