When we share our stories, others have a tendency to feel more comfortable in sharing theirs. You’ve probably heard me say this a time or two as I’ve seen the power of it first hand. That being said, I probably receive 5-10 notes daily from individuals living with mental illness or loved ones of those afflicted. I also receive notes from individuals where no mental illness is involved, but they have been through significantly traumatic events. I’ve gathered when you’ve gone through hell and back, people going through the same see you as a safe, non-judgmental listener who relates. Yep, no doubt, that’s me. And it works both ways. When I receive these notes, and hear these stories, I feel less alone too. It’s therapeutic and very much valued to me. I’m honored to have the trust of these people who share.
In some cases when I receive these notes, the individual is now living a relatively healthy, productive life, and in a good place to share what they have experienced and learned. They have recovered, made it though the chaos and have things relatively managed, though as we all know, it’s a lifelong battle. What I can tell you is that I love these success stories and the strength I see in these people.
But in others, it’s completely chaotic and dire & they are in the middle of it all. They are looking to me for a roadmap and hope. How did I do it? What can they do to get well, to get hope? What should loved one’s do to understand what’s often so impossible to understand? How can they help? I’m no trained specialist, so there is only so much I can do other than offer support, hope and understanding. I try to offer advice when appropriate.
The bottom line. What I have come to realize is that there are so many people out there living in silent pain. We know it statistically, but to see and hear it first hand puts it all into its proper context. So many people living without the support, compassion and understanding they need to truly get on the road to recovery. So many people out there without the resources they need to get well. So many who have not been diagnosed, or properly diagnosed, where the meds are not working, where getting out of bed on a daily basis is near impossible? What do you do when you don’t have the funds, the ability to get and hold a job, a family who is pushing you away? What if you have turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain or fuel the fire in you? What if you have no idea why you are acting the way you are acting, doing what you are doing, and have no reason why? What if you have to try to fake your way through a day at work, where you have the fear of being fired if your boss figures out you are mentally ill, your job triggering you heavily, but necessary to pay the bills? What if you are trying to raise a child through all of this? A marriage crumbling? What if you have a daughter who is completely out of control? You don’t understand why she is doing what she is doing, but her life is spiraling, and she cannot see her illness as the cause and refuses to get help or treatment. She wants to just be left alone. A family being torn apart or a mother and father who refuse to quit when it would be so easy to do so.
I hear these stories all the time. And while I most often can offer a little advice, but more often support and perhaps a glimmer of hope, there are many where I struggle to come up with anything. I sit there, read, re-read, and often just start crying. This is the part of it that is really tough for me. I have to remind myself to watch my own mental health. My husband reminds me of this often. It’s a full time job.
Being mentally ill though & going through some serious shit, I can only speak for myself, but it has made me so much more compassionate than I once was. I want to help these people. I want to offer a solution, guidance, hope. But there is none too offer too often. And all too often an individual has to hit rock bottom to finally get help, and then how effective will the help be with regards to quality, cost, accessibility. This angers me so much. Everybody should have access to quality mental health professionals, regardless of ability to pay. How much more functional would our society be if this were the case? In a perfect world, one suffering with mental health issues should have support of family, friends, community, society. No questions asked.
The guilt I mention in the title of this blog stems from the fact that it’s these stories that make me realize that I’m so fucking fortunate. I have zero right to play victim, to hang my head about anything. I may live with bipolar disorder and I may have lived through some traumatic times, but my life is relatively good. Recovery has been long and difficult, and recover never ends, but I’m at a mostly good place. I have a wonderful daughter who understands her mom, a supportive husband, parents who love me. I have mostly good mental health care, meds that work well for me, enough notoriety to be able to have a forum to share my story and develop understanding and support so I can get my life back after I was written off by many. I have my physical health so I can exercise like there’s no tomorrow….one of my most important healthy coping mechanisms. I have a career (that does not trigger me), I have good friends. I have my artwork. I can travel & hike & explore to give my brain the stimulation it needs. Hell, I had the luxury to be able to pack up and move to the ocean, which has been so beneficial for my mental health. I have it good. That’s why I often feel guilty, though I know I shouldn’t for doing relatively well, and guilty is really not the right word. “Unfair” feels better. I share this illness with so many, and believe me, I have my periods of intense struggles with it, but so many are struggling so much more than me, and simply don’t have the resources and support they should have. It’s not fair and I guess that’s a reason why I won’t shut up about mental health awareness and activism.
It’s for the far too many people out there who are silently suffering. We as a society can do so much more in this arena. SO much more. Education, awareness, resources. Mental illness should receive just as much attention and compassion as we give physical illnesses. There’s no doubt in my mind. Imagine a world where mental health was top of mind type of stuff. Where fundraising was through the roof. Where as an example, there was a national mental health type run series as there is like Komen. Where education was a non-issue. Where misdiagnosis was a non-issue. Where stigma and discrimination ceased to exist. Where EVERYBODY got it.
One can dream, one can hope, and one can continue to advocate. I’m so appreciative to all those who refuse to keep quiet, who advocate on a daily basis. I think at times we all feel like we are not being listened to or heard, but I know when all is said and done, we are making a difference. I’m very proud of that and to me, while I once thought I was put on this earth to run fast, I feel today I have a much higher and more important calling, even if it’s not as sexy. So PLEASE take a moment to increase your education on mental illness. As I have mentioned often, lives can be saved & lives can be made better.
And to anybody out there silently suffering, remember, you are anything but alone. There are so many people out there going through the same shit, but they can’t talk about it for fear of stigma & discrimination. Out of embarrassment and guilt, which should NEVER be the case. It sucks, but I assure you, there is hope, and there is help out there, even when it looks impossible to find any. We just need to create an environment where the barriers to seeking help are gone.
Thanks fas always for listening, Suzy