Beyond Awareness

I want to first set a disclaimer that I have no expertise in mental health. Rather, just my own personal experience with loss and grief, which has triggered my own bouts of depression and anxiety. Even those words “depression” and “anxiety” seem heavy for what I’m feeling. They could be unwarranted, and they may be the perfect fit, I’m not quite sure.

My point in writing this blog is to not garner feelings of pity or sympathy from others or display a need for attention. I’m sure there are some out there that think that is what my intention is and maybe for others, there is more understanding.

I was reminded by a friend this morning that May is Mental Health Awareness month. It made me stop and think about my own journey from not understanding and even judging people with mental illnesses to being a person who has experiences on the other side of that fence. Our society has helped paint the picture that those with mental illnesses are weak, out of control, evil – the list goes on and on. They comprise the villains in our TV shows and movies and become the scapegoats in our flimsy laws and policies.  Our brothers and sisters who face mental health adversity are shunned and stigmatized.

But…

We don’t do this for cancer patients. We don’t do this for people battling dementia. We don’t do this for people who have heart disease or are on dialysis. We love on them. We have benefits for them. We praise them as heroes. Why do we not do the same for those who face another form a health battle albeit different and sometimes not physical?

My opinions were radically changed when I faced my own loss and when that grief triggered the most hallowing feelings of despair. I have, for the most part, been able to get through life since then in a functioning matter. I’ve been able to go to my job and work to an excellent standard. But there are days, and sometimes periods of time, where sleep is a luxury and sometimes not met, my appetite is nonexistent, and getting out of bed is like running a marathon. There are days where holding a friendly conversation is a performance, and when the feelings of sadness are unbearable, weighing on my chest,  leaving me unable to breathe. There have been days where I have thought that the best days – the happiest days – are now in the past and that is the most defeating feeling in the world.

I am not thankful for the loss of my best friend, and the grief that has come with it, but because of this journey, I have noticed areas of my life that are worth improving, areas of my life that I was letting slip away and not care about. When you face a loss of that magnitude you want to hold on to certain things extra tight, but sometimes are unsure if you have the strength to do so. I have the capacity to recognize that when I’m down and out I am still able to do what I can to make myself better and feel happier. Some days that recognition is clear, other days I can feel absolutely hopeless.

I hope that wherever you are, if you suffer from the hardships of mental illness, grief, loss, depression, anxiety or anything of the sort, that you know and believe that you have every right to be happy. I also hope that you hold on to whatever spark you have to guide yourself to the help you need. I went to therapy, and it took me a while to get there, but I’m so thankful I did. I’ve had open and honest conversations with my doctor, which is not fun and definitely difficult, but so incredibly beneficial. There are resources out there to help you. I have channeled my love of reading to finding books on grief like Option B and It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok. They’ve helped me feel better and made me realize I’m not going crazy, I’ve just had my life turned upside down.

Even the smallest moves you make today can help heal yourself. Self-care is so incredibly crucial to our own happiness and confidence in ourselves – two areas I’ve been struggling incredibly with lately. I haven’t been much for self-care and I’m not sure why. It seems like a no-brainer. I love to journal and feel my best when I get done with a passage. Going to yoga makes my body feel the best it has been, yet for weeks I’ve neglected going to classes. Now I realize, as I’ve started back down a slippery slope, that I have the control to turn things around.

So I’ve decided to make May my month of self-care. Each day I want to, in some small way, care for myself. Perhaps when we are better to ourselves, the doors open to even bigger ways we can help ourselves heal, feel better and be happier. I’m hoping the days ahead will be filled with good journaling, yoga classes, maybe even a massage, or reflexology. I’m going to do what I need to, to make me happy and confident again.

We are so quick to stigmatize mental illness that we too easily lose our empathy and compassion for those fighting perhaps the most frightening and confusing health battles. So I hope we can all take time this month (and beyond) to not only become more aware but also more compassionate toward others.  And that we all take the steps within our own control to be better to ourselves whether we face an illness or not. Maybe that is the change, on a very small scale we all need to take in our daily lives, in order to create a culture change to be more loving, mindful and understanding.

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