Well, I’ve (finally) made the decision to share my blog on my personal Facebook page this Tuesday for World Mental Health Day! For the last few years, I’ve watched awareness days and weeks pass by while telling myself each time that I’ll post something, say something, but I never have. Every year, after it’s too late, I regret not posting anything.
Mental health awareness, education, and advocacy is super important to me (for mostly obvious reasons) and I’ve rarely shied away from talking about it. Except when it comes to Facebook; I’ve never really mentioned anything about mental health on my most public forum.
I’ve talked a little about how nervous I was to start my blog, and I think that the same goes for posting it on Facebook. But ultimately, it’s something that’s important to me. I’m not ashamed of my illness and it’s important to talk about it, so I will. And, to welcome any potential Facebook-driven visitors, and new visitors period, I thought I’d give a quick introduction to me and my mental health.
To save time and word space, I’ll say it now: I’m working on all of these things. As I was writing, I noticed that every point started or ended with ‘I’m working on this.’ I’m by no means saying that I have the best (or any) coping mechanisms or strategies right now, but this is the reality of where I am.
(1) I’m Not Being Dramatic and I’m Not Doing it for Attention
For a lot of you reading this post, this will be a given. Hopefully, the first thing you learned and understood about mental illness was that it’s not a choice to make. My reactions are directly related to how I’m feeling. A lot of ‘little’ things feel like the absolute end of the world to me — I can literally panic. Even tweets, offhanded comments, and unexpected happenings can reinforce the thoughts my depression is sending me and throw me into hysterical sobbing.
I’ve heard it said (about myself and others) that ‘acting’ depressed or suicidal is a cry for attention, insinuating that I’m being deceitful or self-absorbed. I can guarantee that this is not true, except in an exceptionally small minority. If someone reaches out to you because they are depressed or suicidal, attention is so rarely the goal. I know that when I am feeling extra depressed or anxious, I want the least amount of attention possible. Even if you suspect someone is not being truthful, it is an indicator of an underlying problem. When serious illness is a player, it is always better to assume truthfulness than otherwise.
(2) You Don’t Need To ‘Fix’ Me, and You Probably Couldn’t
Yes, I’m sick. Most days (especially lately), I’m very sick. However, unless you’re a mental health professional and I’ve enlisted your help, fixing me is not your job. Though I trust your intentions are good, neither I nor the various helpers I’ve had have ‘fixed’ me yet, so I doubt you would even be able to.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want to get better, but I also absolutely don’t want my family, friends, or acquaintances to be the ones to do it. Even more, it’s really unlikely that I’ll ever truly be ‘fixed,’ and that mindset has set me back before. I’ll probably get to a point where I am feeling and functioning better, but my illnesses are always going to be around. If you want to help or be supportive, that’s great! Just keep reading to find out how to do it effectively.
(3) I Might Say, Do, or Feel Things That I Can’t Explain
Sometimes, or really oftentimes, I might say or do things that don’t make sense to you. I might walk in a certain direction or do things in a certain order that I can’t explain other than ‘I just have to.’ I’m working on this, but it’s difficult and complicated to deal with.
See, I get intrusive thoughts. Thoughts that jump into my head uninvited and repeat themselves over and over until it feels like I can’t think of anything else. So, if I snap your head off or get too anxious because things are being done in the wrong order, I’m sorry. And I’m sorry that I probably can’t explain to you why.
On top of the intrusive thoughts, my general anxiety and depression work very hard to tell me things that are not always true. Most days, lately, I believe them easily. These thoughts turn into feelings and moods and often I don’t have a concrete reason to be upset, just overwhelming feelings of doubt, anger, and sadness. When I am feeling my worst, I lose what little eloquence I have and struggle to explain simpler things, let alone my thoughts and feelings.
I probably won’t be able to explain any further than the simple, ‘I feel like shit.’
(4) You Aren’t Responsible for My Reactions or Emotions
Some days I wake up and feel the overwhelming urge to rip people’s heads off (…not literally). I am overflowing with anger for usually no tangible reason. Other days, everything makes me cry or everything terrifies me to my core. And I have no idea why. (Well, I do, it’s the anxiety and depression.) It feels so uncontrollable and inexplicable and it gets me down a lot. That said, it doesn’t excuse some of the reactions I may have because of the way I’m feeling.
My poor father has bored the brunt of my reactions over the years way more often than he deserves. I’ve avoided talking to him about it, but I hope that he understands that it has nothing to do with him. (He is such a genuinely, amazingly caring and kind person.) And this goes for you too, whoever you are. When I am feeling overwhelmingly angry, sad, or otherwise, there is very little that you could say or do to change my reactions. You could probably hand me a cookie and get the stink-eye.
(5) When I Get Overwhelmed, I May Need to Stop or Leave
If you’ve spent much time with me in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed this one. Every so often, the world becomes too much for my brain to handle. The combination of whatever is happening at the moment and the thoughts running around my head overwhelm me and I shut down completely.
This could lead to me being unable to think or make decisions. Sometimes, I might have to stop what I’m doing, or leave the situation completely. I hate having to do this, but most times it is more harmful to stay than to go home and recharge. I’ve never had a huge battery life when it comes to being out in public, but my mental illnesses make it worse. As above, my leaving or ‘shutting down’ has nothing to do with you personally.
(6) Don’t Push Me to Share With You, Let Me Decide
Here’s an important one. Boundaries are great for everyone’s mental health, and I have some of my own; most importantly, let me share with you what and when I want to. If you ask me how I am and I don’t go into details, please leave it at that. As I mentioned in my post on codependency, I’m not always the best at reacting to the news that someone doesn’t want my help, but I try and keep that reaction to myself.
I understand that you want to help, but pushing me to be more comfortable or ready to share than I am is not the way to do it. Just let me know that you’re willing to listen when I’m ready, and try to leave it there. Nothing is going to send me further or faster than trying to pressure me into something that makes me uncomfortable.
(7) You Don’t Need to Be ‘There for Me’ or Tell Me ‘I’m Strong’
I’m worried that my irritation might come out in this section a little bit. I have had so many people tell me over the years how they’re ‘there for me’ if I need anything. I have had even more people tell me how ‘strong’ I am, or how I’ll definitely make it through. I know that these come from good places, but I don’t think they’re genuine because I don’t think they understand what they’re saying.
Being truly ‘there’ for someone with serious, debilitating mental illness isn’t something to mention casually or toss around. Seriously, ask my parents. It is no easy ride. It doesn’t mean saying it once and never doing anything about it. It’s an empty platitude that makes me feel pitied and unloved.
Even worse is when people I barely know tell me that I’m strong or that I’ll ‘get through this.’ I don’t feel strong. I haven’t felt strong in so long, and telling me that just makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, like I’m missing something. Maybe one day I’ll look back and feel like I was strong, but that day is not today.
(8) If You Have a Question, Be Kind, Be Honest, and Ask Me
I am as open as I can be about my mental health. So if you have questions about my mental health or mental health in general, just ask! Seriously, please ask. It is so important to learn more about mental illness to help reduce the stigma. Just be honest and kind, that’s all I ask; I will let you know if it’s an inappropriate or uncomfortable question.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking me a question, then feel free to head over to my Resources & Information page for some more info!
So, do you have any questions? What do you want your peers to know about your mental health?