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A Few Choice Words on Mental Health Awareness. {Opinion}

March 27, 2018

I'll be honest. Usually when I create a blog post, I brainstorm on an idea for a few days to a week before cranking out a finalized thought.  This piece came to me very strongly last night and I haven't been able to get it off my mind since. It's a bit of a long read, but I promise it all ties together in the end. That being said:

 

Everyone talks a big game about mental health support and awareness... but the truth is, I don't think most people practice what they preach.

Before we go any further - I have the opposite problem most people struggling with mental health issues have: I know so many people who reach out for help and do not have the support of family and friends. Meanwhile, I have an entire army of people who have my back... but the biggest challenge I've faced in my life is being able to ask for help. So when I see someone able to put their heart on the line, admit they are struggling, and ask for help - I have so much God damn respect for them for being able to do something it took me over 10 years to do.

 

What people sometimes fail to realize when it comes to mental health, is that anxiety and depression is not always breaking down, crying, staying in your room for weeks at a time, or panic attacks.  Sometimes people withdraw. They take on antisocial tendencies. They become angry and irritable. They become desperate to control situations because they feel like they have no control over their life.

 

I'm not asking you to condone it. I'm asking you to understand it.

 

You see someone who's "not trying" and "not changing."

 

I see someone fighting for their life, in a war with their own brain every single day, trying their hardest to better their life in ways that many people take for granted.

 

I see this, because I have been this person.

 

What made me change: I had an ex-boyfriend call me out on my shit.  Everyone in my life was mad at him for it, but truthfully, I'm glad he did. It kicked my ass into gear, I put myself in therapy, and I corrected the negative traits that anxiety had contributed to my personality.

 

Here's where he fucked up: He told me that my anxiety defines me. He told me that I was a bad person because of it.  He told me nobody would love me if they saw those sides of me.  He told me he knew more about my health issues and medication reactions than my doctors did. (LOL)  He told me that seeking help was a lost cause, because according to him, I'd never be able to change.

 

And it took me a long time to realize it, but none of that is true.

You're probably wondering how any of this ties back to my initial point:

"Everyone talks a big game about mental health support and awareness... but the truth is, I don't think most people practice what they preach."

 

Luckily, for the sake of this post, he's not out there claiming to be an advocate for mental health support and awareness.  But unfortunately, I see these same reactions every day towards other people who are struggling, from people who do claim to be advocating to break the stigma surrounding mental health. And in my own personal opinion, they are hurting their own cause.

 

Unsatisfactory mental health comes in many colors, from the pale and subtle to the most vibrant shades. It's important that all of them are equally represented - not just the ones that you think are "better" or "easier." By disrespecting one person's struggles and journey to a healthier state of mind, you are disrespecting all of us who fight a similar battle every day.

Let's talk about Johnny for a second. He's not real... (or is he?) but bear with me.

 

Johnny is that antisocial, angry, irritable and controlling person I mentioned above.  Johnny understands that these are not acceptable traits and he is in therapy to work on correcting them. He has reached out to his family and friends to let them know he's pursuing a healthier mind... and he gets shit on by them constantly for "not trying" - not being "good enough" - "not wanting to change."

 

Here's where I call you out.

 

If Johnny has reached out to you for help, and you brush him off or doubt his ability to change - you are not properly advocating for mental health awareness.

 

If you are supporting a loved one who suffers from breakdowns and panic attacks - but getting angry with Johnny for not magically getting his shit together - you are not properly advocating for mental health awareness.

 

If you struggle with mental health issues that are showcased through fear and sadness, but judge Johnny when the very same feelings are showcased through withdrawn behavior and anger - you are not properly advocating for mental health awareness.

 

If you think you can accurately compare the individual challenges of two different people, and judge their progress from those comparisons, one more time - 

 

You are not properly advocating for mental health awareness.

 

PSA: You do not get to pick and choose when to be an advocate for mental wellness. It is not a situational basis. You are either fighting with us or against us.

 

That being said: Call Johnny out. Let him know he isn't responding properly to various situations. Help him understand that his behavior is harmful and inappropriate.  Be patient as he tries to understand what that means. Applying self-discipline to your own behavior definitely takes a learning curve.  It's not an overnight thing that can be cured with therapy, medication, or pure will. These things take time.

I think all of us know, and most likely care about, someone very similar to Johnny.

 

If you are able to stand by their side while they fight their battle: 

That's great! Let them know you have their back.

 

It's okay to walk away and separate yourself if you cannot handle it.

Their problems are not your responsibility. It is not your job to "fix" anyone and you certainly aren't obligated to put up with behavior you feel is disrespectful or unwarranted. However... 

 

It is never okay to insult someone or make them feel like an inadequate human being when they are doing their best to be stable and feel okay.

 

And yes, that includes the things you won't say to their face.

 

Everyone fights a unique battle. Be kind. Be understanding.

Most importantly, believe them when they say they are trying.

My lightbulb clicked, and theirs will too.

I wanted to share with you an original song of mine, titled Superman.

 

While some of the lyrics are detailed to "Johnny's" own personal story, I think all of us will have someone (or multiple people) come to mind when we consider the effects that mental health disorders and challenges can have on someone's personality, coping strategies, weaknesses and daily routine.

 

If you take anything away from this post or song, it's that mental wellness is a never ending battle for some of us. There's never a finish line. For every good day, there's a bad day on the horizon... and vice versa.

 

Celebrate the good days. Take the bad days in stride.

Show love to the ones who have to put a little extra effort

into acknowledging the difference.

 

 

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