|photo by Amy Brandon|
"Little things heal our hurts. Sounds, scents, the spoken word, and music that may mean nothing to someone else can reach into our souls and do a work that ordinary methods cannot touch."
~Joyce Sequichie Hifler
In the wake of this week sad news on the mental health front, I feel like I need to say this. I'm probably going to spend tonight spinning in my head about whether I should have shared this or not, but I'm going to be brave and say it anyway. I have struggled with depression for years. I've fought my own battles. So far, I've won those battles, but not without a considerable amount of self-harm, both physical and emotional. I've been lucky. Somehow, I've been able to continue to see the love surrounding me. If you are one of those people whose go-to reaction about suicide is to jump in and pass judgement, just stop. Each of us, especially those of us who live with mental illness, fight battles every day no one else can see, and just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't real. Unfortunately, mental illness is much more common than most people realize because the old-school stigmas still persist, and we just don't feel comfortable opening up about our struggles. People who are depressed aren't making a choice; they aren't being selfish; they aren't weak. Being awake to the darkness and staying alive through any days with that knowledge requires strength beyond what most of us understand.
In December, 2016 I spent a week at Forsyth Hospital on the psychiatric floor. This was quite probably the most important week of my adult life. It was the first time I had been taught that what was happening to me was not my fault, told that I didn't have control over it, that I didn't cause it, and that I couldn't fix it myself. It was the first time I learned to take care of myself. I'm not going to be glib and say it's all been uphill from there. My life since then has, in large part, consisted of my learning to set boundaries to facilitate my own mental health. Until I started therapy in 2014, I had never even heard of the concept of setting boundaries to protect my own mental health. (Probably this goes a long way toward explaining a lot of my adult life.) I know that many memes are shared on social media about getting away from things or people who make your life harder, and I know that a lot of us, including myself until recently, click "like" and "share" without giving those truisms another thought, but what I am beginning to discover is that in order to achieve real health, we do have to remove ourselves from situations and people who cause us harm. More importantly, we also have to learn to stop causing ourselves harm. The difficult loop here is to realize that you are causing yourself harm if you stay in a situation that harms you in any way. We are good at recognizing physical harm. Emotional and mental harm is much more difficult to see. When you learn to respect yourself, when you finally figure out that achieving self-worth has to be your most important job, it becomes so much easier to remove yourself from situations and people who damage you. I am speaking here only of my own experience. I don't pretend to have any idea what other people go through.
None of this is easy. I have to work hard every day to be well. Some days, I am well. Some days, I am just ok, and some days, I'm a fucking train wreck. Wellness requires commitment and daily work. But how is committing yourself to daily mental health any different from going to the gym or getting an antibiotic for an infection? After telling myself I couldn't afford it, I went back to therapy a few months ago, and I am so much better now than I was even a month ago. Before you assume anything about me and my financial situation, I pay full price for those thearpy sessions because I have shitty health insurance, and I've had to give up some things to do that, but it is absolutely worth it. Sometimes getting help truly becomes a question of what your life is worth. Here are some of the free things that have helped me: yoga at home (YouTube), meditation at home (free apps), reading (library books), Krista Tippett's On Being Podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression Podcast, my dogs and cats, writing in my journal, gardening, bird-watching, cooking, cleaning my house, and reaching out to talk with people who make me feel better. Spend some time making your own list of things that make you feel better, and then do at least some of them every day. If you think you don't have time, consider how much time you spend watching TV or on social media. Think of this list as your mental health tool box and use those tools daily. A few days of self-care can make all the difference in the world. You don't need permission or an excuse. Your life is all the reason you need.