A couple of months ago I was chatting with a very close friend of mine. I was grappling with the idea of becoming human again — that’s a dramatic way of saying “becoming more social.”
I’d spent a fair amount of time in hibernation over the past few years. Both pre and post divorce. Partially to heal/partially to hide. No matter the reason, I was out of touch with people I once called friends. And, once I hit a place where I could muster the gusto to get outside and be around people again… well… there was nobody really there. Or, I didn’t really know how to go about making that happen. I’m still not really sure, actually.
Regardless, I asked him “be honest with me, is there anything I can do to make people accept me more. I know I’ve pushed a lot of people out of the way, what can I do to bring them back in?”
And being a no-nonsense good friend, he just said to keep doing what I was doing. He then explained to me that sometimes people don’t know how to talk to those who have dealt with mental illness.
And my heart sunk a little.
It was the first time I realized that people knew. I thought, in my delusion, that I was doing a “grade a” job of keeping it under wraps — which is absurd.
Immediately I felt exposed. Embarrassed about it all. Even though, at that moment, I knew that I had come out of it to the lighter side. It was an odd feeling. I was happy and strong, but knowing that others still saw me as sick, made me a little queasy.
I’ve been partial to the conversations where people describe somebody as “crazy” or “fucked up.” I’ve been a participant in that line of chatter, even in periods where I was at my lowest points.
Now, my mental illness isn’t anything fancy. It’s depression and anxiety. It’s run of the mill stuff. Not to belittle it, it can be debilitating, if left untreated. But so long as you stay on top of it, you can — if you’re lucky — manage it. And, I do count myself as lucky.
In recent weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador there has been a lot of talk about mental illness. Largely due to Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard speaking up after the death of their son Louis. These two are the sweetest people on Earth. Andy has always been somebody I look up to. At times in my life he’s been a mentor, friend, and even a business manager. And to watch both he and Mary Lynn create this dialogue, even after everything they’ve been through. It really has made me think more about not only my own struggles, but how I’ve viewed others.
First and foremost, I’ve attempted to strike the word “crazy” and “nuts” from my vocabulary. As somebody who cringes every time I hear the word “retarded,” I understand the power words can have. And the feelings they can evoke.
And just today, an old friend of mine Jeff was speaking about his struggle to find help for a friend in need. How he felt completely helpless.
All of these things are worrisome. People talk a lot about supports that are in place. But, I fear, that sometimes it’s mostly just talk. I was lucky enough to have the resources and the self-awareness to reach out and find help. Others may not be so fortunate.
And if we keep viewing mental health through this broken lens, and we keep keeping our distance. Then how in the world do we expect there to be a change? Because, there has to be a change. You ask any teacher in the school system today, or any professor, and they’ll tell you that there is an increase in mental health related illnesses. And that is a trend that is only going to grow.
So instead of turning our backs because it makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s time we face it dead on. And see it for what it is. An illness. Yes, it’s complex and messy sometimes. But it’s still an illness.
I believe that if more people stood up and told their stories — just as the “It Gets Better” campaign has done — it would go a long way in removing that stigma, and repairing that lens.
Now, I’m not cured. I still have anxiety. I sweat bullets for no damn reason at all. Which is shite. I’m not fussy on it. But, that’s part of being me. And I like me. So I’ll take the sweat… whatever. And I still have no clue as to how to rebuild a social life. I’m still working on that.
All of this is to say that it’s time to think differently about this stuff. It needs to be demystified. Gone are the days of Randle Patrick McMurphy and the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s time we put down the sink, stop the rhetoric, and bring forward a bit of peace, love, and understanding.