Today (October 10) is World Mental Health Day.
And I am not OK.
Many around you are not OK.
You may not be OK.
But we live in a society where it is NOT OK to be “not OK”. We praise, reward, and seek to emulate those who portray “OK’ness” to the world at all costs.
Let me tell you, that cost is high. For all of us.
Earlier this year, the Chief Human Resources Officer at my company sent a company-wide memo saying (literally), “It’s OK to not be OK”. Foolishly, perhaps, I took him at his word and told my manager and my HR team that I was, indeed, “not OK”. All of the stresses of life and work throughout the COVID crisis had taken their toll on me, and I was approaching a point where I felt unable to function professionally and meet expectations.
It was suggested that perhaps I should find different work.
Some days, I am on top of the world and can handle anything thrown at me. I don’t need any pats on the back, and I can generally handle criticism devoid of any praise for work that has been done well. On those glorious days, I possess the inner fortitude that “knows” I have value, I do good work, and my overall worth as a human being stands apart from what I can give the world through my skills and abilities. I cope well with domestic upheaval, and when my children won’t behave I calmly parent through it in the form of someone we have come to call “Zen Dad”.
Those days are good.
Other days, I am unable to do any of that. Some days, I can barely get out of bed to face any of it.
I take medication to help regulate that.
I regularly see a therapist who helps me understand why I can’t connect intellectual assent to what my heart “believes” to be the reality of the moment.
It is a continual struggle and occasionally a nearly impossible hill to surmount.
Depression and anxiety can overwhelm my ability to think or act my way out of how I am feeling.
This is mental illness.
It’s just one kind of mental illness among many. Some people experience paranoia, hear voices, dissociate from their core personalities in order to cope with severe trauma, the list goes on…
There’s a really big book that helps doctors and therapists diagnose these diseases.
Let me say that again – DIAGNOSE these DISEASES.
The book is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or The DSM for short. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association. They are up to a fifth edition now that took TEN YEARS to compile and edit. It has 947 pages.
Mental illness ain’t simple, folks.
Which is why it so often goes undiagnosed, untreated, (or uninsured when it IS diagnosed and treatment is available, but that’s a different article for a different time) and is often not talked about in certain polite circles of society. Mostly because people just don’t know what to say or do when they encounter someone who is brave enough to talk about their suffering.
This needs to change.
Things like World Mental Health Day help. Read an article. Educate yourself:
Some people like me write about it (ad nauseum, at times, I understand), and I do that for several reasons:
- It helps me sort my thoughts and feelings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I write primarily for MYSELF.
- I write to let others know they are not alone. I know when I read or hear about someone else’s experience and it mirrors or echos mine, I find it TREMENDOUSLY validating, and I instantly feel less like a freak. If I can do that for others, I’m happy to use my story that way.
- I write to normalize and destigmatize mental illness so we can come to a point in society where it can be talked about more openly and thereby dealt with more effectively. Not everyone has a mental illness (although I think some of you out there are sicker than you think), and it’s important that trite phrases like “if you were stronger you wouldn’t need medication or therapy” are banished from the face of the earth. If you use phrases like this, I’m talking to you, and I write for you. We all need a baseline understanding from which to work.
I’m generally a daily writer. I write a variety of blog entries, poetry, essays, etc. This week I’ve been unable to do any of that. I can’t focus. I can’t read. I can’t play the piano. I have a constant, nagging sense of dis-ease that grips my chest and/or sits in the pit of my stomach.
I hate it. I’m not completely sure where it’s coming from (although I have ideas).
I’m doing the “things I’m supposed to do” to regulate myself.
I’m still struggling.
So I decided just to sit down and write about it.
Maybe it helped. Maybe it will help.
Happy World Mental Health Day.
Thanks for listening.