I talk not about the horrors of untold demons, or weeks of unrelenting flashbacks, or being unable to summon the life to turn over in bed. We all know about that. I don’t talk about biological brain disorders, because few (if any) can be definitively proven to be biological. I don’t talk about a lot of things about the horrors of mental illness. That just scares people, me included.
And I don’t talk about the things that overwhelm us to the point that we can’t cope. Can’t make sense of them. Can’t integrate the feelings. Can’t understand what’s happening. They cut across, or sometimes pick like flesh taken by crows, our spiritual lives, our pscyhes, emotions and certainly our bodies. I know that list personally. That’s old news, inner baggage, slow-healing wounds. If you’re trying to get happier, why gaze into hell all the time?
I turn my gaze. I turn it instead to things that focus on warmth. Connection. Growth. Restoration of relationship. Remembering who cares for me, who gives me wise counsel towards life. I turn towards being kind, being supportive, consciously choosing to believe that others are doing the best they can. Wondering what happened instead of deciding what’s wrong. Towards thinking about the things for which I am grateful. Saying nice things. Paying compliments. Building up. Thanking others. Thanking myself. Loving the plants in my garden, my cats. Being present for others, and for myself. Things that no one can silence me for. Things that build life, health, and healing.
Yes, I’m breaking the silence. I’m talking about Mental Health. It’s recently been Mental Health Day of some sort, and I keep seeing these articles about the overwhelming needs of people with mental illness and screenings for depression. Then there are the articles about the awful lives caught between coverage, disability and health. I read about the god-awful suicide rates, and now and then an article or two about recovery and people, usually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Now and then. When someone with a gun shots people in the work place, or at a school, or on a military installation, people really talk about it, as if gun violence and mentally illness were inexorably linked. They’re not.
There’s something deceptive about the news. No matter how hard they try, the newsfolks lean on the newsworthy: usually the disturbing stuff. I understand. Readership. And they mean well: reduce the stigma by talking about the success stories. It doesn’t reduce the stigma. I promise you, not one person living in the community is reassured by the story of someone who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia does well—if they are, the reassurance is countered by the reputation of “those people” when they are off (and sometimes on) their medication. It’s disturbing if someone goes off and gets violent (more so if they are known to have a mental illness—which makes the violence understandable). It’s disturbing if someone who is not supposed to do well does so (expectations of failure are smashed—and uncertainty sets in). Frankly, it’s disturbing any time a person is out of their “place”—we get a little anxious about what might happen. That’s stigma.
And talking about the successes won’t reduce it. I remember when people painted hateful signs on the mosque nearest me. Instead of empty conversations about tolerance and salvation, and the nice Muslims they knew, the Jews, the Christians, Muslims, non-believers and the unchurched secular humanists went together to help paint. I remember when a crowd acted as if they were all experiencing the same challenges that someone had taunted, and the bullies faded away: they didn’t know who to pick on.
That’s why I talk about Mental Health. Every. Day. Because when we all own up to being a little mentally ill at some point in life, or for different lengths of time than others, there’s no one left to wrongly blame, exclude, not hire, keep out of life. Then it’s about the kind support each of us needs.
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