Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

*Trigger warning: This post discusses difficult topics like drugs, alcohol, suicide, and self-harm.*

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Everyone has mental health. Just like we have physical health, like bone health and cardiovascular health, we have mental health.

Poor mental health runs in my family just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease can run in one’s family. From the outside, that may not seem apparent. No one in my family has ever lost their battle with mental illness by suicide – at least none that we know of in recent generations. But plenty of people in my family have battled mental illness with food, drugs, alcohol, and work. As a result, many have died prematurely from heart attacks, complications from obesity, type 2 diabetes, stress, cancer, and what we like to call “hard living”.

We don’t talk about these things like mental health issues. We don’t say, “Oh, she really really struggled with mental illness, which ultimately took her life.” No, we don’t say that. We say, “Oh, she struggled with obesity her whole life, which led to a life-ending heart attack at age 60.” But what really happened is, she lived a hard life because she was raised feeling unworthy, which caused her mental health to break down. And because we don’t talk about the hard things in our life – the mistakes, broken dreams, the painful things done to us, and our lack of love for ourselves – it grows like a cancer inside of us. And because there’s a stigma around getting real help from therapy or just saying, “I’m not okay”, we medicate.

Food makes us feel better. Alcohol and drugs dull everything around us – the bad stuff and the good stuff. Work helps us ignore it. These medications aren’t initially seen as an issue because they are the things we would do in a healthy life too. No stigma.

We have to eat and work. These are essentials in our lives, so they can’t be that bad. Alcohol is something we use to socialize or unwind on occasion, but it’s not used every day or all day for the average person. They are socially acceptable.

But, the truth is, I come from a long line of people who use these things to feel better when our mental health is suffering. If left unchecked, we use them to the point of addiction – to the point of abuse. And I’m not alone.

Remember, mental illness doesn’t always mean suicide or self-harm. It’s not always that final or that obvious. In fact, it almost never starts there. It starts somewhere much smaller and less defined – in the gray areas.

This is why self-love is so important. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You must love yourself and take care of yourself. Take time for you. Take a walk, a bubble bath, a nap, a yoga class. Meditate, read, write. Visit a friend, take yourself out for coffee. Take a mental health day or a whole weekend! Tell people no.

And – encourage this behavior in others. Give people permission to tell you no, or to take a day off. Give them permission to have bad days and love them anyway.

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Let’s be advocates for self-love: for ourselves and for others.

How are you going to practice self-care this week? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Hurt People

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I am overwhelmed with emotion in this moment. On my way home tonight from church I felt the pull to write up a blog entry on how we deal with hurt. I haven’t posted a blog in a year – exactly one year. On September 17, 2014, I wrote the blog titled Everyone Needs a Cheerleader. The post is a short entry on being a cheerleader for others because we are all hurt and when we are hurting, we hurt others. I was in a season where I needed a cheerleader. It is no coincidence that one year later I am drawn to writing on almost the exact same topic. It’s been a rough year – full of growth, stumbling, confusion, heartache, falling flat on my face, and understanding. In fact, I’ve gone through all of those motions in a single day.

I’ve been listening to Brene Brown’s latest book Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. In the book, she discusses her research on what it takes to rise strong after falling flat on your face. Her research focuses on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Without going into too much detail (because you should seriously read the book – yes, you), she discusses the ideas around human-ness and how we respond to feeling hurt – founded or not. Recently in my life, I’ve made some poor choices that are completely out of character for me. I hit what I like to describe as a rock-bottom. There was a moment when I looked back on my choices and thought, “What the hell are you doing? And who is this person?”

After listening to most of Brene’s book I came to realize my choices were a result of me being hurt. But wait, I didn’t feel hurt. I was fine. Life was great. Well… not exactly. The closer I looked, the more I realized that I was really hurting. I had been burying my pain in travel, nights out with friends, food, and alcohol. Those actions were not the regrettable ones, but they helped me not feel all the feels I was having. Burying that pain and heartache in fun times and social activities led to making other choices that were regrettable.  I didn’t even know myself – and my heart was broken.

When everything came to a screeching halt, I realized I had hurt so many people unintentionally – all because I was hurting. And when I looked back at why I was hurting, I realized the person who had hurt me was also hurting. What did I draw from this? A couple things:

  1. Hurt people, hurt people. This is not a new concept to me. I know this. I think this is where my capacity for massive amounts of compassion and understanding comes from. I thank my mother for this. She’s always been a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of person.
  2. Understanding how I deal with hurt. Having compassion and knowing that hurt people also hurt others is not, in and of itself, enough for growth. You must see your own patterns and understand how you hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. What is your go-to comfort? Some examples are food, alcohol, TV, gaming, sex, shopping, drugs or any combination of these. And maybe you’re like me where your go-to comfort depends on the type of hurt you have experienced. Once you understand your patterns, you can then begin healing and choosing healthier patterns for yourself. Those could be writing, reading, exercise, or, what I would first recommend, talking with the person who hurt you.

I will not claim to be an expert on this topic, but I do know what I’ve learned so far in my own life and observed in others’. I would consider myself an expert on falling flat on my face. However, it can take some time for me to truly understand how I got where I am (think: ten years!). If you want more tips on what to do next, I truly recommend Rising Strong. In fact, I also recommend Brown’s two previous books, The Gifts of Imperfections and Daring Greatly.

I am sorry to those I may have hurt in this process. While I have a ton of personal growth to experience, I take comfort in knowing that I am living wholeheartedly and I am in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

Xoxo