May is Mental Health Month. I am a member of NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. A benefit of the pandemic is that meetings and classes are offered online which make it easier to participate. I’ve been a NAMI member for several years. The stigma of mental illness stings, whether it is you or a loved one. I have been on both sides of that coin.
Although I did not realize it until I was a young adult, I now realize I have battled anxiety my entire life. I’ve also beat myself up over my anxiety my whole life. I’m the closet cryer; the one who slips off to her car in the parking lot at work to have a meltdown; the one who locks herself in the bathroom with the water running to cry so her family doesn’t hear; the one with chronic insomnia because I keep replaying events in my head to berate myself over how I SHOULD have handled things. Let me tell you —- being diagnosed with terminal cancer exacerbated my anxiety! I was seeing a therapist when I was diagnosed. I had to cancel appointments because I was so busy taking care of my physical health. Then my therapist left the practice. Then came the pandemic and I didn’t want to find a new therapist via Zoom. This spring I found a new therapist and see her weekly. I look forward to our visits and am learning to put her suggestions to use in my daily living. I also take some medicine to help me.
My first time seeing a therapist was in my twenties when i first started noticing that other people seemed happier with themselves than I thought was possible. She helped me understand how certain parts of my life and events from the past affected me. Our conversations helped me “own” my anxiety.
I have loved several people who had periods of mental illness. It began as a small girl as I watched my dad get ready in the morning. He had the cup and brush to apply soap before shaving. I would stand by him and watch, just to be near my daddy. I remember him reaching for a little bottle of pills. I asked him what that was for and he told me it helped him on days when he had a lot of nerves. I accepted that and never asked more. Mind you, I couldn’t have been more than 5. As a child I understood what so many adults fail to grasp today: If you have diabetes you need insulin. If you have anxiety or depression you need medicine.
I have so many stories of loved ones and mental illness. They are excruciatingly personal and so they are their stories to share; not mine. Sometime I will blog about my lifetime of loving my dad while he had mental illness. You see, that stigma is powerful and that story has chapters that will never be suitable for sharing on a blog.
Let’s take a stand to talk about our own experiences with mental illness, the medications we need, and how wonderful talk therapy can be to sort through all that is running through our thoughts.