Discussing Mental Health is something that has grown quite familiar to me over the past few years, but it certainly was not always that way. I lost a child to suicide on May13th, 2008 and as that anniversary approaches, along with Mother's Day, I always reflect on the life we shared together and the years spent missing her since.
There was no way to know that the words mental health would hold such a powerful place in my life, but God had other plans as he opened my eyes and heart, through my personal grief, to the pain of many. What I mean by that is before losing Amber I understood depression, as I had suffered through it for years myself, but mental health conditions can be gut-wrenchingly painful to watch, a heavy burden to bear…they can be debilitating, they leave a person feeling unworthy of love and unworthy of living...there was no way to fathom the depths of a mental condition prior to my personal loss.
After losing Amber the grief was debilitaing and I found it difficult to lift a foot to take a single step, I couldn’t remember to eat, I cried all the time, I didn’t want to leave my house, I felt as though I were losing my mind… I was afraid of everything. I continued to work, although I was not as effective at my job and did not want to be there, and I continued on with all the other “normal” things expected of an adult.
I became more aware of the feelings of others, as if some supernatural force had heightened all my senses to know the very thing that had caused someone pain when they were talking to me. Reminding me of the eyes being the window to the soul. When I first became aware of this I cried to God to make it stop, and time and time again I would encounter someone needing to share their stories of grief and pain. I never knew any of them, but we would be embraced, tears flowing, before my leaving for my journey home. This continued for months and I was angry that God would want me to help those in pain and grief when I could hardly help myself. Of course I eventually understood that the “supernatural force” I referred to earlier, was none other than God himself, and that he had always been there with me. I am thankful that God knows my heart even when I do not.
It was important that I understood the pain and the stigma associated with people who had experienced anything having to do with a mental health condition or a loss to suicide. I had no idea how many people thought of themselves as being “unworthy” until I began to listen to their stories, and I discovered that I felt the same way about myself without ever recognizing it. Unworthy of what? Of God’s love, my family’s love, and certainly of loving myself, which I always thought as ridiculous, because it seemed so ego driven and self-satisfying, all things I was taught when in my youth. The feelings of unworthiness can come from various causes; such as suffering from abuse (way to many types to list), money problems, grief, religious beliefs, or mental health problems. If you have been fortunate enough to have never suffered at the hands of another or have never suffered the despair of losing someone you love, but do not understand the depths of how God LOVES YOU unconditionally… you will still feel those horrible feelings of being unworthy.
After losing a child to suicide I had new insight to unconditional love and what it really meant. All the hurtful things that were said to me in the days and months following my tragedy would test my unconditional love not only for my daughter, but also for those speaking what they believed to be their awful truths. The reasons were never more important than the fact that she was gone. I knew I could never reason it all out into some neat package to be stored away forever, and I had learned without a shadow of doubt that there was not anything that could ever make me stop loving her… the same as God feels about each of his children. The same that God wants for each of his children…to be loved unconditionally.
Seven months after losing Amber I began seeing a counselor who helped me to understand the harshness of words and actions coming from others. She helped me to understand mental health stigma and why suicide was such a difficult topic of conversation. She also helped me to find the tools necessary to discover my own feelings of unworthiness. It would be a couple of years later before I fully realized the depths of what God had intended for me and it wasn’t until I had experienced full blown panic attacks and been diagnosed with PTSD. By that time, I was more than willing to take the necessary medicine to give me relief, which was another step in my learning about mental health conditions.
During the next six months with all my tools in place (God, doctor, counselor, medicine) I found relief from something that I had experienced my entire life and never knew it had a name…anxiety. What a great feeling to be in control of my next move! I was able to think before speaking, instead of blurting things out that later would make me feel embarrassed…all things that fed into my feelings of being unworthy. Within this time Messages For Hope was launched with the first two support groups for the survivors of a suicide loss in place. I finally, through my God Tools, understood what God wanted from me and I embraced it with eagerness wanting to help others through their pain.
I, in no way, think that God caused my pain...my pain was caused by the tragedy of losing my daughter to a mental illness. I do not feel that God took her from me, I feel that her mental condition/illness took her life. She refused counseling, doctors, and medicine…treatments that could have saved her. Statistics show that ninety percent of all suicide deaths have a treatable mental health condition. From my own experiences through the years of working with so many finding their way to feeling worthy, I believe those statistics… as we almost always discover the hidden pain of those who have died from suicide. Whether physical or mental pain, we put together as many pieces as we can to see that there were signs that had gone unnoticed. Many of the victims had refused medical help or refused to take their medications as prescribed.
Mental Health Month is important in that it gives us an opportunity to create ways of raising awareness of mental health conditions and also the prevention of suicide. There are many suffering in silence, afraid to speak about their feelings...they know there could be repercussions at home, work, church, or from their loved ones. If more people were to find their voice and share their stories it would encourage those suffering in silence to speak up and ask for help. It would also educate the public about the warning signs and risk factors of people in crisis, and in knowing how to help people we think may be suffering with a mental condition. A simple case of depression, gone untreated, can lead to someone being in a crisis situation.
God has certainly had me on a journey and I have learned that the mission all along…was to tell his children that they are loved unconditionally, just like I love my children. It sounds so simple and yet it should be.
I miss my daughter so very much and I wish she were still here with her family, but I know that she is at peace now. I have learned many things since she has left…so in observance of Mental Health Month I am honoring all those suffering with a mental health condition and all those who have lost a loved one to suicide, and especially to Amber, I Love You Forever.
#messagesforhope #eraseMentalhealthstigma #youare worthy
Remember, everyday in every way, you are worthy...