May is National Mental Health Awareness Month
As I think of mental health awareness I think of the many people I have met in the past few years that have suffered with a mental health condition. Many discussions as to whether they should seek treatment or not, based on a multitude of reasons... which brings me to the topic of the stigma associated with mental illness.
I can remember being embarrassed that I needed help with depression, it was all so hush, hush when I was younger. I had heard too many times the whispers of others discussing the shameful people that had to visit a "shrink"... in church this was clearly a sign that you lacked faith in God, you know, only crazy people did such thing. We heard that people that were mentally ill were "weak", and you just did not tell others your problems... privacy was very important. Everything needed to be a secret.
I have suffered from insomnia for as long as I remember, but never thought about consulting a doctor until I collapsed in the floor one day during a workout. After intensive medical testing, I was told that something was "off" with my blood, and the complete diagnosis was unsure. Things got much worse quickly, and a team of doctors informed me that the insomnia had caused this breakdown of my body. Apparently I was not getting the proper type of rest, when I was able to sleep, and my body was not able to repair itself. Soon after came the medicines for depression and insomnia... along with the shame. In the end I was diagnosed with a rheumatoid disease that the doctors could never explain and within a few short months I was crippled. I had gone from working out at the gym 3 times a week, to being bed fast, and at only 32 years of age I was uncertain of what the future held.
Many things happened during the following year and gradually my health improved. I could write volumes about all the strange and wonderful things that happened that year, but the information I want to convey is how this young, fit woman, was completely disabled, both mentally and physically, without notice. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I was having to take treatments, and the extra 30 lbs kept in hiding from all my friends. Life was complicated... I think it always had been.
When people asked what had happened to me, I would attempt to give a short answer, so I would not have to elaborate...you know - less is better they say. I most often heard negative remarks about the sleeping pills, you know the "I would never taking anything for sleeping", "sleeping pills are dangerous", "don't take those-you know those are addicting", and so on. So much negativity when I was determined to be positive, and kick this disease in the butt! It would shame me on one hand, but on the other I was beginning to feel rested again, alert, and generally happier.
The year I spent immobile was my first time reading the Bible in it's entirety. I made sure I had every reference book possible to study with as I moved through the pages. There are no coincidences, and I know that I needed to slow down and get a grasp on many things in my life.
The entire experience was meant for healing, of mind, body and spirit. It was when the real questions began to surface about our existence and what God had planned for us. I felt the stigma associated with mental conditions and I continued to hide the truth of my illness. Praise God, I was healed of this disease and just prior to receiving a permanent disability I began to walk again. I wore knee braces and had lots of aches and pains, but I was moving and I had hope.
Hope was what I needed...and the strength of God. That strength helped me through all the remarks that could have held me down, and gave me the courage to fight through the illness... I had faith that I would be healed.
Most often we have the tendency to only see the surface of an other and we miss the heart of what we are seeing... we need to take a little time to understand ... to have real empathy and compassion for them and their situation.
My emotional pain was brought on from years of abuse that led to insomnia and depression, it was really the only thing I knew...I was afraid to go to sleep. No one knew that part of me, that was my deepest and darkest secret and with it came shame and fear.
I am writing my story today because it is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am hoping to encourage others to also share their story because the more we talk about our own experiences the more we bring to the surface the true heart of a person. We make the path open for more to seek treatment, without thinking of shame and weakness. We can Change the Way People Talk About Mental Health.
Let's open our hearts and reach out with kindness...we have the ability to change a life, to save a life, to create hope, to show God's love and to help other's to see their self worth.
Remember, everyday in every way, you are worthy...