If you’re here right now, it’s because you took a chance and followed me from slack to hear my story. This topic is something that has always been a big part of my life, but is something that I’ve recently become passionate about advocating for with others.
May has been Mental Health Month (in the US, but let’s consider it world wide!), which is all about bringing awareness to mental health illnesses – in particular, how we can work together as a society to remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions. It is also a campaign to provide support not just to those who suffer from mental health conditions, but to friends, family, and acquaintances who encounter it.
The stats are, pardon the phrase, crazy. They show that 1 in 5 people are suffering or will suffer from a major mental health illness in the course of their lives, if not annually. To put that in perspective, that is 100 of our wonderful Reaktorian friends worldwide.
The reason I am writing this post is because I have my own story to share. One of the most crippling parts of mental health illness is the staggering amount of isolation you feel. Because of the stigma that surrounds depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, etc, many people suffer without ever telling someone or reaching out for help. People are trained to feel ok canceling plans or calling in sick if they have the flu; but not if they are depressed. Often, that sense of isolation can lead to a deeper and harder place to recover from. For my part, I am in a better place now ❤ But, it’s because I’ve found the courage to open up, share the level of information I need to convey my illness, and to ask for help when suffering from my own issues (in my case, depression and anxiety). Sharing this isn’t about asking for pity; it’s all about taking the power away from the condition.
Note: This story is a bit rough to read. I’m putting myself out there. But you are my people, I trust you, and hope this will help you with others in your life.
Earlier this month (and at other times in the last 25 years of my life) I was out and away from work for several days. And that is because I was ill. Not with a cold (well, sometimes it was for a cold), but with a bout of depression and anxiety which was rough enough to keep me at home. It was very dark. Much like colds and flus have varying degrees of feeling shitty, so too does mental illness. I operate day to day with a manageable but present amount of depression or anxiety. But sometimes there are flare ups that are much harsher. That feel impossible to break away from. That’s what this month was like. I won’t go into details about what that means (you can see the comics below that will give you a darkly humorous sense of what I was going through), but you get the idea.
Some confluence of it being Mental Health Month, having my own rough go of it this month, being frustrated with feeling like it was a secret I had to keep, and seeing a handful of friends share their stories brought me to this point of wanting to open up for you. I wanted to share this because it feels dishonest or disingenuous to not be able to tell you the truth – and to be honest about something that is a big part of my life. And I hope that it will help others feel safe in sharing their story or situation if that is something that would be helpful. I’m happy I was able to eek it out just in time for the end of the awareness month!
It’s not fun to talk about, and it may make you feel uncomfortable reading this or knowing this about me. That isn’t my intention. My intention is to make it ok to talk about, help remove the stigma, and make mental illness just as normalized as any other physical ailment we talk about (let’s face it – our office is a petri dish 🙂 At least with this one I can’t infect you 😉And my intention is to be a resource to people who may also go through this and need help guiding their way through rough patches. And even more so, my hope is that I can be someone you feel comfortable talking to and asking questions about this topic.
I have come out of the rough patch for the most part. And I’m very glad – I was missing your faces earlier this month. A lot of things went into helping me get back up. I have a handful of brilliantly supportive friends and family. But it’s in no small part due to the amount of safety and security I feel at work as well. I can’t put fine enough point on how important that has been, and how much it has also brought me even closer in the fold.
So what should you do with this information? That’s up to you! I am not looking for anything from you personally, other than to unlock some anti-stigma points. Just keep being my friends, being respectful, and understanding. If you have any questions though, I’m pretty much an open book – so feel free to talk to me.
Here are a few links from a writer/comic who helps explain depression in a relatable and (darkly) funny way. And a complementary article that helps unwrap what she’s doing and what people who know people with depression or other mental illnesses can or should do.
Lastly, here is a resource that provides information, support, and helps advocate for public policy around mental health. https://www.nami.org/. Especially interesting is the Fact Sheet section: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Fact-Sheet-Library
And because I always to want to do good and draw from my experiences, I’ll be setting up something in support of awareness on the subject (a fund drive or knowledge sharing, or …who knows.) Anyone who wants to be involved, please reach out – I’d be happy to have your help.
Thank you for reading and absorbing this with care.
P.S. I just came across an organization called This is My Brave – their mission is to create a space for people to share their stories without shame or embarrassment. For anyone who is interested learning more about their efforts, check out https://thisismybrave.org/. I plan to donate and possibly even submit my larger story.