Mental health. Merriam Webster defines it as follows:
1: the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment, especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life.
Spoiler alert: I have been experiencing mental illness on and off for the past 6 years. That is the modest estimation. A more accurate statement would be that I have dealt with depression, anxiety, and disruption in normal thinking my whole life. I was recently off of work because of my mental illness for about a year and a half.
Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?
I have been known to ruffle a few feathers, but few things make people more uncomfortable than a seemingly strong woman telling you that she is mentally unwell. Because what does that even mean, right? Am I going to go apeshit and stab you in the neck with my pencil if you say the wrong thing? Will I be so overcome with melancholy that I will be unable to speak between sobs? Will I prance around chanting hare krishna between yoga poses? No, but I will most likely have to fight for every breath to get past my diaphragm without it being painful. I will most likely snap at the first whine that comes out of my children’s mouth and I will spend most of my energy deciding whether to ignore or act on the annoying voice reminding me what an inadequate mother I am. I will likely spend all night awake ruminating and the next day my state will be worsened by the fatigue. I haven’t figured out which part of all that is perceived as a threat to people, but I have often been treated as though it is. In the past, I often alluded to my mental health struggles with humor, but even so, it has often been met by judgment. You’re not supposed to be bothered by people judging you, because you know better, right? But when the people closest to you have gossip sessions about your spiraling behavior and questionable decisions instead of acting on your cries for help, it hurts. Yet, our first reaction is to judge. What a drama queen. She’s always acting like the victim. Too lazy to work. Always making up an excuse not to come out. All of a sudden all she wants to do is go out? She seems perfectly fine to me. Her mother takes care of her kids for her, what is she complaining about? What has NOT been said about me?
I suppose that just by writing about it, it seems that I’m looking for attention. I am not. Nor do I want pity. What I do want, though, is to spark some reflection and compassion. Instead of engaging in gossip, check in on someone who seems to be acting differently. Instead of resenting someone who repeatedly cancels, try to understand why. Instead of name-calling, let them know you are thinking of them. Offer to visit. Tell them you don’t respect them less simply because they cannot function on the same level they expect to. No one wants to be unable to work. No one wants to depend on someone else to take care of their kids’ basic needs. Mental health or the lack thereof is not a choice, so why do we judge as though it were?
If you follow the social media trends and share the hashtag or use the filter, good for you. Thank you for spreading awareness. What we need more of, though, is acceptance. Accept that not all disabilities are visible. Accept and understand that some people have triggers and fight battles that you have no idea about. Recognize that what goes on beneath the surface has nothing to do with makeup being done or a smiling face. It has nothing to do with how many blessings a person has, how much money they make, or how difficult their kids are, and it doesn’t mean that they think your life is easier than theirs. And if you are on the receiving end of those judgments… if you are the one struggling… never apologize to others for their misunderstanding of who you are. You keep fighting. Your breath will get lighter again and the wave of darkness will eventually retreat and the ebb and flow of light and air will resume its natural course… and you will be happy again. I know. I am.